A rare acclaimed child actor-to-acclaimed adult actor success story, Christian Bale, now 47, actually started his career with Steven Spielberg aged 13, all the way back in 1987.

Since then, Christian Bale has gone on to be one of the biggest leading men in Hollywood (sometimes literally – see American Hustle and Vice). He has multiple acting awards, including an Oscar, to his name. And he was, as you’ll no doubt already be aware, Batman.

A notoriously private actor whose publicly known backstory nonetheless makes for surprising reading, Bale has proven fascinating both on-screen and off. Here are 15 things you never knew about Christian Bale.

1. He isn’t American (nor is he English)

It’s a mistake people have commonly made, owing to his often playing Americans and decision to occasionally conduct interviews in an American accent (depending on the character), but Christian Bale is from the UK, not the US. Maybe you knew that already, if you’ve seen Bale give interviews in his natural accent, but chances are you guessed his home country wrong. Bale may sound English, but he was born in Pembrokeshire, Wales, and spent some of his childhood there before moving with his family around England and Portugal.


2. He hails from an artistic background

His father lived a flamboyant lifestyle as an itinerant, South African-born entrepreneur and conservationist, but it seems much of the rest of Christian Bale’s family had more artistic ambitions. While Bale’s mother was a dancer who performed in the circus, his grandparents included a grandfather who was a stand-up comedian and another grandfather who was a stand-in for John Wayne in movies. Christian’s great uncle Rex Bale, meanwhile, was also an actor, while popular Victorian stage actress Lillie Langtry is a distance relative.


3. His stepmother is Gloria Steinem

David Bale, Christian’s dad, was married three times in his life, the second time to Christian’s mother Jenny. However David’s third marriage, which lasted only three years from 2000 until his death from brain cancer in 2003, was to none other than Gloria Steinem, American feminist icon and legend in American political activism. That makes Christian Bale Steinem’s stepson.


4. He made his debut in a Pac-Man cereal commercial

Before he was Bruce Wayne, before he was Patrick Bateman, before he had even made his first feature film aged 13, Christian Bale was just some kid dancing in an 80s cereal ad. The foodstuff was the none-more-80s Pac-Man cereal, and Bale dressed up as a tiny member of The Breakfast Club to flog the stuff. Thankfully, Bale’s career was longer-lasting than the brief Pac-Man cereal fad.


5. He beat 4,000 other kids to win his debut feature role

Back when Christian Bale had to still audition for parts, the actor threw himself into the process with all the dedication we’ve come to expect, impressing casting directors even as a child. In order to win the lead role of precocious young POW Jamie in Steven Spielberg’s harrowing WWII epic Empire of the Sun, Bale – then aged only 12 – went up against 4,000 other budding young actors, and won.


6. He was method even as a kid

Bale probably wasn’t even aware of what ‘the method’ was when he gave his astonishing breakthrough performance for Empire of the Sun, but as soon as the actor was old enough to learn, he committed to the craft with gusto. For the films Newsies and Swing Kids, which Bale shot when he was still a teen, he went above and beyond, training for ten weeks in dancing and martial arts until he could perform the physical roles himself, rather than resort to using doubles in the films.


7. He almost stole the lead in Titanic from Leonardo DiCaprio

Not that he didn’t ultimately end up a widely acclaimed star actor anyway, but Christian Bale could have tasted fame much earlier than he did, and on a greater scale than he ever has. Back in 1996, when James Cameron was casting around for an up-and-coming young actor to play the male lead in his Titanic movie, Bale was seriously under consideration. Unfortunately for Bale, the movie’s producers already had Kate Winslet, and didn’t want two British leads in American roles – so they went with a fresh young actor named Leonardo DiCaprio instead.


8. Leonardo DiCaprio stole the lead in American Psycho from him

After Empire of the Sun broke him out as a child actor, American Psycho re-introduced audiences to Christian Bale as an intensely dedicated adult thesp willing to go to huge lengths to transform for a part. It almost wasn’t to be, however: when it was decided Bale wasn’t famous enough for Psycho, the studio sought out Leonardo DiCaprio, now a superstar thanks to Titanic, who also picked a new director in Oliver Stone. When Stone and DiCaprio couldn’t agree on a direction for the film, both left the project, and Bale was brought back with original director Mary Harron, landing himself back on a path to stardom.


