Oscar-nominated Vice director Adam McKay talks about the hair-raising moment he first saw Christian Bale morphing into Dick Cheney

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Oscar-nominated Vice director Adam McKay. (Photo: Getty Images)
Oscar-nominated Vice director Adam McKay. (Photo: Getty Images)

Hollywood director Adam McKay speaks to Channel24’s Herman Eloff on the phone from Los Angeles about his acclaimed new film Vice and the hair-raising moment he first saw Christian Bale fully transform into Dick Cheney before his eyes.

Cape Town – Who knew that Hollywood star Christian Bale and former American vice president Dick Cheney shared a birthday?

Adam McKay did.

In fact he nonchalantly tweeted it out to his more than 1 million followers on 30 January: "Happy birthday to Christian Bale and Dick Cheney. (No joke. They have the same birthday)".

Adam is the same man that rather remarkably envisioned the 45-year-old actor transforming into the 78-year-old former politician for the biographical comedy-drama, Vice.

Not even Christian could see it happening. In fact, he told me so himself during a recent phone interview: "I went to Adam and I was like: ‘You want me to play Cheney? That’s nuts!’ Then I said to him he had to give me a couple of months."

But there was never any doubt in the Oscar-nominated director’s mind. He knew Christian Bale was the man for the job. And he was right.

Vice, which opened in South African cinemas on 1 February, tells the story of Dick Cheney, an unassuming bureaucratic Washington insider, who quietly wielded immense power as vice president to George W. Bush, reshaping the country and the globe in ways that we still feel today.

The film has not only made headlines for Bale’s chameleon-like transformation but also raked in an impressive eight Oscar nominations this year.


Speaking on the phone with Adam about the film’s impressive award season performance he humbly accepts the congratulations, whilst adding: "We were quite excited. I was actually at my house with some of the producers, and some friends, and my 13-year-old daughter. We actually got up because it was very early in the morning. About 05:15 in the morning.

"But, you know, we figure how often do you get in this position where you get them to announce possibly Oscar nominations on a movie you worked so hard on? So, we had some coffee and some bagels, and we cheered each time they said the movie Vice. It was really fun.

"We weren’t coming into it expecting eight nominations. That’s for sure. We were going to be happy with whatever amount we got, but we weren’t expecting eight. You never even think about the awards or the box office. You never think about any of that. You just one-hundred percent try and make the best film you can make and try and get the film to work."

Adam McKay, actor Christian Bale, producer Kevin M

(ADAM IN ACTION: Adam McKay, actor Christian Bale, producer Kevin Messick, and cinematographer Greig Fraser on the set of Vice. Photo: Matt Kennedy / Annapurna Pictures)

Adam previously worked as the head writer on Saturday Night Live for two seasons and is also the director behind films like Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Step Brothers, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, and of course The Big Short.

In his earlier years he was part of the Chicago-based improvisational comedy group The Second City and initially auditioned to be part of the on-screen talent at SNL. But it was ultimately his excellent writing skills that grabbed the attention of the creators behind the iconic late-night comedy show. In a piece he wrote for Rolling Stone, Adam casually reveals that he was the one to hire Tina Fey to join the show as writer – a gig that kicked off her massively successful career: "I knew her from Chicago. It was an easy hire; she was always hilarious."

Few people know that Adam is also the co-creator behind the hugely successful comedy site Funny or Die, which he later parted ways with, and operates a production company, Gary Sanchez Productions, with fellow funnyman Will Ferrell.

Adam wrote, directed, and produced Vice which has now earned him Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Original Screenplay nominations at the upcoming 91st Academy Awards ceremony that will be taking place on 24 February in Los Angeles.


But how did he even begin to bring a Hollywood heavyweight and a potbellied Republican politician together to create his masterpiece?

"I knew Dick Cheney was a mystery. I know there was not a lot out there about his personal life and his emotions. His emotional life. So, I needed an actor who would be tireless in diving into the mystery and no one has a more rigorous process in preparing a character than Christian Bale. So right away from the first second of the project I knew it had to be Christian Bale that plays Dick Cheney."

I ask Adam about the moment when he finally saw Christian morph into Dick Cheney. That moment when all the pieces finally fell into place and he knew he had made the right choices.

"It is almost kind of scary," he says, then takes a moment before adding: "I remember the hair stood up on my arm when finally, the make-up worked, he had gained the weight, the character worked…and he did the walk down the hallway. That Cheney-walk. I just remember getting chills. Everyone was kind of just looking at each other…thinking…oh my god.

"It was remarkable."

Sam Rockwell, director Adam McKay, Christian Bale,

(BEHIND THE SCENES: Sam Rockwell, director Adam McKay, Christian Bale, and producer Kevin Messick on the set of Vice. Photo: Matt Kennedy / Annapurna Pictures)

Christian Bale, who is known for diving deep when it comes to taking on a new role, really went in hard when he transformed into Dick Cheney. Not only did he gain a hefty 18kg, shaved his head and bleached his eyebrows but he also did special exercises to thicken his neck.

In a recent phone interview with Channel24, Christian explained that the physical changes he undergoes is really important in creating the inner-character: "I think it completely enforms the interior of a person as well. They’re not separate. They are combined entirely. It’s also nice to look in the mirror and not see yourself. It helps a great deal with sort of going full board down the rabbit hole of how immersive you’re going to be with playing the character."

The way Christian Bale erases himself from sight and totally embodies another person is both chilling and praiseworthy. "For me personally it’s one of the greatest performances I’ve ever seen. Playing through five decades. Changing age. I really got lucky on this one with some of the greatest actors around. It was really a pleasure," says Adam.

Vice is a thrill from beginning to end and despite tackling an extremely serious topic surprisingly has a lot of bite, zing, and attitude to it – which is typical of Adam’s comedic style. Although it might seem like worlds apart, comedy and politics have a lot in common.


"Politics are so insane right now," says the 50-year-old director.

"Governments are so upside down. We don’t want to deal with that. But the truth is, you strip away all the garbage – government is very exciting and very entertaining. We are talking about ‘the throne’. Nowadays it is representative democracy, so you have a lot of people sitting on the throne, but it’s still the throne.

"It really is exciting, and it can be funny, it can be scary, it can be interesting. We really tried to bring that to the movie. The idea that politics are boring, or dusty, or depressing doesn’t always have to be the case."

Adam seems to have that rare ability to find a story where others wouldn’t even bother to look. He has the skill to take the most mundane of subjects and transform it into something extremely entertaining and exciting: "We’re told over-and-over again that so many of these subjects are boring. Like banking or politics. But it’s not. It’s actually really fascinating.

"I mean I’m a fan of movies. I love all kinds of movies. I like to be entertained. So, when I’m reading books on a topic and I’m going: ‘Holy moly! Look at this guy. It’s unbelievable’…then I just know that if you tell it the right way other people will get excited about it too.

"The world has just started to get really crazy and these stories are coming up and people are told: ‘don’t worry about this story it’s too boring or too complicated’…and a lot of the times..." he takes a pause, then adds with a slight hint of excitement in his voice: "...that is where the really good stories are."

Watch Vice and you’ll know that Adam McKay has unearthed yet another gem – just like he always does.


READ NEXT: Christian Bale reveals more about his South African family and his unique connection with Mzansi

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Vice is showing in South African cinemas now. 

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