During his acceptance speech of the Academy Awards ceremony, Christian Bale thanked Vice make up artists and special effects department for great work. Truly, anyone watching the film will notice how impeccable is the makeup and how seemingly effortless is the transition of all the characters from the early twenties to late sixties and from teenagers to adults – in case of Cheney’s children.
“My first reaction was wow, this is cool! I mean, it was a little scary because with a movie like this, so much depends on the makeup working. Technically, trying to make Christian look like Cheney was challenging. But when it worked out, it was an incredible experience. You felt like you’d really accomplished something.” -Greg Cannom
The character of Dick Cheney ages from a teenager to a man in his seventies. From day to day, Cheney’s age jumped from twenty-one to when he’s sixty-three, then seventy-one, then forty-something. When presented with this challenge, makeup specialist Greg Cannom was undaunted. “My first reaction was wow, this is cool! I mean, it was a little scary because with a movie like this, so much depends on the makeup working. Technically, trying to make Christian look like Cheney was challenging. But when it worked out, it was an incredible experience. You felt like you’d really accomplished something.”
Initially, the intention was for Bale to look mostly like himself with a little bit of Cheney. “But when Christian discovered how comfortable the appliances were, he got excited and really got into it,” says Cannom. “He had his own ideas and kept striving for a closer look. He knew exactly what he wanted and wasn’t going to be happy until we got there. It was gratifying to collaborate with an actor who’s that enthusiastic and really wants it to work and communicates with you every step of the way.”
Cannom began working on the Cheney look by casting a facial rendering of Bale’s head about six months prior to production. Then, he and his crew sculpted and molded silicon appliances. “The difficulty was that Christian is the polar opposite of Cheney in terms of facial structure and head shape. We did test after test. Then Christian wanted to be fatter and I was afraid it wouldn’t work, that it would be too much,” adds Cannom. “But when he got into costume and put on the glasses and walked into the room, it was amazing. I was shocked. He was absolutely right – it was exactly how he should look.” During filming, the first Cheney look was referred to as the “sixty-three,” which was Cheney’s age for more than half the film. These older Cheney scenes required Bale to be in the makeup trailer for almost five hours a day; depending on the filming location, Bale’s pick-up time was around 2:00 a.m. so he would be out of the hair and makeup trailer and on set by his 7:00 a.m. call.
“Usually you only get a few days of this intense application of prosthetics and makeup on an actor before they snap and go crazy,” relates Cannom. “But as Christian got into it, we went heavier and fatter which made the rolls of his neck move nicely. It eventually became mostly Cheney with a little bit of Christian. We’d try on earlobes, eye bags, and nose pieces. After that came what we call beauty makeup: concealers and highlights, accenting his jawline. For Cheney in his twenties, Christian only wore a nose appliance. In his thirties, we added subtle cheek pieces. In his forties and fifties, it was cheek and chin pieces. But when we got to sixty-three, it was big cheek pieces. We also did the back of the neck because it looked strange without a big rolling neck. It added a lot of weight to him and the movement looks amazing.”
Cheney’s younger scenes were shot first, using Bale’s real hair. Then he shaved his head so they didn’t have to apply a bald cap every day. “Christian never once got angry or upset during all these long days and hours of people fiddling with his face,” says Cannom. “And he’s very funny. It was such a treat to work with him.”
McKay’s mandate to his costume designer Susan Matheson was “to capture the essence of the characters, infuse them with the life of the real people, yet still give the movie life of its own,” she states. “My goal throughout was to make sure the colors were right for each character as well as the textures.” Few movies cover as many time periods and locations as VICE, which required a great deal of dexterity on Matheson’s part. Including the Cheney family and the characters they meet along the way and the many world events depicted in the film, the designer was charged with hundreds of articles of clothing and as many wardrobe changes. “It was like running on a treadmill as fast as I could, watching the periods fly by. As soon as you’d sink your teeth in one time period you were on to the next. And then back again. I’ve never worked on anything with this great a span of time and with this many cast members and costumes.”
The title character alone has almost one hundred costumes changes and Lynne Cheney had about sixty. In addition, Matheson handled an additional one hundred and fifty speaking roles. “When you have a cast that size, including background cast, the budget determines what articles of clothing are designed and custom made and which are found and modified.”
Most of Dick Cheney’s costumes had to be built and accurately reflect the real person. Fortunately, the former Vice President’s life is well documented, as are the historical events in which he and the characters around him participated. A bigger challenge was adapting to Cheney’s body changes over the decades. “Christian starts playing Dick Cheney in high school and college when he is very slim and athletic. As he progresses, his size starts to change so not only did we have to make sure that the suits were period specific, but also have them be able to show his growth over time. From boyish slim to medium to fat to very fat. Then, after his heart attack back to much thinner. It was a real progression through time and space.”
The texture was also important to Matheson. “The color palette starts in Wyoming and is specific to the area: earth tones, olive and tan, and pumpkin, burgundy and brown. I really wanted him to have a change from Wyoming to D.C. so once he arrives there his clothes slowly become more somber in terms of color; there are lots of grey’s and stark contrasts of dark and light,” says Matheson. “Cheney begins in D.C. with a glen plaid suit that’s very 1970s, but still a little bit Wyoming. As he becomes more part of the Washington scene, he becomes more sophisticated. The more entrenched he becomes in government, the more austere his look becomes.”
The wardrobe for Lynne Cheney was a combination of costumes specially made and serendipity, according to Matheson. “We first meet Lynne back home in Wyoming. Those are some of my favorite periods for her. I had her in denim with a burgundy blouse with bows. The essence of Lynne Cheney once she arrived in Washington D.C. is the lady suit with a broach or a necklace. She wore her own versions of the power suit and they were quite colorful. Lynne also wears many, many bows. She’s a very strong woman but she’s also very, very buttoned up. To give her that look, I gave her a lot of blouses with bows.”
For Donald Rumsfeld, Matheson’s research into the real character left her with a distinct impression. “I thought ‘he really was a movie star.’ There was something about Rumsfeld in Washington D.C. that almost levitated him about everyone else. He just looked that much better than everybody else. He was a natty dresser; always wore dark suits, a lot of pinstripes. My goal when we built suits for Steve Carell was to accomplish that by using darker colors and keeping him really tasteful.”
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