My original “What if” article was far and away my most popular post, thanks in large part to WordPress choosing it for their Freshly Pressed page (shameless shout out in the hopes that they’ll do it again). So why not go back to the well and tackle another exciting “what if” in movie making history: In honor of the release of The Great Gatsby let’s look at how Leonardo DiCaprio’s decision to pass on a role completely changed Christian Bale’s career.
Quick note: I decided to just keep it to one “What if” per post, as opposed to the three in the original and will be posting more soon.
What if Leonardo DiCaprio played Patrick Bateman in American Psycho?
Brent Easton Ellis’ famous novel’s film adaptation took a while to get off the ground. It was originally optioned in 1991 with Johnny Depp set to star as Patrick Batemen, which quickly fell through. At one point David Cronenberg (The Fly) was set to direct with Brad Pitt as the star. However, after a several years Mary Harron was chosen to write and direct.
Harron pushed for Lions Gate to accept her (at the time strange) choice of Christian Bale to play Bateman. The studio only let Harron cast Bale on the condition that she would also cast two big name actors in supporting roles, which she did with Willem Dafoe and Reese Witherspoon (funny considering Bale is a bigger star than both now). However, the studio was still not satisfied and offered the part to a younger, bigger star in Leonardo DiCaprio, causing Harron to leave the project. Oliver Stone was hired to replace her, but when DiCaprio dropped out of the project to do Danny Boyle’s The Beach (a 19% on Rotten Tomatoes) the Wall Street director followed. Harron was rehired with Bale attached and the rest is history.
But what if Leo and Oliver Stone had stayed and made American Psycho their own way? The film would have been completely different, but not necessarily bad. Stone was still a solid director back in 1999-2000 (seriously when’s the last time he made a good movie?) and Leonardo DiCaprio was already on his way to superstardom thanks to all the screaming teenage girls who saw Titanic twenty-seven times each. Would the film have been as good with Leo as the lead? Probably not; Bale’s performance brings the film to a new level. However, American Psycho would have instantly turned Leo from talented teen heartthrob to a legitimate and respected actor who can play a dark character such as Bateman. The female youth of America would be screaming and crying in a very different way at the sight of Jack Dawson chopping up the lead singer of 30 Seconds to Mars. What does this mean? Leo doesn’t do The Beach (a good thing) and gets more offers to do serious Oscar level roles earlier than 2002 when he and Scorsese collaborated for the first time with Gangs of New York. DiCaprio squeezes in an extra Oscar nomination from the Academy for American Psycho or another role right after, and maybe, just maybe, they see fit to give him the gold statue one of the four times he’s nominated.
Meanwhile, Bale misses out on his breakout role and never gets to be the star he is today. He never gets the chance to drop the “E” in Bateman and become…well you see where I’m going. He doesn’t get cast in Batman Begins, The Prestige or even The New World (fun fact: Bale is in Pocahontas and The New World, two VERY different films based on the same story) and never gets his supporting role Oscar for The Fighter. This affects Christopher Nolan’s career as well. Without Bale even as a consideration for Bruce Wayne, Nolan is stuck choosing between Joshua Jackson (Charlie Conway), Eion Bailey (who?), Hugh Dancy (WHO?!) Billy Crudup (Dr. Manhattan), Cillian Murphy (Scarecrow), Henry Cavill (the new Man of Steel) and Jake Gyllenhaal (prettier than his sister) all of whom auditioned but did not get the part because of Bale. None of these actors would have worked out as Bruce Wayne, especially not in the way Bale did. Nolan’s Batman series never takes off and maybe he never gets the opportunity or the budget to do Inception. However, one thing is for certain, Christian Bale should be a huge fan of both Danny Boyle and The Beach for stealing Leo away from American Psycho. In fact, he should have thanked Boyle and Leo first in his Oscar acceptance speech, because he probably does not even get an invite to the ceremony without their “help” and definitely would not be able to get a reservation at Dorsia.