There are actors, and then there is Christian Bale. This is an actor who is a living embodiment of The Method. Bale transforms himself into all sorts of individuals in the attempt to achieve the best possible performance.
For Vice, Bale has pulled off his biggest transformation yet, becoming the overweight, balding Vice President Dick Cheney. Bale packed on the pounds for this role, and when asked about his preparation for the role for an interview, Bale replied “It’s helpful not to look like yourself, if I look in the mirror and go, ‘Ah, that doesn’t look like me’—that’s helpful.”
On the first several glances, it’s hard to realise that who we are seeing on-screen isn’t actually Dick Cheney himself. But it’s Bale’s deeply expressive eyes that reassure us that what we are watching is just a film.
When writer and director Adam McKay first decided to make a film about Cheney, he had only one actor in mind. “From the very beginning, I wanted Christian Bale to play him… I knew he’d get it.” McKay explained in an interview with USA Today.
Despite Cheney and Bale have many psychical differences (weight, age, build and head shape), McKay was confident that Bale could pull it off. Bale has a certain level of dedication to acting. Even in an average film such as American Hustle, Bale packed on pounds and wore a hair piece to get into character (Bale was the one actor who seemed to be having fun and just went with the outlandish vibe that the film gave off).
Rami Malek may have gone under a slight transformation for his role as Freddie Mercury in Bohemian Rhapsody, but not at the same level as Bale underwent. He spent between four to eight hours a day in the makeup chair on the Vice set, with his scalp shaved and eyebrows bleached to make his head a better canvas for wigs and prosthetics. “It was helpful to (have) a bullish neck. They added a number of inches (of prosthetic) around my neck.” Bale explained in an interview. Malek may have worn false teeth, but Bale wore an entirely false face in order to become the character he was playing.
Make-up and prosthetics aside, Bale’s main focus was trying to capture “the essence” of Cheney. The actor studied hundreds of pieces of Cheney footage to capture Cheney’s persona. Of course, Malek has also stated that he watched hours of footage of Mercury, but unlike the singer who was a natural performer, Cheney is an individual who spent most of his public persona in the shadows. Cheney is a closed-off and very private indvidual, so it would take another level of analysis to deconstruct this man and get into his mind-set.
Of course, Bale is already an Oscar winner, for his role in The Fighter (2010) – where again he completely transformed into the character he was playing. Bale researched the part by taking notes on Eklund’s mannerisms and recording conversation, which impressed Director David O. Russell, who stated that “Dicky has a whole rhythm to him, a music. Christian had to understand how his mind works.” This performance earned Bale the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Still despite all of his leading roles, Bale still hasn’t won for Best Actor.
Malek may seem the favourite to win, and he is the best thing about that God Awful film, but his performance lacks any real depth to it. Once we have finished Bohemian Rhapsody, we come away not really knowing more about the subject of the film. The details ‘revealed’ to us are already quite common knowledge.
However, when we finish Vice, we feel satisfied that there has been a solid attempt to deconstruct the man who is Dick Cheney.
If this piece has failed to changed your mind, there is one further point to mention. Not only did Bale gain a staggering 45 pounds for this role. He lifted weights only using his neck. As sproducer Kevin Messick disclosed “I remember the day we got a bill for this crazy neck machine contraption because he thought he could get his neck more like Dick. Whatever it cost, it was worth it.”
Surely, Bale deserves the award just for this level of dedication? How many other actors do you know, who have gone to such extraordinary lengths?