In the dark drama “The Machinist,” both a diner waitress and a prostitute tell an emaciated Christian Bale, “If you were any thinner, you wouldn’t exist.”

Personally, Bale wishes he didn’t exist either – in the public eye, that is.

Although the 30-year-old actor is gracious and congenial during his “Machinist” interview, he is candidly unapologetic about his desire to avoid doing publicity. In fact, during the early days of his career, Bale even launched his own Web site, thinking that providing information about his latest projects there would eliminate the need for interviews altogether.

“That Internet thing kind of went awry,” he says. “I never monitored it that much, and it kind of took a course, which … is not what I thought it would be, and I wanted nothing to do with it any longer.”

That site, however, is partly why this fairly private individual has a strong cult following and was named one of the “Top 8 Most Powerful Cult Figures” in Entertainment Weekly’s 10th anniversary issue. Bale also credits some of his more unusual film credits – such as “Metroland,” “Velvet Goldmine” and “American Psycho” – for his loyal following.

Since he is granting interviews, however, Bale reveals what he’d like the audience to know before watching “Machinist.”

“Ideally, I’d like them to know nothing because I love … to be completely surprised,” he says, adding, “It’s quite rare that you get a group of filmmakers who are absolutely making a movie solely for their own viewing pleasure. This is what we all want to watch, but without it being some kind of masturbatory exercise.”

“Machinist” centers on Trevor Reznik (Bale), whose year-long insomnia threatens his ability to work, eat and separate fantasy from reality. After an odd series of events, he discovers someone is out to get him, which is just the beginning of his grim and gothic waking nightmare. Bale’s appearance adds to the film’s eerie atmosphere.

The 6-foot 2-inch tall actor lost 63 pounds and became what director Brad Anderson calls a “walking skeleton” in order to embody the nervous, sleep-deprived Reznik.

Initially, Anderson thought to use CGI effects to simulate the necessary gauntness, but realized that would be unnecessary once the actor walked off the plane to shoot in Barcelona.

Bale approached the extreme weight loss as a one-time experiment – like his singing and dancing turn in the 1992 musical “Newsies” – and checked with a nutritionist who recommended specific vitamin supplements for his period of deprivation. As expected, during the filming of “Machinist,” Bale perpetually had low energy, worked slowly and loathed shooting running scenes.

His experience wasn’t all hunger and torture, though. As a side effect, he felt tranquility often associated with the enlightenment monks or other ascetics feel when fasting.

“I found myself almost unable to become angry or frustrated at almost anything,” he says. “I was a very happy person during that period, although people didn’t see me smiling too much because I was like, “I don’t want to waste the energy on that.’ Inside I was smiling a great deal.”

With this newfound serenity, Bale often found himself contemplating the sky or giving the impression that he was listening to music on his headphones when in fact he was observing the people on set. Even his wife, Sibi Blasic, enjoyed the restful company of the new, placid Christian Bale, although not necessarily in the bedroom.

When asked about his romantic life while filming “Machinist,” the actor is horrified. “Look at the state of me (then). Come on, my poor wife,” he says, adding, “It was a good insight I thought for her as to what (I’m) was going to look like when I’m 90.”

After wrapping the film, Bale not only had to regain his weight, but also bulk up for his next role as the titular superhero in the upcoming “Batman Begins,” which is his biggest, most commercial film ever. In the meantime, Bale hopes that his fans will check out his latest effort.

“I adore (“The Machinist”). It’s really some kind of classic movie to me,” he says. “It’ll be interesting to see if anybody actually shares that opinion or not or if it will just have a cult following of me.”

“The Machinist” also stars Jennifer Jason Leigh and Michael Ironside.

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