When Christian Bale won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in January for his role as former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney in "Vice," which opens Friday across Japan, he thanked Satan for giving him inspiration.
The line got laughs from an audience of his peers. But was it a joke?
"It's a joke, but was it? Exactly. Yes, that's exactly it, and that's very much the tone of the film as well," Bale said in a recent interview with Kyodo News in Beverly Hills.
"Look, there's great humor, there's great absurdity to these people. There's enormous dismay when you really discover these leaders who wield such power, and should they? And there's also enormous tragedy and death and horrendous sorrow throughout," he said.
"This film has me crying with laughter and crying with absolute sadness as well," Bale said.
Director Adam McKay, who worked with Bale on the Academy Award-winning 2015 film "The Big Short," felt confident the actor could pull off a convincing Cheney, 78, who served in the President George W. Bush administration between 2001 and 2009. Bale wasn't so sure.
"It was such a crazy idea," the British actor said. But he was intrigued by the challenge of playing "a kind of gloomy, uncharismatic man, who isn't your usual sort of leading character."
"I also wondered, why Cheney? You know, he's not in office anymore. So I started to delve into it and realized he was not solely responsible, but highly influential in how we got to be where we are now," he said.
"Not only in terms of his influence in the Republican Party, but in terms of America and his treatment of democracy and then the world landscape in terms of most essentially the war in Iraq and the untruths that he told to get us there," he said.
Bale said the satirical tone of the film gave him a bit more license with the character than a more conventionally told life story would have done. "I had a sort of freedom and bit of wiggle room to figure him out," he said.
The actor, though, never intended to create a caricature or poke fun at Cheney.
"It's Adam's job to have the point of view of the storyteller, so I told him I've really got to become an advocate for Cheney's thoughts and beliefs," Bale said.
To prepare for the role, Bale studied hours of video footage to learn Cheney's mannerisms and speech patterns, read books, met with some of Cheney's friends and acquaintances, and even learned how to fly fish.
"My hope was to meet the man, but that never happened," he said.
Bale also famously gained about 18 kilograms, and combined with skillfully applied prosthetics, convincingly turned into the former vice president. The film, also featuring Amy Adams and Steve Carell, went on to win an Academy Award for Best Makeup.
"When you're playing someone who's recognizable as Cheney with very certain mannerisms, that has to be able to come through. And that was actually the biggest trick. It has to feel like you're just right there. So you own it, not it owns you," Bale said. "And that's very difficult. That takes such a lot of skill."
"I told (makeup designer) Greg Cannom and (his assistant) Chris Gallaher they are playing Cheney just as much as I am. If they don't get it right, I might as well not bother turning up for work at all...and vice versa," he said. "It was the first time that I really felt like it was three of us portraying the character."
In the United States, the film "Vice" was described as a "vengeful circus for liberals" by Variety magazine. In Japan, the bi-partisan divide of the United States may not be so well understood. Does Bale wonder how foreign audiences will view the movie?
"For me, the hope is that it's more of a kind of look at the love of this sort of highly inadequate but best thing that we have called democracy," he said.
"No matter how many times people can claim to be patriots, democracy only works if people tell the truth. And if leaders' ethics are not even up to the standards that we teach our own children in elementary school, then democracy is lost in that case," Bale said. "And, in that regard, it shouldn't really be a bipartisan thing."
In a recent ceremony in Washington, the Japanese government awarded Cheney with the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun for his contribution to strengthening the U.S.-Japan bilateral security alliance.
Bale was unaware that such an honor was going to be presented to the former vice president during the interview, which took place before the award ceremony.
"Unfortunately, I haven't really been following Cheney's life so much since I finished the film," Bale said. "In all honesty, I really needed a break from Mr. Cheney. I just obsessed about him to such a degree, in a very unhealthy manner, for so long. He didn't understand we were in a relationship that he didn't even know about. I just had to break up with him after we were done with the film."