Why ‘Vice’ Director Adam McKay Doesn’t Think Dick Cheney Shouldn’t Be Compared to Donald Trump

TheWrap Oscar magazine: “Dick Cheney really understands the system, and I get the feeling that the people in the White House now aren’t interested in government,” the writer-director says

'Vice' star Christian Bale
Annapurna Pictures

A version of this article about Adam McKay and “Vice” first appeared in the Actors/Directors/Screenwriters issue of TheWrap’s Oscar magazine.

A lot of people, particularly those on the left side of the political spectrum, might have the same initial reaction to Adam McKay’s “Vice”: “Do I really want to spend two hours watching Dick Cheney?”

The film, after all, covers Cheney’s life from his days as a drunken lout to a change of heart, spurred on by his insistent wife Lynne, that eventually finds him becoming the most powerful and (arguably) destructive vice president in history.

And for McKay, the question was even starker: “Do I really want to spend two years making a movie about Dick Cheney?” But the answer, he insisted, was clear from the start.

“I was always fascinated by Dick Cheney, beyond the standup comedy jokes about him being Darth Vader or the puppet master,” McKay said. “And as I learned more about him, what was amazing was how much the arc of his personal life lined up with the story of America over the last 50 years. I started seeing that oh, my God, this guy really was a Zelig-like figure for a large part of American history.

“So I finally said, ‘I think we have a movie here.’ And my wife and children were like, ‘What are you doing?’”

While “Vice” is an angry movie that lays the blame for a host of ills on Cheney and his associates, the film is also a freewheeling blend of drama, humor and absurdity. And its form, McKay said, was a conscious attempt to reclaim the power of storytelling.

“Part of the engine of the Republican revolution was a redefining of the mythology and stories that we use to look at the world,” he said. “And in doing that, I think they challenged us as storytellers, filmmakers, novelists, whatever medium you’re using, to look at stories in a different way.

“They have weaponized boredom — they make moves that would not fit in a traditional story narrative, so we tend to zone out when those elements pop up. If you look at Dick Cheney’s career, he understands operating in the cracks, on the dark side, out of the spotlight. That’s where real power resides — and to tell that story, you have to step outside normal storytelling conventions and mess with the lines between comedy and drama and absurdity.

“When I was writing the script, I gave myself permission to go wherever the story needed to go.”

While most political movies now tend to be viewed through the prism of the Trump presidency, McKay thinks comparisons are beside the point. “I’ve jokingly said to people, ‘Thank God Donald Trump doesn’t have a Dick Cheney,’” he said. “Because Dick Cheney really understands the system, and I get the feeling that the people in the White House now aren’t interested in government.

“But I think the bigger point, rather than comparing Trump and Cheney, is to recognize that it’s really one continuous story. The story is one of the American people either being convinced or convincing themselves that government is not valuable, and community is not as valuable as we think it is, and the individual is more important than the community.”

To read more of TheWrap’s Actors/Directors/Screenwriters issue, click here.

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