Shortly after he finished filming Vice, Adam McKay had a heart attack. It was a bizarre case of life imitating art for the Anchorman director, who had just wrapped the movie about George W Bush’s vice president Dick Cheney, who is shown suffering multiple heart attacks throughout the story.
“It did seem like a crazy coincidence, I gotta say,” the 50-year-old admits, who is now returned to health and seated in a sturdy high-backed armchair in a London hotel.
Had the strain of turning away from comedy to spend time in the psyche of the politician — cited as the most powerful vice president in American history and responsible for setting up the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, and the controversial use of intelligence to justify an invasion in Iraq — taken a toll?
“It was emotionally tough,” he admits.
“Just going through this history while living in the country and seeing it play out. People are upset, there is no question. It’s a sad, distressing thing.
“But I have got to say, my own foolishness probably contributed to that more. I was a guy who smoked for 25 years and if you do that, and you’ve got a little weight on you, you’re going to have a heart attack. Fortunately, I got really lucky and there was no damage done and was able to recover pretty quickly, but it was tough.”
Very little was known about Cheney before McKay started his research for the film. The former
Halliburton chief executive has been famously secretive and a disclaimer at the start of the film acknowledges some details were hard to pin down. It ends with the tongue-in-cheek: “We did our “f**king best.”
Regardless, it still manages to cover six decades of the life of Cheney (played by an unrecognisable Christian Bale), showing how his rise laid the foundations for that of current US president Donald Trump.
“First and foremost, we tried to do a portrait of Dick Cheney, which means you’re also doing a portrait of Lynne Cheney [his wife, played by Amy Adams] as well,” McKay says.
“But the backdrop of Dick Cheney had to be the Republican revolution, because that is what he rose on, and it’s pretty hard not to connect that to everything that is going on today.”
Indeed the film shows the setting up and subsequent rise of the right-wing US news channel Fox News and the arguable attempt to minimise the threat of global warming by calling it “climate change”.
“If you’re a Republican you should feel good about it, you succeeded, and Fox New is central to that. And the way they played with language, now we are in a situation where 40% of the country doesn’t believe anything that disagrees with them, and it’s quite a bind we are in — and that is how you end up with an ex-reality star as your president.”
He’s particularly horrified at the idea of nostalgia for the Bush era in the age of Trump.
“It’s madness, I think it’s insane. The horrors that went on during those eight years should never be forgotten, and when I saw George W Bush dancing with Ellen DeGeneres on her talk show, it was very strange to me.
Bale’s portrayal of Cheney has already won him a string of plaudits, and it’s one of his most impressive transformations to date.
The Welsh-born star piled on the pounds again to play the overweight vice president. McKay says they had a doctor supervising the weight gain.
“You actually can gain weight in a way that is healthy, which I wish I knew how to do. We monitored him, we were very careful with him, because you can’t keep doing that, it’s going to get dangerous.
“But the bottom line is, it’s one of the most breathtaking performances I’ve ever seen in my life.” Laura Harding Vice is in cinemas on Friday