Finally, Adam McKay’s long-awaited “Vice” screened for the press on Saturday, November 17. It’s one of the last major screenings of the 2019 Oscar candidates, but sometimes the best is saved for last.
On November 5, 2016, Paramount screened Denzel Washington’s “Fences” at a packed Westwood screening, followed by a short Q&A with the director and cast. Viola Davis went on to win Best Supporting Actress at SAG, the Golden Globes, and the BAFTAs on the way to her first Oscar. Paramount debuted “The Big Short” November 12, 2015 as closing night of the AFI FEST. It went on to receive five Oscar nominations with McKay and Charles Randolph’s adapted screenplay taking BAFTA, WGA, and the Oscar.
So now we have McKay’s follow-up, and anticipation is high. Financed by Annapurna, the movie is set to hit theaters December 25. And at the packed Westwood screening for guilds and awards press, applause was warm for its two leads, Bale and Amy Adams, who play Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife Lynne.
Much like this year’s Oscar-winner Gary Oldman and “Darkest Hour,” this is a case of a marriage between a great character actor channeling a real person as well as the makeup and prosthetics team that enabled him to change his appearance. At the Q&A that followed, three-time Oscar nominee and shape-shifter Bale (he won for “The Fighter”), who has returned to his fighting weight after a 40-pound weight gain to play Cheney admitted that he knew that the role would be a stretch.
“It’s a crazy idea, isn’t it?,” he said. “It seems like a typo to say Christian Bale as Dick Cheney, but it was an almost an impossible challenge, just within the galaxy of possible but about to leave that galaxy. That was exciting — ‘Really, you think I could do that? Can we actually achieve that?’ — and the challenge of that. [McKay and I] had a deal. ‘Let me move along,’ working with the great Greg Cannon and Chris Gallagher who did the the prosthetics… He knew that by the time I was that far in, I’m in no matter I where I was, even if this is the worst mistake and casting ever. He’s batshit crazy and brilliant, which is a wonderful combination.”
Bale researched Cheney heavily online, so much so that the politician infiltrated his Facebook memories. “We were hoping to get to the essence of the man,” he said, admitting that he stayed in character throughout filming.
Adams, who was robbed of an Oscar bid for “Arrival” after five nominations and no wins, is overdue. She also ages over the decades from fiercely ambitious young college wife to mother and Washington professional. Adams said she admired Lynne Cheney. “She reminded me of the best parts of my grandmother; she was an outspoken, pioneering woman who picked herself up by her bootstraps and could make it happen. She had a rough upbringing and a great romance with American history, there was so much to dig into … I loved this opportunity to develop the relationship between Dick and Lynne, it was very moving in a Shakespearean way.”
Among the tricks that McKay employs in the film, which like “The Big Short” is crammed with facts and figures and information and surprising detours, is one memorable scene in which his actors quote Shakespeare.
“At a certain point, the norm became just to watch movies that are entertaining or have explosions or laughs,” said McKay. “I’m a bit of a nerd, I find this stuff really fascinating. I try to highlight it with a fake ending or Shakespeare. This is an incredible moment: if Cheney says ‘no’ to being VP, history changes. There are no rules. It’s freeing to dive into movies from this different direction.”
Comedy actor director Tyler Perry plays it straight as Secretary of State Colin Powell, whom he admired and contacted in order to research the role; Powell made him read his book. Powell hasn’t seen the movie yet, and Perry said he is “worried” about his reaction. The important thing, said Perry, is that the movie is “highlighting a moment in history so we can pay attention to it so it doesn’t happen again.”
Among the other character actors on display are “The Big Short” star Steve Carell as Cheney mentor Donald Rumsfeld, Alison Pill as Cheney’s gay daughter Mary, and an hilarious Sam Rockwell as president George W. Bush, who doesn’t get nearly enough screen time.
Of course, the fate of “Vice” depends on how it fares with critics and moviegoers. But no matter what happens in that arena (and the fate of Annapurna may hang in the balance, as this smart, angry liberal movie cost some $60 million), screen actors will give Bale and Adams the love, from SAG to the Oscars.