Back in 2005, Christian Bale might not have seemed the most likely choice to play the title role in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, the risky re-imagining of the classic comic book franchise. Yet, due to the first film’s critical and commercial success—and Bale’s stand-out performance—the Welsh actor is donning the black cape once again for the highly anticipated sequel, The Dark Knight.

The sequel, again directed and co-scripted by Nolan, finds Batman forced to do battle against his most psychotic and anarchic foe yet: The Joker, played by the late Heath Ledger, who is already receiving Oscar buzz for his no-holds-barred performance.

One of the most intense actors of his generation, Bale is fearless in playing grim, morally complex, emotionally crippled characters; probably not the kind of people you’d invite over for dinner. From heartless yuppie-turned-serial killer Patrick Bateman in American Psycho to Trevor, the paranoid insomniac in The Machinist to Alfred Borden, the vengeful magician in The Prestige, Bale has specialized in taking on obsessive, mentally unhinged characters.

Bale’s psychologically-complex yet empathetic interpretation of Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight perfectly fits into his oeuvre of driven men who are forced to face their inner demons. As Wayne, Bale plays a character obsessed with finding justice for Gotham City, despite the heavy personal toll this crusade takes. In a discussion at the Times Center on July 15th, sponsored by The New York Times, Bale explained how “Bruce Wayne is obsessed and gives away a great deal of his life… [He] really doesn’t have a personal life.”

Giving Batman a human dimension ensures that audiences can relate to the iconic character, Bale says. “Batman is larger than life, but I wanted to keep him grounded in reality… I didn’t want him to look like a man dressed up for a Halloween party.”

While Bale’s most notable earlier roles were in independent films, Nolan’s Batman series has proven that subtle, internally-motivated performances can still be appreciated by the masses and integral to the framework of a mega-budget summer blockbuster. Batman Begins proved that “blockbuster movies can be intelligent, thought-provoking and don’t have to be dumb,” Bale emphasizes.

With the actor’s fearless, risk-taking performance, The Dark Knight is sure to continue the intoxicating blend of character-driven drama and eye-popping action sequences that fueled the earlier film’s success… and his career.