Christian Bale Suffered a Herniated Disc From His Role in ‘American Hustle’

Throughout his acting career, Christian Bale‘s considerable talent has shown in several high-profile roles. But he’s also drawn attention to himself by drastically changing his appearance to fit certain characters. One example of his willingness to transform involved David O. Russell’s American Hustle, but it’s far from the only time he’s reshaped his body for a movie. Bale’s ability to do this has won him plenty of acclaim and awards, but that period of his career seems to be over. 

Christian Bale’s prep for ‘American Hustle’ led to a serious injury

Amy Adams and Christian Bale film American Hustle
American Hustle stars Amy Adams and Christian Bale | Stickman/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images

In American Hustle, Bale plays Irving Rosenfeld, a con artist with a big belly and severe bald spot caught in the crosshairs of an FBI sting operation. His character is based on Mel Weinberg, a trickster turned informant during the Abscam scandal of the late ’70s and early ’80s. To fit the role, Bale had to pack on an additional 43 pounds and shave his head.

“I ate lots of doughnuts, a whole lot of cheeseburgers, and whatever I could get my hands on. I literally ate anything that came my way,” Bale told People ahead of a screening of the film. 

Despite still being in the recovery stage after a motorcycle accident prior to shooting, he also adopted an exaggerated slouch to his posture in every scene, which had some unforeseen consequences on his health. Bale kept the pose for so long that he lost three inches of height and suffered a herniated disc.

The actor surely must have felt severe physical pain while making American Hustle. But Bale’s performance largely delighted casual fans and critics alike. The movie made over $250 million from U.S. theaters. Bale was nominated for Best Actor at the 2014 Academy Awards, losing to Matthew McConaughey.  

It’s not the first time Bale has gone to great lengths to prepare for a role

An obsession with self-image has colored Bale’s biggest roles ever since his star turn in American Psycho

His most extreme makeover was for The Machinist in 2004. Playing a paranoid insomniac, Bale subsisted on a diet of black coffee, exactly one apple, and a tin of tuna a day while also smoking cigarettes and drinking whiskey to continue losing weight. He lost over 60 pounds thanks to this routine. According to GQhe wanted to get even slimmer, but producers of the film stopped him from doing so. 

Bale was reportedly around 120 pounds by the time he finished shooting The Machinist. He quickly had to put on another 100 pounds of muscle to become Bruce Wayne in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. In the downtime between those movies, Bale found time to morph himself again, getting more gaunt to portray drug-addled former boxer Dicky Eklund in The Fighter. 

He got big again to play Dick Cheney in Adam McKay’s ViceTo strike a similarity with the former vice president, Bale, gained over 40 pounds, shaved his head again, and did specific exercises to thicken his neck. His very next role as driver Ken Miles in Ford v Ferrari compelled the actor to lose 70 pounds immediately after his time as Cheney was over. 

Would Christian Bale be willing to transform into a character ever again?

As Bale enters middle age, he is ready to leave all the weight-changing maneuvers in the past. “I’ve become a little more boring now because I’m older and I feel if I keep doing what I’ve done in the past, I’m gonna die”, he said to E! News in 2019. “So I prefer not to die. I’d like not to die.” 

The recklessness of youth has given way to a more sensible approach to how he lives his life. “I used to love going on my dirt bike, and I loved falling off it. Loved crashing. It was so much fun, coming back with blood pouring off your arm. Now, I’m like, ‘God, please. I can’t come off here now, because I know I might never get back up again.'”

As a younger actor looking to prove himself in different roles, Bale may have felt more pressure, both internally and externally, to pull out all the stops to put in a great performance. He’s clearly someone who thinks deeply about his craft and holds himself to high standards. But now that his place in the industry is secured, Bale doesn’t have to push his body to its limits anymore. 

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