Berlin: Christian Bale on Terrence Malick "Torpedoing" Him on 'Knight of Cups'

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The actor also says that during the shoot he never knew what he was going to have to do each day.

Terrence Malick was — predictably — not in attendance at the press conference for Knight of Cups, unspooling at the Berlinale for the first time on Sunday. But that didn’t stop two journalists from directing questions to the absent director, prompting laughter.

Christian Bale stepped in on the first occasion, describing the somewhat unorthodox directorial approach Malick took when dealing with the lead actor in his drama that delves into Hollywood decay and decadence.

"He didn’t tell us what [the film] was about," Bale said. "He really just gave me the character description. We worked on the character a great deal, worked on his backstory."

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Bale claimed there wasn’t even a script for him to look at during the production. "I never had any lines to learn, but I’d see other people, and they’d have pages. I’d always look over their shoulders to see what it was that I was going to be told," he said. "I never knew what I was going to be doing each day."

One trick Malick did deploy in the production was to surprise Bale during filming. "He liked to call it 'torpedoing' us, with different actors and nonactors, to get a very real response," he said.

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Natalie Portman, who has a brief role in the film as a love interest of Bale’s character Rick, noted that she worked on Knight of Cups just prior to starting production on her directorial debut, the adaptation of Amos Oz’s novel A Tale of Love and Darkness.

"I felt very lucky to have worked with Terry right before directing for the first time," she said. "He actually reminded me that the rules of filmmaking are not necessary; the way we do things, the rituals that we have aren’t necessary. The actress added that Malick showed her how to "allow the mistakes and welcome the problems."

"If it starts raining, then you shoot in the rain, you don’t change the schedule to shoot something different, which you would normally do in a film," she said. "I think that kind of embracing the unknown, embracing chance and that anything can happen, was a great way to go … [into] a more conventional shoot."

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Malick's production was Portman's first after giving birth to her first child in 2011.

"I hadn’t done anything in two years," she recalled on Sunday. "Although it was a very brief experience, it was an intense story to play after having a kid."

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