After Louise, one of Bale's three sisters, gets cast in a musical on London's West End, the young chap is inspired to give acting a try. "I thought it was really good fun, and it looked easy," Bale tells The New York Times of his start, which gives way to several commercial gigs and his London stage debut at age 10 in The Nerd, opposite Rowan Atkinson.
Following bit parts in TV movies, Bale beats out 4,000 hopefuls for the lead role in Steven Spielberg's Empire of the Sun, playing a young British boy imprisoned in a Japanese internment camp. The performance earns Bale a best juvenile performance award from the National Board of Review, but the 13-year-old grows uncomfortable with his newfound fame. "I ran from it," he later tells the AP of his early success. "I said, 'I like the acting, but I really don't want anything to do with the rest of it.'"
Though he plays second fiddle to stars Winona Ryder and Claire Danes, Bale makes a memorable comeback with Little Women. "Handsome Christian Bale makes a dreamboat out of Laurie, the boy next door to the March family," writes The New York Times of his performance. In 1998, he tackles another period piece with Velvet Goldmine, playing a newspaper reporter researching the disappearance of a '70s glam rock star.
Following a whirlwind romance, Bale secretly marries girlfriend Sandra "Sibi" Blazic, a former assistant to his Little Women costar Ryder. "I know that it truly would be impossible to do it without her," he later gushes of his wife. "[I owe] everything to her. She's such a good, strong woman."
After Leonardo DiCaprio drops out, Bale takes over the role of yuppie serial killer Patrick Bateman in American Psycho. "It's really an analysis of the '80s, of men at their worst, of violence and of this sort of vacuousness," he says of the black comedy. "Bateman was never intended to be a real character. He says himself that he's an abstraction."
Bale and wife Blazic quietly welcome their daughter, whose name they do not reveal. "I've absolutely fallen into that cliché of a dad who could just happily talk about my daughter endlessly," he tells Esquire in 2010. "But it's not what I'm about in terms of being an actor. I don't want people to know about that."
Bale puts on the bat suit and 100 lbs. of muscle for director Christopher Nolan's gritty reboot, Batman Begins. "As sleek as a panther, with cheekbones that look sharp enough to give even an ardent lover pause, Mr. Bale makes a superbly menacing avenger," raves The New York Times. The film, which grosses over $200 million, spawns the 2008 sequel, The Dark Knight, which rakes in $158.3 million to become the highest-grossing opening weekend of all time.
While in town to premiere The Dark Knight, Bale is arrested on assault allegations following a reported altercation with his mother Jenny and sister Sharon at London's Dorchester hotel. The actor denies the claim, and calls the situation "a deeply personal matter". In August, a court rules not to press charges.
While filming Terminator Salvation, a 4-minute long recording of Bale angrily reprimanding a crew member, in which he drops the F-word 36 times, leaks onto the Web. "I was out of order, beyond belief," he later says of the on-set incident. "I acted like a punk. I regret that...It is inexcusable."
BIOGRAPHY (top to bottom): REX USA; Everett; Everett; Robin Platzer/Getty; Everett; Splash News Online; Courtesy Warner Bros; Ace Pictures; Everett; Jojo Whilden/Paramount Pictures