Christian Bale has previously undergone some famously massive physical transformations as part of his work. He lost more than 60 pounds (28.5 kg) for his emaciated role in 2003’s The Machinist, and a considerable amount of weight as well for The Fighter, seven years later. On the other side of the scale, coming off production on the former movie, he crash-gained muscle mass to tackle the role of an iconic superhero in Batman Begins, and additionally put on a lot of weight for his role in American Hustle. “My wife loves it,” jokes Bale about the latter types of preparation, “because the fatter I get, the skinnier she looks.”
But the 44-year-old English-born actor’s physical metamorphosis is only part of the story in writer-director Adam McKay’s Vice, which spans 50 years and charts the rise to power of Dick Cheney, the former American Vice President under George W. Bush. It is matched by an uncanny inner transformation that, yes, takes on Cheney’s mannerisms and speech patterns but also folds them into a larger package, which captures his public aura, and essence. For his work, Bale recently received his fourth career Golden Globe nomination, for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy.
While he half-jokingly describes the movie as “the dark side of one man’s love for a woman,” Bale is sincere in his appraisal that Vice is rooted in the relationship dynamic of Dick’s marriage to high school sweetheart Lynne Vincent (Amy Adams), who always harbored big dreams for the duo’s relationship. It was Lynne’s ambitions that pushed a more shiftless Dick into the corridors of power, and their shared steadfastness that also anchored the Cheneys’ family life – another key component that factors into Bale’s appreciation of the finished product.
“For me, it was such a run in the gamut of emotions watching this film, which I didn’t even think, having made it, was going to be possible. But I was bawling my eyes out at moments because there are such relatable moments with his family,” Bale says. “I truly think it’s an absolute masterpiece. I was blown away by this film, and as moved by it in every emotion as much as any film that I have ever seen in my life. It’s absolutely staggering to me.”
While the demands of risk-averse lawyers (concerned that while Cheney could not derail the film, he could possibly delay it) ultimately waylaid Bale’s plans to reach out personally to the polarizing former politician, he did study his subject with his usual all-consuming dedication, speaking at length with a friend of Cheney’s who was candid in what he shared. “And I watched him endlessly – there’s just still so much Dick Cheney on this phone,” Bale says with a laugh, gesturing toward his cell.
The finished product of Vice, anchored by Bale’s performance, is a radical, tone-shifting disquisition on power, and vivisection of its hubristic application. That its themes sparked such deep introspection in the man tasked with playing its central character speaks to the depth and universality of the material, no matter its specifics. “Dick Cheney is a servant, and we all are in different ways. I am a servant to the director that I work for, and we all serve somebody,” says Bale. “But what’s interesting is that he does have incredible ambition, but it’s not always for himself.”
“That’s what is so fascinating with (Cheney) – the desire for power but to remain in the background,” he continues. “In that sense, it’s (about) understanding that true power is not being in front, true power is being the man behind the figurehead. And that’s something that is definitely interesting to me about him – someone who is (like that is) so supremely confident in their own sense of self. He’s a very intriguing man.”
Audiences will likely leave Vice reflecting in similar fashion on Bale, one of his generation’s most intriguing talents.