Say what you want about Dick Cheney, but no one ever made a movie about Walter Mondale or Hubert Humphrey. The polarizing former vice president who became the bete noire of the political Left, will be the subject of an HBO miniseries, according to CNN, based on Barton Gellman’s biography, Angler, The Cheney Vice Presidency, and Frontline’s 2006 documentary, The Dark Side.
From a storytelling point of view, Cheney is much more fascinating than previous VPs – and even his boss, former President George W. Bush, for that matter. Cheney earned his bones during the Nixon and Ford administrations, became a successful Wyoming congressman, and then presided over the Defense Department during the first Gulf War. By the time he selected himself to be Bush’s VP in 2000, he simply oozed competence. I was always amazed by his ability to absorb a verbal attack on shows like Meet the Press without batting an eyelash, and then calmly launch his response with these simple words, “Well, the fact of the matter is… ” That was the magic phrase for Cheney. He always sounded so credible, no matter how dubious his arguments.
Comics later turned him into a cartoon – Jon Stewart made him sound like Batman’s enemy Penguin – or a Star Wars villain, but he remains the most dramatic figure of the period, in the purely Shakespearean sense. There’s his personal and political reaction to 9/11, his break with the Right on gay rights, the Valerie Plame Affair and Scooter Libby, and let’s not forget, his shooting his hunting pal in the face. From an acting point of view, he’s a great part, and it should be interesting to see who HBO recruits. Richard Dreyfuss looked the part in Oliver Stone’s W, but he was a little too overtly Machiavellian. HBO’s Cheney shouldn’t be villainous. Can’t he be a tragic hero? The Washington Post has proposed five actors to play Cheney, including the outside-the-box idea of Jeff Bridges.
My first choice would be J.K. Simmons, who only seems to be in every movie but is most famous for HBO’s Oz and Juno. He’s stolen scenes from Tom Hanks and George Clooney, so I think he has what it takes to master Cheney’s gravitas. I could also envision Tommy Lee Jones in the role, especially in scenes where Cheney forces that tight “be careful” smile at some pesky journalist.
Do you agree that Cheney will make a fascinating character study, no matter your politics? Who do you think would play him best?