Adam McKay on why he loves the 'divisive' nature of Oscar nominee Vice
On Feb. 24, winners will be crowned at the 91st Academy Awards. But before the red carpet is rolled out and envelopes are opened, Entertainment Weekly has inside intel on the 2019 nominees. Keep checking back at EW.com this week for spotlights on contenders in all the major categories.
Director of: Vice
Oscar past: 2 Noms, 1 Win
Writer-director Adam McKay got up bright and early Tuesday morning to make waffles with friends and family and celebrate his film Vice’s multiple Oscar nominations. But when EW called him to get his reaction, there was one person he still hadn’t talked to: Christian Bale, who stars in Vice as former Vice President Dick Cheney.
“Knowing Christian, he’s probably still asleep,” McKay said with a laugh. “I can’t imagine he would get up. Maybe his agent has woken him by now.”
When Bale does get up, he’ll wake to the news that Vice earned eight Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Director for McKay, Best Actor for Bale, Best Supporting Actor for Sam Rockwell, and Best Supporting Actress for Amy Adams. Bale stars as the polarizing veep, and the film traces Cheney’s rise from hard-partying Yale dropout to White House puppet master — all punctuated by McKay’s fourth-wall-breaking style.
“Given the polarizing times we live in, given the subject matter of an uncharismatic vice president, given the style in which we told this story — which is definitely not a traditional style — this is a great affirmation for the movie,” McKay told EW. “And most importantly, for our big crew of incredibly talented people. Everyone went the extra mile for this movie. This was not a paycheck for anyone, and that’s the best, when you see this kind of acknowledgement and everyone’s a part of it.”
Despite the Oscar love, the critical reception to Vice has been more mixed and kickstarted some passionate political responses. (Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner reportedly walked out of a screening in December.) McKay says the contentious response to the movie initially took him by surprise, but he’s glad it’s sparking a conversation.
“I knew our movie would be divisive,” McKay said. “I knew the times we lived in, but I was like, wow! It’s really divisive. There are people who love love it, and there are people who hate hate it. I kind of forgot the country I was living in for a second, so there was a little bit of an adjustment to that. And then you start seeing how the movie interacts with the world, and you get to the point where you’re like, ‘I love this. This is what this was supposed to do.’ It was supposed to generate these kinds of hot and cold responses.”
McKay first started kicking around the idea of a Dick Cheney movie back in 2016, shortly after he won a best adapted screenplay Oscar for The Big Short. After the long slog of awards season, he broke with the flu and wound up reading a book on Cheney as he recovered, triggering the idea for a biopic. Now, as Vice’s awards season starts to wind down, he’s once again started to turn his thoughts to potential other projects: There’s a planned biopic of Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes, starring Jennifer Lawrence, and he’s also started weighing an idea for another big-concept movie.
“I think the big challenge and the story that dwarfs all other stories is global warming,” McKay explained. “It’s really chilling, and every piece of data I see about it just gets worse and worse. We really are in state of emergency. We’re in an atmospheric catastrophe right now. So the trick is, how do you do that as a movie? That’s what I’m trying to figure out right now.”
“I have literally like four ideas I’m kicking around,” he continued. “One is starting to get more interesting than the rest, but we’ll see. I have months to kind of plan and work on it.”
And if there’s a role for Bale, McKay knows the actor will be more than willing to undergo yet another eye-popping transformation, just as he gained 40 pounds and bleached his eyebrows to play Cheney. “I want it to be a fictional character, but for some reason he still has to put on 120 pounds,” McKay said gleefully. “Like, ‘You gotta do it, Christian! He’s gotta have girth and weight and gravitas.’”