The release of the much anticipated big-screen film Batman Begins - which makes its US debut in Los Angeles on Monday - could see its star Christian Bale move into the Hollywood big league.
The new Batman movie is more sinister
He has taken challenging roles including a serial killer in American Psycho and a paranoid insomniac in The Machinist, for which he lost 63lb (28.5kg) in weight.
But his performance as the caped crusader is his most high profile to date.
Directed by Memento creator Christopher Nolan, Batman promises to be darker even than Tim Burton's 1989 version, starring Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson.
The cast includes Sir Michael Caine, Liam Neeson and Gary Oldman, but its success will depend largely on audience's reaction to Bale's performance.
In a recent interview, Bale said he was not influenced by "the campy figure" in the TV series or the moody superhero of the most recent Batman movies.
"I respect the other movies, but I never saw the character as being more interesting than the villains surrounding him," he said.
"I think that Batman very definitely is more interesting than the villains around him, and hopefully this will be the first movie to show that.
"I had to audition for this movie and I decided just that I didn't want to do it if they didn't want to do it in the way I felt it should be done.
"So I just went for it, which some people felt was quite extreme. "
Bale has put his body through tough regimes for roles
Bale's determination to play the role "his way" saw him put on weight and work out to build up his physique.
This regime came shortly after his huge weight loss for The Machinist, a dark thriller in which he played a man whose health deteriorates due to his lack of sleep.
The actor has made a career of playing outsiders.
Born in Pembrokeshire, Wales, in 1974, his father was a commercial pilot while his mother was a dancer - his grandfather had been a stand-up comic and children's entertainer.
He made his big screen debut aged 12 with the lead role in Steven Spielberg's adaptation of JG Ballard's tale of life in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp, Empire of the Sun, released in 1988.
In 1989 he appeared in Kenneth Branagh's version of Henry V and in the following year starred as Jim Hawkins opposite Charlton Heston in a TV version of Treasure Island.
Throughout the 90s he mixed roles in arty films like 1997's Metroland with Hollywood parts like one of the leading voices in Disney's Pocahontas.
In 1998, he played a journalist in glam rock drama Velvet Goldmine, opposite Ewan McGregor, but it was his role in 2000's American Psycho that drew him the most attention since his Spielberg film debut.
He played bloodthirsty Patrick Bateman in the screen adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis's 1980s yuppie satire.
He starred in dark thriller The Machinist
Controversial for its depiction violence and sexual assaults on women, the book was considered "unfilmable" by critics.
But Bale's performance and Mary Harron's direction won acclaim.
Bale followed it up with supporting roles in Samuel L Jackson's remake of Shaft, the screen version of Captain Corelli's Mandolin and dragon fantasy Reign of Fire.
As well as Batman Begins, his forthcoming movies include an appearance opposite Colin Farrell in director Terrence Malik's The New World and tough cop drama Harsh Times.
He married Winona Ryder's former assistant Sibi Blazic in 2000. The couple had their first child, a girl, in March.
Speaking to the BBC at the time of The Machinist's release, he said he hoped his role as Batman would not make him seem a ubiquitous "empty soul".
"Frankly, I get bored of seeing many people who are around too often," he said. "And I certainly get bored of seeing myself if I'm around too much."