His alter-ego Batman utters nothing more provocative than the occasional “holy smoke” as he bangs adversaries to rights. But Christian Bale has a more direct style of conflict resolution.
The British star's famously short temper became the subject of international debate yesterday, after a tape surfaced of him throwing an astonishing tantrum on the set of a new Terminator film.
In a tirade lasting just under four minutes Bale furiously criticised Shane Hurlbut, the director of photography on the movie, for distracting him during a scene. The subsequent rant contained 37 uses of the “F-word,” an average of one every six seconds.
Bale repeatedly dubbed Hurlbut a “p***k”, threatened to attack him, and told executives he would quit the $185m film if his colleague wasn't fired.
A full tape of the incident was posted on the internet on Monday afternoon after apparently being leaked to show-business website TMZ.com, and rapidly went viral.
“I'm going to kick your f***ing ass!” it began, as Bale grew increasingly angry at the hapless Hurlbut's attempt to apologise for accidentally interrupting the scene.
“I want you off the f***ing set, you p****. No... Don't just be sorry. Think, for one f***ing second. What the f*** are you doing?”
Bale, playing the film's hero John Connor, shrugs off attempts by co-star Bryce Dallas Howard and director McG to calm him down during the incident, which was recorded on set at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico.
“Do you want me to f***ing trash your lights? Do you want me to f***ing trash 'em?” he asks Hurlbut. “Then why are you trashing my scene? You are trashing my scene! You do it one more f***ing time, and I'm not walking on the f***ing set if you're still hired.”
Bale's publicist declined invitations to comment, or otherwise explain the outburst yesterday.
But the star is famously highly-strung: last year, shortly before the London premiere of The Dark Knight, he was arrested following a family dispute at the Dorchester Hotel, although assault charges were never filed because his mother and sister didn't press the matter. The tape-recorded incident, which took place in July, was considered sufficiently serious for the film's producers to pass a recording of Bale's outburst to insurers, amid concerns that a Bale walk-out would threaten production.
It seemed to have then found its way into the public domain after being leaked to TMZ by an employee of the insurance firm.
Although Bale's tantrum would appear to fall well short of acceptable workplace behaviour, its impact is harder to predict.
Yesterday, it met with a mixed response in Hollywood, where the character failings of famous people are almost always indulged, provided their films make money. Many commentators said it represented a proportional response to an unforgivable lapse.