The Must List

Christian Bale

The new Batman! -- Christian Bale -- The Must List 2004

AGE
30

MUSTWORTHINESS
Because — all together now! — ''he's Batman.'' That and a hell of an actor. The Wales native went from losing 63 pounds to play a haunted insomniac factory worker (in Brad Anderson's forthcoming psychological thriller, ''The Machinist,'' due Sept. 24) to bulking up and strapping on a utility belt to be the Caped Crusader. (His secret: bread. ''That was what I craved most of all.'')

WHERE ELSE YOU'VE SEEN HIM
From his debut at age 13 in Steven Spielberg's ''Empire of the Sun'' to his slithery turn as Patrick Bateman in ''American Psycho,'' he has one of the most fascinating career trajectories around.

WHAT HE'S DOING NOW
Teaming with ''Insomnia'' director Christopher Nolan to do something no one has done before: rebooting a major film franchise only eight years after it petered out. The movie reintroduces one of the most beloved superheroes in the pop-culture canon, so look for explanations on everything from where the Batmobile came from, to how Bruce Wayne's parents died, to why he has such a close relationship with Lieutenant Gordon (Gary Oldman). ''What attracted me was Chris and the knowledge that what was being aimed for was a reinvention of Batman lore,'' says Bale, taking a break halfway through shooting the film in London.

SO DID BALE TAKE THE ROLE BECAUSE HE'S A SUPERHERO FAN?
Not really. ''I like 'scary' movies. As a kid I liked to take walks in the woods at night after a scary movie to see if I'd get hairs standing up on the back of my neck.''

OKAY, NOW THE DISH. HERE ARE FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT ''BATMAN BEGINS''
1. This is the youngest Batman we've ever seen.
''One of the reasons I cast Christian Bale is because we're dealing with an origin story,'' says Nolan. ''The mission was presenting the psychological growth of Bruce Wayne from a young man into Batman.''

2. We'll see some different villains.
With old staples like the Joker and the Riddler used up, Nolan went deeper into the lore. This time, the Dark Knight will tangle with the Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy) -- who comic readers will remember as the demented scientist who spreads fear — and Ra's Al Ghul (Ken Watanabe), the ecoterrorist with delusions of grandeur. (Ain't that the worst kind?)

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