NOEL KING, HOST:
Making a movie about former Vice President Dick Cheney turns out to be harder than you may have thought.
ADAM MCKAY: After I read his autobiography, I thought, oh, my God, this is a guy who has really done everything he can to not have a movie made about him. There's no bread crumbs. There's no even - there's no - nothing.
KING: Adam McKay found that very exciting. McKay directed hits like "Anchorman" and "The Big Short." For this new movie "Vice," he teamed up again with Oscar-winning actor Christian Bale, who plays the part of Dick Cheney in mind, body and soul.
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "VICE")
CHRISTIAN BALE: (As Dick Cheney) The vice presidency is mostly a symbolic job.
SAM ROCKWELL: (As George W. Bush) Right, right.
BALE: (As Dick Cheney) However, if we were to come to a different understanding, maybe I can handle some of the more mundane jobs - overseeing bureaucracy, managing military, energy, foreign policy.
ROCKWELL: (As George W. Bush) That sounds good.
KING: Adam McKay and Christian Bale went to NPR West to chat with our co-host David Greene. Bale said he had a lot of questions as he got ready for the role.
BALE: The first thing - and it always stuck with me right throughout - was just wanting to know, you know, does he sleep well?
DAVID GREENE, BYLINE: Does he sleep well?
BALE: Does he sleep well at night? In the sense of, how do you sleep? You know, how do you - do the demons come?
GREENE: Where is he on the spectrum of - in terms of the characters you've played? I mean, there's good versus evil. There's hero versus villain. Like...
BALE: I think, though, that, you know, you want to get away from the whole superhero notion of, you know, someone is all villain or they're all hero, you know? - so finding the humanity in it. You know, I mean, there's terrifying people in the world. And most of them don't have swastikas carved into their forehead like Manson, right? You don't see them coming. They're, very often, very intelligent men wearing slacks and a polo shirt, right?
And that is so confusing in life. And people who do things that we think are absolutely abhorrent can be wonderful company. And then also, what Adam and I said was, you know, let's see. Let's play with this idea that I will really try to advocate for Cheney and do my best to defend all of his positions and try to believe in Cheney and believe in what he's saying.
GREENE: Because, Adam, you made a choice, I mean, to look for his humanity in, I mean, a beautiful side. I mean, especially in his marriage, there was something very loving, something romantic. His family - I mean, when his daughter Mary came to him in the film and told him that she's gay, I mean, he was incredibly accepting and loving.
MCKAY: And yeah, that's word for word what he said. He said, we will accept you no matter what. I'll always love you. What I loved about this story is this is a guy who tracks, in a lot of ways, with America. He's a guy who started off with ambitions. He wanted to make his wife proud. Lynne Cheney is a very powerful character, played beautifully by Amy Adams. And he was in love with her. He was, like, really crazily in love with her. And what was so kind of heartbreaking about the story was that - how natural it started and how human it all was.
And then, I think, Cheney confronted some really difficult decisions. And I think that that humble ambition and love of family became something maybe a little darker. And to make this movie as just a screed against a villain who broke laws and - I mean, that's a bore at that point. We want to learn things about each other. We want to learn how our country got to where we got. And we were really trying to throw off this terrible filter of partisanship that's just, you know, messed with our country a thousand different ways and just look at these as people who were citizens, who were patriots, who worked hard, who tried to do the right thing. And things got very, very complicated.
GREENE: Some of the moments felt so real. I mean - and I'm thinking about the heart attack moments. How much did you study Dick Cheney and what those heart attacks were like? - because it was almost like a routine. Like, he knew they were coming. It was like, OK. Here's one of them. I got to do something.
BALE: Yes. Well, apparently, that was how he behaved. He would just walk down the stairs and say to his security detail, yup, let's head to the hospital. I'm having one. And then I went to a cardiologist and had a fantastic time having the cardiologist actually perform various methods by which people have heart attacks.
GREENE: Oh, really?
BALE: And then I went and relayed that to Adam - sort of like a menu of heart attacks - and said, which one would you like? I could do this. I could just go, oh, and do this. I could do the fallen - you know? There's lots of different ways that it expresses itself.
GREENE: Well - and Adam, this is stunning. I mean, you actually, yourself, suffered a heart attack while you were still working on the film, right?
MCKAY: You're correct. We were still working on the movie. We were going into editorial. And I realized I hadn't treated myself very well during the movie. I'd put on some weight and foolishly had continued to smoke, which was - that was the killer. And I worked out with my trainer. And I couldn't catch my breath and my hands were tingling, and I felt queasy in my stomach. And then as soon as he left, I remembered Bale telling me queasy in the stomach is one of the big heart attack signs.
GREENE: You had learned this from the cardiologist when you were...
MCKAY: I called 911. And within seven, eight minutes, I was at the hospital. And the craziest part came where they had me and they called the cath lab. And that's where they go in and put the stent, and they were working on that. And I was so drugged up that I thought, I should tell these people I've just worked on a movie about Dick Cheney. So I started to mumble it. I was like, it's so weird that I just did a movie about Dick Cheney, and we filmed stuff like this.
But then there was a voice to my right. And he just said, Dick Cheney - great American. And I was like, am I going to argue with this guy while I'm having a heart attack? And I just decided to say - I was like, well, it's complicated. We kept saying that then after that point. We would be in the edit room. And my executive producer, Robyn Wholey - we would be stuck on a scene. And she would go, Dick Cheney - great American. And I would go, it's complicated.
(SOUNDBITE OF DAVID HOLMES' "ZIPPO'S")
GREENE: Well, guys, real pleasure talking to you and best of luck with the movie. Thank you so much.
BALE: Thank you.
MCKAY: Thanks for having us. That was great, man.
(SOUNDBITE OF DAVID HOLMES' "ZIPPO'S")
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