Thanks to makeup guru Greg Cannom, Christian Bale became totally unrecognizable as political lightning rod and VP Dick Cheney in “Vice.” It was a dramatic transformation (from age 21 to 75) that has Cannom poised for his fourth Oscar win (following “Dracula,” “Mrs. Doubtfire,” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”).
And nobody was more stunned than Cannom (he collaborated with Kate Biscoe and Patricia Dehaney). “When I first heard that they wanted Christian Bale to be Cheney, I thought they must be kidding,” he said. But there was no other choice for writer-director Adam McKay. Not after he was blown away by Bale’s scene-stealing performance as the eccentric hedge fund genius in “The Big Short.”
Greig Fraser/Annapurna Pictures
“It was amazing how well the old Cheney worked,” Cannom said. “I never thought it would ever get that good. But when the trailer came out, people said, ‘Who is that?'”
And the experience was a revelation for the chameleon-like Bale, who had never worn prosthetics before. “That’s why he always put on the weight to change himself,” said Cannom. “And I wasn’t sure it would work with Christian. But he really wanted a strong neck, so while we were waiting for the film to start shooting, he put on around 25 pounds. Except there was one scene in a bunker where he put on an extra 15 pounds, but then he lost weight, and, for most of the film, he wore a fat suit.
“But when we tried the appliances during that first test, he was really afraid he wouldn’t be able to turn his neck or move it very well,” added Cannom. “And I told him it’s silicone. It heats up with your face and it’s extremely movable. And so when we did the test, he was quite shocked at how well it moved. He learned to love the appliances.
First, came an assortment of hand-made wigs for the various ages. They shot the youngest scenes first and then Bale shaved his head for the rest of the film, and there were a lot of steps just to get the bald head to resemble Cheney’s.
As for the complicated appliances, they did them up as integrated pieces. “We had a chin appliance to get rid of Christian’s cleft in his chin,” Cannom said. “We used small appliances on the nose to straighten it more and to make it a little longer. And we used plumpers to widen his nose. We had a specialist who bleached his eyebrows to give them a soft, ash color, and thinned them down.”
There were different neck appliances, but because of the time factor, they often used the same neck, which wrapped around Bale’s entire neck under his jaw, and then they added a piece covering the back of the neck with large wrinkles, providing additional weight.
“And then we had cheek appliances and another for his chin,” added Cannom. “There were also age 68 cheeks, which overlapped, so it would blend onto the chin and the neck. And we did an age 75 piece later toward the end of the film when he’s in the hospital. So we used the same neck and chin, but just did heavier cheek aging pieces and heavier eye bags.”
Overall, there were more than half a dozen stages along with several intermediary ones for transitional ages, when Cannom mixed and matched wigs and appliances. “It was more Christian in the beginning until he hit his 30s and then going more for the Cheney look.”
But Bale literally tried to push his weight around in a good natured give and take with Cannom, who was skeptical about going fatter as Cheney. “But Christian was right, and to see him so happy was great,” he said. “We’d be doing two makeups a day and without a complaint. He doesn’t have to gain the weight anymore and I think he’ll have a lot of fun in the future with this stuff.”