EXCLUSIVE: The Big Short’s Adam McKay will next direct an untitled drama at Paramount Pictures about Dick Cheney, who moved from Halliburton chief executive to become reputedly the most powerful Vice President in American history. McKay has quietly completed a screenplay that will go out to actors shortly, as he and the studio hope to be shooting by spring a film that will be ready for release late 2017.
Plan B producers Brad Pitt, Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner will produce with McKay and his Gary Sanchez partners, Will Ferrell and Kevin Messick. They are all reuniting after The Big Short got five Oscar nominations including Best Picture and Best Director, and which won Oscars for McKay and Charles Randolph for adapting the book by Michael Lewis.
There has been expectation that the upset election of Donald Trump might spur Hollywood filmmakers to focus more on topical subject matter and cautionary tales. For McKay, a smart guy who transitioned with Will Ferrell from Saturday Night Live writer to film scripter/director of comedy hits that included Talladega Nights, Step Brothers and Anchorman, this is no knee-jerk endeavor. It’s something he quietly began writing right after winning the Oscar, part of his continuing evolution that started with The Big Short. In Cheney, McKay found what he feels is arguably the single most powerful political figure in modern American history.
“I’ve always found Cheney fascinating,” McKay told Deadline. “Questions of what drove him, what his beliefs were; but once we started digging I was astounded at how much he had shaped modern America’s place in the world and how shocking the methods were by which he gained his power.”
While incoming Vice President Mike Pence has cited him as a role model, Cheney has always been a polarizing figure, and a lightning rod for controversy for his role in expanding the powers of the presidency while he served eight years as No. 2 for President George W. Bush. Among his initiatives was to press the war on global terrorism post-9/11, with initiatives that ranged from spying, invading Afghanistan and then Iraq – the latter based on intel that Saddam Hussein had procured weapons of mass destruction and was aligned to Al Qaeda, assertions that were considered shaky at the time and were never substantively proven — and the establishment of techniques including waterboarding as part of an “enhanced interrogation program” that many called torture against suspected terrorists held in Guantanamo without access to due process. He previously served in the administrations of Nixon, Ford and George H.W. Bush, before he became Halliburton chairman/CEO and then joined the Republican ticket alongside Bush.
Cheney was a study in contradictions: a war hawk who himself received five deferments that kept him from fighting in Vietnam. And while the Bush Administration did not support gay marriage, Cheney personally went against the grain, perhaps swayed by the fact his daughter was openly gay. Cheney’s approval rating was down to 13% when he left office, and he has long been a critic of the foreign policy of his former boss’s successor, President Barack Obama. This will be the second time the administration has been explored in a feature by a major director after Oliver Stone directed the 2008 drama W, with Josh Brolin as Bush and Richard Dreyfuss playing Cheney.
This is just one of the films McKay has lined up to direct with social relevance. He is currently directing pilot for the Gary Sanchez-produced HBO pilot Succession, about a fictional Murdoch- or Redstone-like media family dealing with succession, politics and the 21st century challenges on media companies. On the feature front, McKay will also direct Bad Blood, the drama he is writing with Jennifer Lawrence starring as Elizabeth Holmes, founder of the controversial blood-test company Theranos. This was a hot package that McKay pitched and which Legendary Pictures won in a deal that paid McKay $3.5 million to script a film budgeted between $40 million-$50 million for Legendary and Universal Pictures. It’s partly based on a book proposal by two-time Pulitzer Prize winner John Carreyrou, who broke the story on Theranos for the Wall Street Journal last fall.
Like the Cheney film, Bad Blood seems a close cousin to The Big Short in analyzing power that gets out of hand. Here, McKay and Lawrence (who is also producing with Gary Sanchez) will focus on how innovative companies gain astronomical valuations that sometimes prove too good to be true. Theranos is the blood-testing startup that Holmes founded in 2003, with claims it could test blood with only a pinprick instead of the traditional method of drawing blood by injection. That potential left Theranos with a $9 billion valuation as recently as two years ago. The company since has come under investigation over claims of inaccurate testing, and Holmes’ own worth — at one point valued at $4.5 billion for her 50% stake — has fallen to a fraction of that. As the third act of Theranos continues to unfold in real time, McKay will make his immediate focus the Cheney movie.
He’s repped by WME and Mosaic.