PITTSBURGH – The last time I saw Christian Bale with black smudge under his eyes was on the Chicago set of “The Dark Knight” in the summer of 2007.  The black makeup is used to make the actor’s eyes pop through Batman’s headgear and he sheepishly wore sunglasses during our entire interview likely out of embarrassment over it.  Four years later a more confident and relaxed Bale stopped by to chat on the set of the highly anticipated sequel, “The Dark Knight Rises,” and sunglasses were nowhere to be found.

In the years since “The Dark Knight” became a critical and commercial phenomenon, Bale dealt with the fallout from a difficult shoot for “Terminator Salvation,” solidified his box office clout alongside Johnny Depp in Michael Mann’s “Public Enemies” and won an Academy Award for his impressive performance in “The Fighter” (Bale is now the fourth actor in “Rises” to win Oscar after Michael Cane, Morgan Freeman and Marion Cotillard).  At times combative or moody with the press, Bale has been a different person since promoting “The Fighter” and was jovial during his short break from filming.  Perhaps because this will be the last time he’ll be playing Bruce Wayne (aka Batman)?  Maybe due to his comfort level with Nolan as they collaborate on their fourth feature together?  Possibly still basking in the success of “The Fighter”?  The 37-year-old didn’t have time to elaborate, but his enthusiasm was certainly reassuring.


What’s it like shooting in IMAX?

I have had a little experience from the last one and when we made ‘The Prestige,‘ Chris was experimenting with it. It’s bloody noisy with those cameras, but it’s going to be a hell of a great little shot.  It makes the audience feel like they’re in it.  It’s a lovely piece of machinery.
 
Was there any doubt in your mind to make another with Chris Nolan again?

I knew it was going to happen for me because I was contracted to do this film. I had no choice, I would have been sued up the ying-yang and be on the street and penniless. Chris has always talked about this being a trilogy and he liked the challenge that an awful lot of movies fail on the third one. There are some exceptions but most of the time that’s the tricky one to pull off.
 
Are you going to miss playing Batman after this?


Course I will, yeah.  Yeah definitely.
 
Will you miss wearing the suit?


For all the discomfort and the heat and the sweat and the headaches and everything from it, when you sit back and watch the movie at the end of the day, you go: ‘Well, that’s [expletive] cool.’ I will miss the rubber.
 
Can you talk about Bruce’s relationship with Selena in this movie? How much does he fall in love with her?


I’m figuring it all out as I go along and I’m seeing Chris sitting on this shoulder here and my producer sitting on this shoulder here going, ‘Don’t say anything!’ I think let’s leave that one until you see the movie.
 
Because this is a trilogy, does it give you a better framework to create an arc with your character?

I have no clue what the audience is going to think about the movie. Thankfully, I have Chris who is really great at gauging that. He represents the audience for us on the set.  Me, I love the character so much that if it was left to me you’d get a very bizarre Batman movie.  He is a fascinating character and then Chris just has to tell me the points when it gets tedious and boring. Chris is remarkably confident at going with his gut and not desiring any safety net. There are a number of times when I say to him, ‘Are you sure you don’t want me to do a few other variables? I can do this one, and what if later down you choose to change this part of the story, in that case we need to change the domino effect.’ He’s like, ‘No, no I know what I want.’ He’s very firm with it. In all honesty, there are probably a lot of stories that can be told with Batman. I like the idea of him growing older and he can’t quite do it as much anymore. But I kind of feel, you have to leave when the going is good and this is when Chris wants to wrap it up. And it’s the right time.
 
By the third movie is Batman’s drive still fed by the death of his parents?

It’s all in there.  He doesn’t want to forget it, he wants to maintain that anger that he felt at that injustice, but equally he wants to present this very vacuous soulless persona to Gotham so hopefully no one will suspect him but will just think he’s a spoiled bastard. But, consequently, in his most intimate moments he has Alfred, he has Rachel and there is not a whole lot there. And at some point, he’s got to start living.  He is seriously behind in terms of life and enjoyment of life. That’s all been sacrificed and at some point, hopefully it’s Alfred’s wish that he will start to live again. Of course this tragedy has defined him, but to a degree he’s sacrificed everything that most people would consider worth living for in life and he’s going to have re-learn that, embarrassingly late in life.
 
Tell us about working with Tom Hardy.

It’s a real good cast. I’ve been working with Tom mostly over the past few weeks.  He’s a really fascinating actor. He’s going to be creating some wonderful characters over his career and he’s doing so with this. He’s kind of just gleeful coming into work every day.  He’s the real deal. I’m very impressed with him.
 
Can you talk about crafting fight scenes with Tom?

We have fantastic stunt guys who have been with us since the first film. This is sort of what we do. They kind of work out what they’d like to see in the fights and Tom and myself come in and bring in the story to the fights, you have to figure a way to tell a story in a fight otherwise a fight by itself can be rather dull.

“The Dark Knight Rises” opens nationwide and in IMAX on July 20.