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‘Knight of Cards’ Seeks Discoveries through ‘Torpedoing’

March 5, 2015

Terrence Malick’s impressionistic drama Knight of Cups made its world premiere at the Berlin Film Festival in February starring Christian Bale. The elusive Malick, who refuses to be interviewed, is a highly regarded American film director known for his unconventional approach to filmmaking over the course of four decades. And Knight of Cups is no exception to his unorthodox approach.

“He didn’t tell us what [the film] was about,” Bale shared at a Belinale 2015 press conference. “He just gave me the character description. We worked on the character a great deal, worked on his backstory.” Indeed Christian asserted that there was no script to refer to during the production. “I never had any lines to learn, but I’d see other people , and they’d have pages.” Every day on set was a new experience for Bale because he never knew what kind of situation his character would be placed in next.

Christian Bale plays the role of a Los Angeles scriptwriter named Rick with the personality traits of the Knight of Cups tarot card. That is, he is addicted to success, artistic, inventive, refined, and represents change; he likewise is constantly bored, reckless, and unreliable. Rick plunges into a life of decadence amidst a landscape of glitzy Hollywood hedonism.

The director would “torpedo” or send a variety of unannounced actors as well as real people at the performing cast member in hopes of capturing a fresh and genuine response.

Other top-billed actors include Antonio Banderas, Cate Blanchett, and Natalie Portman. Banderas told Collider he wasn’t sure if he played himself or his character. He described the shoot like this:

“I arrived to the set and basically what [Malick] said to me, ‘Antonio, we didn’t send you a script because we don’t have a script and so this monologue that I gave you,’ which literally didn’t make sense whatsoever, ‘I’m gonna shoot it in nine different locations and I’m gonna just improvise with you, and I’m gonna send you something that I call torpedoes.’ And these torpedoes, they were people that came in the middle of the monologue and started improvising with me. He sent me a beautiful woman, he sent me an ole lady, he sent me a bunch of three guys that are rappers. I ended up in a pool with three ladies with my tuxedo.”

Natalie Portman plays the part of one of Rick’s love interests. Working with Malick just before she was to start production on her directorial debut in A Tale of Love and Darkness, she expressed gratitude for the lessons she learned while performing her brief role. “[Malick] actually reminded me that the rules of filmmaking are not necessary; the way we do things, the rituals that we have aren’t necessary.” Portman said, for example, “If it starts raining, then you shoot in the rain, you don’t change the schedule to shoot something different, which you would normally do in film.” She learned to go with the flow on set, saying, “Allow the mistakes, and welcome the problems.”

Does this idea of torpedoing interest you? How do you do when there is no script to refer to, and all your scenes are improvised? While this technique in not new in comedy, it is a unique take on a dramatic film. And what are the most innovative, unconventional, or experimental projects you’ve worked on as an actor? Was it liberating or unnerving? Please share!