9. His daily diet for The Machinist consisted of water, a coffee and an apple

Christian Bale’s physical transformations have by now become legendary, and the legend starts with his turn in psychological drama The Machinist. For the film, in which Bale plays a traumatised industrial worker whose life begins to unravel, the actor lost 62 pounds in four months. He did it by allowing himself no more than water, an apple and a single cup of coffee a day (with, says Bale, “the occasional whiskey”). Bale now holds the record for most weight lost by an actor for his effort.

10. His nickname on Batman Begins was Fatman

About that record of Bale’s, for losing the most weight for a role? Well, following that record-breaking performance, Bale immediately broke another record: most weight gained by an actor for a role. Blowing Vincent D’Onofrio’s Full Metal Jacket weight gain (70 pounds) out of the water, Bale piled on 80 pounds – mostly through eating pizza and ice cream – to transform into muscle to play the Caped Crusader in Batman Begins. This, as it turned out, was more than director Christopher Nolan had wanted, and the crew took to calling Bale ‘Fatman’. Bale then shed another 20 pounds to become Nolan’s idea of Bruce Wayne.


11. He’s been in several serious motorcycle accidents

Every actor, even the most dedicated, has to find a way to unwind. For Christian Bale, downtime means track racing – or at least it used to. A series of accidents soon put stop to Bale’s love of motorcycling. Bale recently said “I’ve got so much metal in my body holding me together”, of his titanium clavicle, steel plate in his wrist and the 25 screws he has in his hand. In 2009, while promoting Terminator Salvation, Bale revealed in an interview that he’d had the tip of his finger surgically reattached after he lost it in a bike accident.


12. He almost played George W Bush

Bale will next be seen (after being heard in Mowgli) in this year’s political drama Backseat, playing George W Bush’s right-hand man, the one-time Vice President Dick Cheney, and once again, Bale has gone to great lengths for the role, gaining 40 pounds and bleaching his eyebrows clear. Prior to Backseat, however, Bale almost played Cheney’s boss. To prepare for the title role in Oliver Stone’s George Bush biopic W, Bale spent months conducting research and undergoing prosthetics tests. Ultimately, Bale didn’t find the prosthetics convincing enough, and dropped out of the film at the last minute. Josh Brolin replaced him.


13. He ended up winning an Oscar because his daughter went to the same school as Mark Wahlberg’s

At last winning in 2011 for his frail, fidgety role in David O Russell’s boxing biopic The Fighter, Christian Bale’s Oscar was a long time coming. He may still have been waiting now if it weren’t for a twist of fate. Bale only got the part in the film, after Eminem had turned it down, because his daughter happened to go to the same elementary school as the daughter of Mark Wahlberg, The Fighter’s producer-star. Says Wahlberg of seeing Bale around at school: “I see Christian there, and I’m like: ‘Holy sh*t! The Machinist, Rescue Dawn – this could be the guy'”. Bale was cast, and the Oscar was his.


14. He has Winona Ryder to thank for his marriage

Since 2000, Bale has been married to Sibi Blazic, with whom he has two kids, and it’s been a union that the pair have kept extremely private ever since their relationship began. Still, such was the relationship’s celebrity-heavy beginning, we know how it all started. It was through Winona Ryder, who had personally chosen Bale to be her co-star on 1994’s Little Women, that Bale first met Blazic; at the time of making the film, Blazic was Ryder’s personal assistant. Ryder introduced the two, and they’ve been together ever since.


15. He never took a single acting lesson

Hard to believe as it may be – or perhaps not, considering he started his career as a young child and has been busy making movies back to back ever since – Bale never took a single acting lesson. It’s all just been pure instinct, with Bale opting to instead teach himself. Of his ‘method’, Bale in 2011 said: “I never took any classes. I just go, ‘I better wing this one and make it up!'”