Still fresh off The Machinist, it became necessary for Bale to bulk up to match Batman’s muscular physique. He was given a deadline of six months to do this. Bale recalled it as far from a simple accomplishment: “…when it actually came to building muscle, I was useless. I couldn’t do one push up the first day. All of the muscles were gone, so I had a real tough time rebuilding all of that.” With the help of a personal trainer, Bale succeeded in meeting the deadline, gaining a total of 100 lb (45 kg) in six months. He went from about 130 lbs to 230 lbs. He then discovered that he had actually gained more weight than the director desired, and dropped his weight to 190 lbs by the time filming began.
Bale had initial concerns about playing Batman, as he felt more ridiculous than intimidating in the Batsuit, he dealt with this by depicting Batman as a savage beast. To attain a deeper understanding of the character, Bale read various Batman comic books. He explained his interpretation of the young boy: “Batman is his hidden, demonic rage-filled side. The creature Batman creates is an absolutely sincere creature and one that he has to control but does so in a very haphazard way. He’s capable of enacting violence — and to kill — so he’s constantly having to rein himself in.” For Bale, the most gruelling part about playing Batman was the suit. “You stick it on, you get hot, you sweat and you get a headache in the mask,” he said. “But I’m not going to bitch about it because I get to play Batman.” When promoting the film in interviews and public events, Bale retained an American accent to avoid confusion.
Batman Begins was released in the U.S. on 15 June 2005 and was a U.S. and international triumph for Warner Bros., costing approximately US$135 million to produce and taking in over US$370 million in returns worldwide. Bale earned the Best Hero award at the 2006 MTV Movie Awards for his performance.
Bale reprised his role as Batman in Nolan’s Batman Begins sequel The Dark Knight. He trained in the Kevsi Fighting Method, and performed many of his own stunts. The Dark Knight was released in the U.S. on 18 July 2008 and stormed through the box office, with a record-breaking $158.4 million in the U.S. in its first weekend. It broke the $300 million barrier in 10 days, the $400 million mark in 18 days and the $500 million mark in 43 days, three new U.S. box office records set by the film. The film went on to gross over $1 billion at the box office worldwide, making it the fourth-highest grossing movie worldwide of all time, before adjusting for inflation.
Bale reprised his Batman role in The Dark Knight Rises released on 20 July 2012, making Bale the actor who has played Batman the most times in feature film. Bale has given the same opinion as Nolan that, if the latter was forced to bring Robin into the films, he would never again play Batman; even though one of his favorite Batman stories, Batman: Dark Victory, focuses on Robin’s origin.
In 2006, Bale took on four projects: Rescue Dawn, by German film maker Werner Herzog, had him playing U.S. Fighter pilot Dieter Dengler, who has to fight for his life after being shot down while on a mission during the Vietnam War. Bale left a strong impression on Herzog, with the director complimenting his acting abilities: “I find him one of the greatest talents of his generation. We made up our own minds long before he did Batman.”
In The Prestige, an adaptation of the Christopher Priest novel about a rivalry between two Victorian stage magicians, Bale was reunited with Batman Begins‘ Michael Caine and director Christopher Nolan. The cast of The Prestige also included Hugh Jackman, Scarlett Johansson, and David Bowie. I’m Not There, a film in which Bale again worked alongside Todd Haynes and Heath Ledger (who would go on to play The Joker in The Dark Knight), is an artistic reflection of the life of Bob Dylan. He starred opposite Russell Crowe in a commercially and critically successful Western film, 3:10 to Yuma. Bale played John Connor in Terminator Salvation and FBI agent Melvin Purvis in Michael Mann’s Public Enemies.
In 2010, Bale portrayed Dicky Eklund in the biopic The Fighter. He received critical acclaim for his role and won several awards, including the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor, the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor and the Screen Actor’s Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role.