Stars Talk Transformations and Improvisations at 'Vice' Premiere

Amy Adams Adam McKay Sam Rockwell Steve Carell Christian Bale at Vice Premiere - Getty - H 2018
Steve Granitz/WireImage

Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Amy Adams and Adam McKay spilled secrets of the spin on Dick Cheney’s shadowy history at the film's L.A. premiere.

“Everything hurts now!” Christian Bale, who has famously bulked up with muscle and slimmed down to skin and bones for the roles he’s played throughout his career, told reporters of the consequences of adding layers of girth – 40 lbs. worth — to his frame to play former U.S. vice president Dick Cheney for Vice at the film’s premiere in Beverly Hills.

At age 44, it’s getting more and more difficult to shake off the aftereffects of his startling physical transformations, Bale said on the red carpet outside the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences’ Samuel Goldwyn Theater. “I've got to really start thinking about if I can manage this again, and the answer is probably no!"

Still, Bale’s chameleon-like ability to fully embody the former VP — which has already earned him top acting nominations for the Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Awards — was mesmerizing even to his co-stars on set.

“No matter which way I looked at him, whether his back was to me or I looked to the side of him, that was Dick Cheney,” marveled LisaGay Hamilton, who plays former secretary of state Condoleezza Rice in the film. “It wasn't like he's pretending to be Dick Cheney; that really, really was Dick Cheney. And that was just brilliant …That commitment again to not dropping character even in between takes, tells you what he knows about himself as an artist: that he's not the sort of artist that can drop stuff. He has to stay in it.”

“Basically with Christian Bale, you set him loose, right?” chuckled the film’s writer/director Adam McKay, who previously worked with Bale in The Big Short. “I mean, you know you're gonna have an actor that's gonna go as deep as you can go?”

“This is one of the most mysterious figures in American history: you read his autobiography, it's just devoid of any revelations – it's like a court deposition,” McKay told THR. “So I knew that we were gonna have to go deep — and I knew that Christian loves that. I know that he loves like going for characters that don't want you to know about them. So throughout the process, we would have long three-, four-hour meetings at his house where we just asked questions back and forth. Then once we got Greg Cannom, one of the most brilliant makeup artists ever in there, Christian started doing the transformation that he was doing, it all started to come together in this kind of amazing way.” 

As far as the film’s subject goes, McKay is still agog at the fascinating/infuriating, truth-is-stranger-than-fiction aspect of Cheney’s life and career that he chronicles in the movie. “I think it's pretty crazy that he actually sat down with George W. Bush and said, ‘I'll take care of the military, the economy, the bureaucracy — what do you think of that?’ And Bush was like, ‘Great!’" I mean that was one that was crazy!” the filmmaker said. “I also think it's really insane that he was getting the daily intelligence briefing before Bush. I mean that's just unheard of, the idea that you would give that to your VP.”

“I remember hearing George H. W. Bush say out of his biography that he never would've recommended Cheney if he had known that he was gonna run a shadow empire over at the White House,” McKay added. “And when I heard that, I knew we were on to something. I mean, that was a key, key quote.”

When writing and directing raucous comedies like Anchorman and Step Brothers, McKay has always encouraged improvisational moments from his players, and despite Vice’s non-fiction based storyline, the film’s satirical edge allowed him to encourage in-the-moment inspiration from the actors. And even while playing a real-life person — Cheney’s wife Lynne — Amy Adams, who previously worked with McKay in Talladega Nights, says she felt confident going off script.

“I knew that the improv that I was doing was more commentary as opposed to fact-based, so what the wonderful thing about it was that Adam allowed me to sort of stay in character and we created a really lovely debate all the time with me in character as Lynne Cheney,” Adams told THR. “And I'm fortunate to have just a wealth of resources of her talking, her being interviewed, her doing book tours. So I started to really understand how she responded to certain subject matter.”

“You try to learn as much as you can about them so you can do that, so you have a frame of reference and some context,” agreed Steve Carell, another McKay veteran, who plays former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in the film. “I think everybody was able to do that at a certain point. I watched Christian and Amy doing that all the time. I think it's just a comfort level, once you feel like you've done the research and you have a decent idea — or at least you think you do — as to what kind of voice that person has. Not just physically, but what's going on inside of them that it just comes out of you a little bit. It's fun. Adam definitely leans into that sort of thing. He loves the improv.”

Given that the film doesn’t take a particularly forgiving view of its character’s actions in real-life politics — Rumsfeld’s in particular — Carell said it was the actors’ challenge to figure out how they could connect to them as human beings.

“You try to find whatever part of them that might be vulnerable or the humanity,” Carell said. “That's what we're always trying to look for, and I got a sense that [Rumfeld’s] public persona was very different than his private persona, because he could be really lovely and kind of homespun. He seemed like the kindly uncle sitting out on the front porch and just an ‘Aw, shucks’ kind of guy, but I think that belied his intelligence and power and ambition. I think he was all of those things…[But] one of the things that I think defined Rumsfeld, at least for me, was that Nixon and Kissinger themselves said 'You’ve gotta watch out for that guy.' And for those two people to be nervous about a third says a lot about that guy.”

Despite how Vice casts a jaundiced eye on Cheney’s political arc, Bale told reporters he was unconcerned that the former veep would be insulted by the portrayal.

“I feel he'll certainly like it in an entertaining way,” Bale offered. “I think he's thick-skinned. He has no remorse or regrets about what he's done. He always says ‘I'm doing it. ‘He doesn't back down, doesn't apologize for anything … I'd love to hear his thoughts. He's a very intelligent individual. No matter what your thoughts about him, he's a smart cookie.”