Christian Bale thinks green-screen acting in Marvel films is ‘monotonous’ – but that’s unfair

Christian Bale called acting in ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ the definition of monotony’ – but is he being a snob?  (Marvel)
Christian Bale called acting in ‘Thor: Love and Thunder’ the definition of monotony’ – but is he being a snob? (Marvel)

Christian Bale is just an actor, standing in front of a green screen, asking everyone what day it is. Apparently, he did not find making Thor: Love and Thunder an entirely stimulating experience. For his role as the vitamin D-deficient supervillain Gorr in Taika Waititi’s film, he was, by his own admission, often bored and confused. This week he said that, when it came to working with green screen, “the definition of it is monotony”, and declared: “Can you differentiate one day from the next? No. Absolutely not. You have no idea what to do. I couldn’t even differentiate one stage from the next.”

We’ve all had a long day at the office, but most of us weren’t in full body paint and fake teeth at the time. But for many, this will only be further ammunition to the popular argument that Marvel movies are the death of art, cinema and the souls of actors.

All in all, it’s been a bad week for the green screen’s personal brand. Elizabeth Olsen, who has starred as Wanda the Scarlet Witch in a handful of Marvel films and a Disney+ series, also revealed she finds it “embarrassing”. In some scenes, waving her hands about as though they are emitting all sorts of magical things, she thinks “ugh, I’m doing this in public”. I envision her inner monologue: how did I end up here? I used to be in indie films! Mary-Kate and Ashley never had to put up with this!

I do feel her pain. Imagine having graduated from Rada, where you’d mastered the St Crispin’s Day speech from Henry V, only to be asked to pretend to flee from a scary monster while talking to a magical animal, which is, in reality, a ball on a stick. When I look at YouTube videos of films with a green screen and see a bunch of actors in a car park looking like they’re wearing Halloween costumes, I feel mortified for them. It must be like bumping into someone you fancy in Sainsbury’s in your pyjamas.

For some time now, the green screen has been the maligned enemy of many film lovers. Actors find it difficult; audiences say nothing is real any more. Word has it that it gave Ian McKellen such a traumatic time on The Hobbit that he almost quit acting. “This is not why I became an actor,” he reportedly complained on the shoot; the crew had to decorate his trailer with Lord of the Rings paraphernalia just to cheer him up. So, why do actors put themselves through this degrading experience? I would never be so cynical as to suggest they shared the philosophy of Michael Caine, who when asked if he’d ever watched his work in Jaws 4, replied, “No. But I have seen the house it bought for my mum. It’s fantastic!”

It’d be a much easier meal ticket to just do a few adverts, which wouldn’t involve any airless press junkets and certainly hasn’t done Kevin Bacon any harm. Because, actually, here’s the point critics miss about green-screen acting. Christian Bale might have been bored. Elizabeth Olsen might have been embarrassed. But make no mistake: acting with a green screen is work – and it’s hard work. These aren’t performances that can simply be phoned in. Instead, they require skill, concentration, imagination and endurance.

It’s a point that Olsen makes herself. “These movies are very silly, but you have to act your ass off for them to work,” she said. To regard them as some kind of walk in the park would be to buy into a dangerous line of snobbery. In fact, it’s something that Olsen has discussed before. She told The Independent earlier this year that she gets frustrated when people make Marvel movies “seem like a lesser type of art”. The WandaVision star made clear that these projects require plenty of craft for them to come together, and “throwing Marvel under the bus takes away from the hundreds of very talented crew people”.

It’s justified to wish for a world where superhero movies weren’t getting so much of the investment. I for one miss the days when I could go to the cinema and watch fancy literary adaptations and mildly problematic upper-class romcoms. But to dismiss them and the work that goes into them as dumb and soulless feels elitist and wrong. We make fun of actors for their earnest pursuit of verisimilitude – hi, Jeremy Strong – but it’s also a fixation that holds all forms of entertainment to ludicrously high standards. As Ewan McGregor complained about his work on the Star Wars prequels, “I don’t want to be rude, but it’s not Shakespeare.” But he also added that “it was quite hard to do”. These performances may require a different kind of acting, but it is certainly acting.

Elizabeth Olsen described acting in ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ as ‘embarrassing’ (Marvel Studios)
Elizabeth Olsen described acting in ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ as ‘embarrassing’ (Marvel Studios)

In our content-hungry climate, it now seems we can create anything, and consume anything. We want more stuff to watch on our screens, all of the time. It’s convenient to think of films that employ green screen as products on a conveyor belt, but the parts are made by people, not robots.

Besides: what would YOU do, if you were confronted by a grown man in a body suit crouching in a corner, covered in dots? I wouldn’t be able to keep a straight face, let alone sputter a single line. For this, I thank the actors, sacrificing their dignity and their souls. All that embarrassment and monotony, simply in the name of my enjoyment.