In Adam McKay’s Vice, former Vice-President Dick Cheney’s life is dramatized in non-linear fashion, jumping around to anachronistic points in the story. “What we did was find these emotional moments that complemented synergistically what was happening,” explained editor Hank Corwin of his work on Vice. For his efforts, Corwin was nominated for the Oscar for Best Editing.
Creating Cheney’s tale on film, portraying him at various age stages, might have been non-linear in terms of the onscreen sequence of time periods selected, but Corwin noted that the film was linear in an interpersonal sense. “Scenes emotionally created a through line,” he said. “It’s very third person, very observational – watching an actor playing a character. We wanted to submerge the actor completely, and Christian Bale was more Dick Cheney than Dick Cheney. I don’t believe in the sanctity of a linear take. If I find a lovely behavior in a separate take, I might make a jump cut in that particular behavior.”
Similar to titular star Christian Bale, Corwin versed himself in everything Dick Cheney: the way he breathed, the way he laughed, and his mannerisms. He based editing choices on places where Bale most realistically emulated Cheney. “When you work with an actor of that caliber, it’s stunning,” Corwin explained. “I’m always looking for those authentic human moments. It was tough to cut Bale because he was so Dick Cheney. It is limiting because there’s no Christian Bale in the performance. His performances are so deep – layers and layers of a performance.”
Though Vice was tightly scripted, McKay often encouraged his actors to improvise, creating additional editing opportunities. “You can get into the ambiguity – the terror and the confidence in the guy,” Corwin revealed. “If you like him, he did everything he did for all the right reasons. If you don’t like him, it’s horrifying.”
With McKay, Corwin noted that for an editor to do superior work, one must be fearless. “You can’t be afraid of making mistakes,” the veteran editor said of his director. “He let me spin a web as far out as I wanted to take it. He encourages all of his tech people to try things. It’s so rare that you have a director who makes you feel confident.”
Moreover, Corwin described how, during production and in the editing room, Vice’s performances would evolve through the 10 months that he was on the project. “That’s one of the differences between this film and a number of films I’ve worked on — Adam would re-write and be very responsive to the intellectual and emotional flows of where the movie was going,” detailed Corwin. “He’d be adding more to characters’ performances. The film was always in motion – always fluid. The shoot was regimented, but he went back afterwards after he discovered that he needed more coverage.”
With Vice now Oscar-nominated for Best Editing, Corwin was pleased with the results, but confessed that he willingly makes a clean break with each new venture. “Every film I work on, I fall in love with, and then I never look at it again,” he said.