“One of the tricks we ran up against in this film was according to the Syd Field-McKee kind of model of storytelling, Dick Cheney doesn’t have a first act. There’s no inciting incident that launches him,” explained the The Big Short Oscar winner at last Thursday’s Deadline screening for Vice at the Landmark in Los Angeles.
But after sending a reporter around the country to do research for the film, the takeaway from interviews in Casper Wyoming was that “whoever Lynne Vincent would have married, would become president or vice president,” McKay said. To date, Amy Adams, who plays Lynne Cheney, has received supporting actress nods from the Critics’ Choice, the Screen Actors Guild and the Golden Globes.
The rubric for McKay in Vice is the scene where Christian Bale’s Cheney is teaching his two young daughters how to hook a worm. They ask their father if it’s a good or bad trick they’re playing on the fish. Cheney’s response is that “It’s not good or bad. It’s fishing. We catch ’em, we put food on the table”.
“That’s the entire movie. That one exchange is everything: It’s form, it’s gamesmanship, it’s success over the greater good,” McKay explained.
In canvassing a variety of topics about Vice, McKay said that there was “no way I could make this movie before (the success of) Big Short. In fact after Big Short, I almost couldn’t make it. It’s the most difficult subject you could go into: A boring, monotone, bureaucratic vice president — hey, Hollywood, let’s go!” While McKay received a positive response from studio heads about his script, no one dared to make the movie, except for Annapurna’s Megan Ellison.
And if Bale –whose sublime turn as Cheney just earned him a best actor Golden Globe win in the comedy/musical category– hadn’t committed the part, “I don’t think the movie happens,” said McKay.
McKay knew Bale was his Cheney after working with The Fighter Oscar winner in The Big Short where he starred as physician-turned hedge fund capital manager Michael Burry.
“I have never seen an actor dive into a role and the psychological underpinnings of that character more than Christian Bale. It was one of the most incredible things I’d ever seen. And what I love about Bale is that he doesn’t just do an impersonation. He understands your motivations, he understands what your compensating for, he understands what you’re afraid of and he puts it all together in his interpretation. There’s not that many people who do that,” said McKay.
As far as McKay knows Dick and Lynne Cheney have not seen Vice. However, Republican pollster Frank Luntz has, and he was completely giddy about his portrayal in the film, played by Adam Bartley. Approaching McKay at one of the pic’s premieres, Luntz confirmed that he did in fact give a double thumbs up in the focus-group scene where he convinces them that “death tax” sounds better than “estate tax.”
“There was a pause and I was like ‘That’s kind of F***ed-up man’; he’s like ‘Yeah, yeah’,” McKay said.
McKay asked Luntz whether his views on global warming have changed; if the consultant realized its overall impact on the globe’s population, however, Luntz was too enamored with his scene in the film.
While there’s no indication that the former Veep’s gay daughter Mary Cheney (played by Alison Pill) has seen the movie, she started following McKay on Twitter, which he takes as a good sign.
To date, Vice has grossed over $30M at the domestic box office. The pic received six Golden Globe nominations including best comedy/musical, two SAG nominations for Bale and Adams, and nine Critics Choice noms including Best Picture.
Watch our entire post-screening Q&A with McKay above.