Former Vice President Dick Cheney notoriously avoids the spotlight, preferring to operate behind the scenes, so it might come as a surprise to him that a film reimagining his life story dominated the Golden Globe nominations Thursday.
Vice, written and directed by Adam McKay and starring a nearly unrecognizable Christian Bale as Cheney, along with Amy Adams as wife Lynne Cheney and Sam Rockwell as former President George W. Bush, scored six Globe nominations, including one for Best Comedy/Musical Film. Bale earned a lead actor nomination, Adams and Rockwell scored supporting nods, and McKay landed nominations for directing and screenplay.
“I was especially happy for the actors because, man oh man, these are some special performances where they really went the extra mile as far as passion and detail and work,” McKay told EW on Thursday morning.
Vice, which hails from Annapurna Pictures, leads all film nominees, followed by The Favourite, Green Book, and A Star Is Born with five nominations apiece. In the Best Comedy/Musical category, Vice is nominated alongside Crazy Rich Asians, The Favourite, Green Book, and Mary Poppins Returns.
McKay jumped on the phone with EW to discuss why Cheney’s story resonated with audiences, how Bale transformed himself, and why Mary Poppins had better watch out.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Why do you think Vice struck a chord with Golden Globe voters?
ADAM MCKAY: It’s definitely a movie that attempts to gives some structure and focus to these insane times that we live in. First and foremost, it’s a portrait of power through Christian Bale’s performance and Amy Adams, and certainly the times we are living in are about power. But I also think it gives structure to an arch of history here in the United States that also relates to the world at large. I think most of all they seem to really like the idea that the tone is both absurdist and comedic and at the same time dramatic and tragic, and that mixture of tones reflects the times that we’re living in right now: We’re living in high comedy or the darkest of dramas.
Christian Bale is a master of physical transformation, but what does his performance as Dick Cheney bring to both the myth and the reality of the notoriously secretive VP?
That was the thing — riding into this movie, we knew it was really, at the root, a mystery. Dick Cheney’s a guy who doesn’t want a movie made about him, Dick Cheney’s a guy who doesn’t want to be in the spotlight, so I knew that if I was going to go into that giant question mark, I needed people who could go as deep as you could possibly go. When you think of names like that, you think of Christian Bale and Amy Adams, and boy they did not disappoint. They both just really went after these characters and really brought psychological complexity to them and answered questions and did types of research that I hadn’t even imagined, and it became an exciting process where I was able to bounce back and forth with the actors as we all sought to understand these people.
Amy Adams’ Lynne Cheney is a very meaty supporting role, with lot of important screen time. Why did you want to have her as the through-line in your film?
It’s funny because obviously it’s a true story, and when you’re looking at the rules of screenwriting, you’re always supposed to have your main character having some sort of inciting action and a character-defining moment. But the truth is, really Cheney’s activation came through Lynne, and in some ways they’re sort of one and the same, and there’s certain periods in the movie where they’re almost indistinguishable — her ambition, her intelligence, her sharpness mixed in with his patience, his meticulous eye and long-term view of power, so you’re right, to even say lead actress or supporting actress, I almost think of them as the same character in a way, and then at the same time her character is so forceful and strong that even when she’s not in the movie, you can always feel her presence in there. It’s a testament to Amy’s incredible performance.
Sam Rockwell as George W. Bush was such an interesting performance to watch. What do you feel Sam uniquely brought to the role, especially in playing such a well-known public figure?
Sam might have had one of the hardest roles because the impression that Will Ferrell does haunts the specter of George W. Bush; you can’t think of him without thinking of Will Ferrell. So I right away told Sam, “This is going to be really hard because you’ve got to play this guy and you’ve got to totally humanize this guy, yet at the same time George W. Bush is a little bit ridiculous. You can’t lose that — his off-balance, awkward, big-kid vibe is who he is.” And here’s the reason as a director you just feel spoiled when you get an actor like Sam Rockwell, one of the best actors on the planet, he just made it look easy even though, trust me, it was not, and totally played him like a real person with his feet on the ground yet brought in that George W. Bush awkwardness and just absolutely killed the role. I was blown away by his performance, and those scenes with him and Christian as Dick Cheney are some of my favorites in the movie.
In this current climate, this film does have a very definite liberal feel, but how does Vice serve both sides of the political aisle?
We really went out of our way to be as factual and as truthful as we could be, and were really interested in this portrait of this mysterious figure and how he changed history. In some of our test screenings, we had Republicans saying they didn’t have a problem with it, that they felt it was very fair, very straight-ahead. There’s nothing really in the movie that’s disputed — we know the Iraq war happened, we know that Cheney had a big influence in the White House, everything’s based in facts, and we also see the Reagan revolution and the Republican revolution, which, if you’re a Republican, you actually would fee really good about that because it worked. So we were surprised, we didn’t get that kind of backlash when we were screening it. Now that being said, there’s still going to be people who’ll want to dismiss it based on the grounds, they’re going to say it’s liberal because for some people, I don’t think they’re going to want to go back and examine their stance on the Iraq war and revisit some times that haven’t aged very well from that period. But overall, we really did our best to keep it as an accurate, layered, nuanced portrait of Dick Cheney and Lynne Cheney, and power in American history, as best we could, and so far that’s the reaction we’ve been getting.
Who else were you happy to see nominated today at the Golden Globes? We also spoke to Barry Jenkins, who asked us to send you his love.
I would put Barry Jenkins right up there; he’s one of my favorite filmmakers and just a lovely guy. It’s always fun when you’re with all these different movies, people like Alfonso Cuarón and all these great artists, you feel like it’s a treat to even be named with him. There’s nothing competitive about it. The only one I’m competitive about is Mary Poppins — we are coming for Mary Poppins, we will take that movie out. Dick Cheney is coming for her, and we will trounce that movie. [Laughs]
What a world we live in, where Dick Cheney and Mary Poppins are in the same category.
I saw Emily Blunt at the Governors Ball and I told her, “We’re coming for Mary Poppins.” I think she was like, “Who is this crazy guy?” But let it be officially known, we are coming for Mary Poppins.