Christian Bale on playing Dick Cheney and his fond childhood memories of SA

“You know my half-sister pretty much grew up in Joburg… My dad was born Cape Town,” Christian Bale tells me over the phone from Los Angeles.

“My granddad settled in Cape Town and I made a brief visit when I was younger but I ended up in hospital for a long time with wonderful surgeons in Durban and Cape Town who saved my life. But I have very fond memories of my time down there and driving up and down the Garden Route.”

Other fond memories come from his latest film, Vice – which recently won him the Best Actor Golden Globe and Critics’ Choice Movie Award. The actor packed on the kilos to take on the lead role of former American vice president, Dick Cheney.

The film takes the viewer on a tongue-in-cheek journey from the late 1960s and well into the naughties. We see Cheney transform from a blue collar alcoholic to second in command when the Twin Towers tragedy struck on September 11, 2001.

We also see Bale balloon to almost unrecognisable.

Bale says: “Vice was just irresistable. I love a challenge. It was such an unlikely casting choice and (director) Adam McKay was much more certain that I was that it would work. We took some time to really experiment with me doing research, gaining weight, practising with the makeup up until the crunch point where different actors were asking “are you in or are you out?” And by that time, I was definitely in.”

Bale has impressively transformed into many a character over the years. In 2015, he worked with McKay who directed "The Big Short". It also starred Steve Carell – who is also in "Vice" as Donald Rumsfeld – and Brad Pitt, who is one of the film’s producers.

I ask Bale if shooting "Vice" felt like a reunion. “It was in a sense,” he says. “But Steve and I didn’t even work together on that film because I was isolated in an office because of the nature of my character. "Vice" was about coming out and meeting more people.”

Unlike many other feature films that profile political figures, "Vice" does not attempt to humanise Cheney. In fact, with the frequent use of fish imagery throughout the film, we are reminded that he allegedly tackles politics and lives his life according to a key quote he delivers to his kids while they stick worms onto hooks as fish bait early on in the film: “It’s not good, it’s not bad, it’s fishing.”

The film is narrated by an insightful albeit comical character and McKay cleverly uses jumping back and forth through eras to allow the audience to come to their own conclusions about Cheney’s thirst for power.

But what is interesting is the positioning of Cheney’s wife, Lynne, who is brilliantly portrayed by the multi-layered, dynamic Amy Adams.

She is really the smartest one in the couple and implies to him, very early on, that she needs him to action her ambition because her gender is a barrier and a hindrance. It’s safe to argue that Cheney would not be who he became without the influence of his wife.

Bale agrees: “Maybe these days, Cheney wouldn’t have existed because Lynne would’ve achieved all those things, but in that time, Lynne couldn’t. She was the driving force. She was the one who was in discussions about going to Yale before and she was told no, she can’t get a scholarship because she’s a woman. He sort of became her avatar.”

“Whatever she dreamed of doing, Dick was the one who could do it because of the horrible inequality. As we see in the film, Lynne was the one who had the ambition. That’s what made him be the youngest White House chief of staff in 11 years.”

"Vice" is an interesting look at the inner workings of the American political climate. The writing is innovative and the narrative illuminating.

One of the main points is that as society, we stay distracted from what’s going on in front of us so here’s a pro-tip: it would be wise for you to stay seated while the credits roll so you can focus on what’s really going on.

* Vice opens in cinemas today.

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