80 Years of The Hollywood Reporter

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The most glamorous and memorable moments from a storied history.

It was a good word from the director’s wife that got The Fighter’s Christian Bale his career-making role in 1987’s Empire of the Sun. At 13, he’d done a few TV commercials (fabric softener, Pacman cereal) and a TV movie, Anastasia: The Mystery of Anna, with Amy Irving, Steven Spielberg’s then-wife. Her recommendation put Bale ahead of what was said to be 4,000 child actors who had auditioned for the role of Jamie “Jim” Graham, the preteen whose life of privilege in prewar Shanghai is shattered when the Japanese send his wealthy family to a World War II internment camp. Bale, now 37, was born in Wales to a family with showbiz roots: His father had been a talent manager and his mother a circus performer and clown. “Christian dropped into this character in a very natural way,” recalls producer Frank Marshall. “He was so focused all the time on what he needed to do.”

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The film received mixed reviews, with the only consistent agreement being praise for its barely teenage star. Wrote Duane Byrge in The Hollywood Reporter, “Bale’s performance is stunning.” According to Joseph McBride’s 1997 biography of the director, Spielberg coaxed the unforgettable performance from the young actor by not appearing to be an authority figure, even playing remote-controlled racing cars with him during lunch breaks. Bale has said he saw Spielberg as “just another kid.” Although the film wasn’t a great commercial success, it certainly succeeded in another way. “Many child actors don’t make the crossover into the adult phase,” Marshall says. “But Christian went on to become one our finest actors.”

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