There are still four weeks to go until the 2019 Academy Award nominations are announced, but if we’re being honest with ourselves while reading the tea leaves, there are really only two serious contenders for Best Actor. Bradley Cooper as the downward spiraling rock star Jackson Maine in A Star Is Born and Christian Bale as former Vice President Dick Cheney in Vice. The former was been poked and prodded more than enough since its release in October, but the latter just hit theaters on Christmas, giving audiences their first real look at the political biopic from filmmaker Adam McKay (The Big Short).
Bale effectively captures Cheney’s essence with small but crucial details that bring the performance to life. Everything from his breathing to his gait is a pitch-perfect replica. The Academy loves a dramatic physical transformation, so much so that five of the past six Best Actor winners have undergone one. But not even Bale himself was sure they could pull this one off.
“[Adam McKay] didn’t tell me that he was thinking about me when he was writing it,” the actor told Collider. “I first heard about it and assumed it must be a supporting role he was thinking of. I just thought he was stretching things a little bit too much to think that I could play Cheney. So we agreed, let’s take a couple of months with me researching the character… working with the prosthetics artists and me beginning to put on some weight. Then after a little time, the financiers would have to know am I in or not. I would have to decide by then.”
Though skeptical from the outset, Bale’s intense commitment to character—a quality that has defined his Oscar-winning career—had already taken hold by the time a decision had to be made.
“By that point, in honesty, we didn’t really know if we would be able to manage it. But I was obsessed enough by that point that I said I gotta try it,” he explained.
When asked why he was hesitant in the first place despite often undergoing physical transformations for demanding roles, he simply said:
“Well, look at him—look at him. This is a stretch above that even.”
Bale is indeed terrific in Vice. Though the movie is proving to be divisive among critics, we found it to be a dazzling display of comedic boldness that synthesized complex governmental workings into easily digestible and highly entertaining tidbits. But will it be enough to unseat Cooper come Oscars night? We’ll find out.