Tom Cruise Inspired Christian Bale’s Character In Hit Psychological Thriller

A Tom Cruise interview with David Letterman directly inspired Christian Bale's portrayal of Patrick Bateman in American Psycho.

By Jonathan Klotz | Published

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When one of the most famous method actors in the world needed to find inspiration for his crazed killer that operates underneath a pleasant mask of insincerity, Tom Cruise inadvertently provided the perfect template. In a retrospective with The Hollywood Reporter, Mary Harron, the director of American Psycho, recounts how her advice led to Christian Bale’s inspired choice of using Cruise to create the foundation for Patrick Bateman. A noteworthy interview with David Letterman in 1999 provided most of the material that Bale would channel into his killer businessman.

Tom Cruise’s appearance on David Letterman, recounting a story of how he, as a pilot, turned off the oxygen on a passenger, is punctuated by wild laughter and as Christian Bale explained “a very intense friendliness with nothing behind the eyes.” Cruise’s manic energy has been noted before, though he was still seven years away from the infamous Oprah interview that threatened to derail his career, with Bale describing it to his director as if the Top Gun star never let his mask slip in public.

Mary Harron, in multiple phone discussions with her star, had suggested that he think of Patrick Bateman as an “alien trying to learn what it’s like to be human.” Tom Cruise’s manic need to please was incorporated by Christian Bale with his character’s need for respect. The wild energy is kept just under the surface by Bale, poking out through the mask of corporate America until it explodes in the moment of a bloody kill.

Other stars have noted Tom Cruise’s seemingly superhuman energy level though Christian Bale went beyond the surface to try and examine the dark depths behind someone that has to be the perfect movie star at all times. Known for going to extreme lengths when preparing for a role, most famously when he lost 100 lbs. for the lead role in The Machinist, Bale once also had a problem when his own mood soured while cameras were rolling.

While filming Terminator Salvation, Bale launched into a profanity-laced tirade against a crew member that had bothered him by messing up a scene. Moments like that are what Tom Cruise is trying to stop from happening in public by keeping up his people-pleasing glad-handing at all times. Unlike Christian Bale, when Tom Cruise did erupt at a crew member, it was during the height of COVID restrictions in Hollywood and someone wasn’t wearing a mask, which could have endangered everyone on the set.

From the way he acts in interviews, to the way he runs, it’s not hard to actually imagine Tom Cruise is sometimes an alien on our planet. He seemingly doesn’t age and is capable of performing death-defying stunts all for the sake of the perfect shot, more traits that point to him being something other than human. What Christian Bale sees when he looks at Tom Cruise is instead a hurt man trying so hard to fit in, that he doesn’t anymore, and the result was one of the best performances of all time.