When filmmaker Adam McKay shot his Dick Cheney biopic, Vice, it originally included a surprise musical number that featured Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard. In the clip, premiering at Rolling Stone, Donald Rumsfeld (Steve Carell), attempts to explain to a young Cheney (Christian Bale) how things work in Washington, D.C. “You have to look at this town like a big chessboard,” Rumsfeld says, paving the way for Howard to take the reins.
“So you want to climb that ladder, where power’s served upon a patter?” she sings. “Hear only yes and never no and I always have the final say-so.” It slowly evolves into a soulful dance number in which she sings about the power structure as Rumsfeld points out who has a future and who doesn’t. She sings things like, “Do the leak,” while Rumsfeld explains leaking information to the press and the “reach down,” in which low-level staff tweak memos to say what you want. Each step is choreographed until it clears the way for Howard to have the final say.
The sequence will be included as an extra in the Blu-Ray and DVD release of the film, due out April 2nd. The movie will arrive on digital services tomorrow.
In a behind-the-scenes clip, the cast and crew, including Howard and McKay, explain the significance of the scene. “She becomes this sort of Pied Piper character in the song,” choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler says. “She’s sort of the spirit of power and the spirit of drive and intellect in this climate.”
“I don’t think there’s a better vocalist out there right now than Brittany Howard,” McKay says. “She just nails it.”
“What a perfect union to have the live music, the live singing and to have this live dancing,” Howard says. “To me, it feels like I belong here.”
McKay says that he spent four or five months trying to make the scene work but he’s happy it exists now as a stand-alone piece. He previously explained in an interview with Variety that the sequence didn’t work in the film as a whole. “It’s breathtaking. It’s incredible. And it just didn’t work,” he said. “You didn’t need it. It was too long in that area of the movie. We tried 15 versions of it. … The only reason it doesn’t pain me at this moment is because I know we tried everything we could do.”
Vice was nominated for eight Oscars, including Best Picture. Ultimately it won only in the Makeup and Hairstyling category. Christian Bale also won a Golden Globe for his portrayal of Cheney.