Dick Cheney, is that you? How Christian Bale mentally, physically transformed for 'Vice'
Christian Bale has fully transformed to Dick Cheney in the teaser trailer for Adam McKay's "Vice." USA TODAY
When writer/director Adam McKay decided he was going to make a movie about former Vice President Dick Cheney, he only had one actor in mind to star.
“From the very beginning, I wanted Christian Bale to play him,” says McKay, whose darkly comic movie about the secretive VP's quiet political rise, "Vice," arrives in theaters Christmas Day. No matter that his chosen actor had a drastically different body type, head shape, age (Bale is 44, Cheney is 77) and stature from Cheney's. (However, they share a Jan. 30 birthday.)
Bale's initial reaction to the idea: "What?! How are you feeling, Adam?"
But the filmmaker was confident. "I knew he'd get it. I said, 'Look, you don't have to look exactly like him. We just want the vibe,' " says McKay, who also directed Bale to an Oscar nomination in "The Big Short."
He wasn’t wrong.
Bale has already been nominated for Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards for embodying Cheney throughout six decades of the ruthless politician’s life. Among a number of early "Vice" nominations, the film is up for best picture honors at the Globes (best comedy or musical) and Critics' Choice Awards.
The usually trim, brown-haired British actor "ballooned" in weight, he says, and did months of makeup tests with artists Greg Cannom and Chris Gallaher (“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”). The team developed several looks for the movie, including the one most moviegoers will be familiar with, giving Bale a bigger head, receding white hairline and jowls.
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Though that final look was so uncanny it made the hairs on McKay’s arms stand straight up, Bale’s appearance never threw off his 4-year-old son, Joseph.
“He didn’t flinch,” Bale says. “He must just look me straight in the eyes.”
Bale spent four to eight hours a day in the makeup chair on the "Vice" set, with his scalp shaved and eyebrows bleached to make his head a better canvas for wigs and prosthetics. The actor studied hundreds of pieces of Cheney footage to capture Cheney's never-back-down persona.
"It was helpful to (have) a bullish neck," Bale says. "They added a number of inches (of prosthetic) around my neck." But Bale's main focus was internalizing "the essence" of Cheney.
Bale says he populated his iPhone with so many images of Cheney to study, he started receiving auto-generated video montages of his Cheney "memories," set to uplifting music.
“You’ve got to give everything to every role that you do," says the shape-shifting actor, who won a supporting actor Oscar after getting scary skinny to play drug-addicted trainer Dicky in "The Fighter." For "Vice," Bale worked at thinking and speaking in Cheney's measured and thoughtful way, in case McKay called upon him to improvise. “I certainly did the research.”
One thing Bale did not do, however, was sit down with Cheney himself. The subject of the film wasn't consulted in the making of the sometimes-absurdist semi-biopic that depicts Cheney as a shadowy Washington insider who used his political know-how to push a conservative agenda and establish a low-key takeover of President George W. Bush’s administration.
“I was advised against (talking to Cheney) for all sorts of legal reasons,” Bale says. “He’s a tough cookie, very thick-skinned. I would have enjoyed meeting him, even if he just insulted me.”