What other thing?
[Having] no way out. . . . I was always used to being able to pick up and leave.

You were filming Mio in the Land of Faraway in Ukraine when the explosion happened at the Chernobyl nuclear-power plant.
Yeah. We knew something had occurred, because production came to us and they said, "We're done. We have to leave." A month later we were back. We would have somebody with a Geiger counter at every dinner, scanning each plate.

When you were filming Empire of the Sun, did you have a sense that it was the beginning of your career as a movie actor?
I never for a second considered that anybody would watch the movie. I never thought about any consequences of it. I didn't care. I got to go to China, I got to go to Spain. I got to jump around and have planes fly a few feet over my head.

Bale in the trailer for Empire of the Sun

At that age, what were you doing when you weren't acting?
I was living quietly in Bournemouth [England] like any other teenager. Well, I'll rephrase that: Most of the time I was like any other teenager. And then there were times I'd be reminded that some people actually didn't agree with me on that, and felt like I was a little different and didn't really belong. Apparently you become something other than human once you've been in a movie.

Taking the role of Patrick Bateman in American Psycho was widely regarded as career suicide.
Yes. I always enjoyed the idea of self-destructing on purpose, taking something that was important to me acting and just becoming unhireable. To test how important it really was for me. [American Psycho] turned out to be the opposite. That brought me much more work.

What would you have done if things hadn't worked out?
I have no idea. [Laughs.]

There was no plan B?
There never has been, no.

Was there ever a time when you were in danger of not making enough money to support yourself through acting?
I don't believe that there's an actor alive who hasn't been in that position and in that position many years after people recognize you and have a very wrong impression of what they imagine your lifestyle to be.

Do you remember the last time you were in that position?
[Long pause.] I know absolutely when it was; I'm just trying to decide how comfortable I am talking about it. Certainly . . . what year are we in? 2008? Only going back five years. Absolutely, yeah. House repossession all that.

House repossession?
Yeah but I don't want to talk about it anymore.

Have you ever done anything just for the money?
Movies? Um . . . well, I guess there was one particular time and I won't tell you what it was but it was following closely on the heels of the other thing that I didn't want to talk about very much. It ended up that I found a great many experiences from it but the motivation was completely keeping the head above water, yes.