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Adam McKay Explains the ‘Vice’ Musical Number He Left on the Cutting Room Floor

Adam McKay’s “Vice” has clearly divided critics, with some calling it a bold and daring analysis of one of the most pivotal figures in American politics, and others mincing no words in labeling it, full stop, the worst film of the year. (Truly, in the year of a Dinesh D’Souza movie, people are grandstanding with that.) But, as a filmmaker friend confides, “Divisive is always better. Otherwise, you go gently into that good night.”

Both fan and hater alike can at least agree that McKay at times breaks form in drastic fashion with the film. Shakespearean pillow talk from Christian Bale and Amy Adams might not work for you, but you sure as hell weren’t expecting it in a Dick Cheney biopic.

One outrageous sequence (which actor Steve Carell mentioned earlier today) was left behind on the cutting room floor, and it had achieved a level of lore even before the film first started screening over a month ago. “Is the musical number still in there,” those familiar would ask. Alas, no, it’s not, but McKay and company tried their damnedest.

“I couldn’t get that one to work,” McKay admits. “It was kind of when Rumsfeld is teaching Cheney about Washington D.C. and how to get ahead. It’s sort of like ‘neither a borrower nor a lender be,’ he’s kind of giving him that speech. But the speech is about, ‘Who cares about anything? You’ve got to just get ahead of people, making your moves.’ I think there was a line in it, ‘The means justify the ends,’ which I always loved.”

Oscar-nominated composer Nicholas Britell wrote the song, which featured Alabama Shakes singer Brittany Howard “just wailing on it,” McKay says. Not only that, but the production tapped “Hamilton” choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler for the sequence.

“It’s breathtaking. It’s incredible. And it just didn’t work,” McKay says. “You didn’t need it. It was too long in that area of the movie. We tried 15 versions of it. We moved it here, we moved it there. We played it really short. We played it way longer and put scenes in the middle of it. We tried every single thing you could do. The only reason it doesn’t pain me at this moment is because I know we tried everything we could do. You’re in the editing room and you’re like, ‘This is amazing. This is going to work.’ And you just forget the movie tells you what it wants.”

The only other major element McKay wanted to include but had to jettison was material featuring the young Cheneys. Test screenings made it clear all of that was holding the movie back. “The audience just did not care about 15-year-old, 16, 17-year-old Dick Cheney,” McKay says.

But fear not. The director says he hopes to put the deleted material on the DVD/Blu-ray release.

Stay tuned for more from McKay on the film in an upcoming episode of Variety‘s “Playback” podcast. “Vice” opens Christmas Day.

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