Exclusive: We talk The Big Short, Ant-Man sequel, and more with Adam McKay
Director Adam McKay is renowned for his series of insanely popular Will Ferrell comedies. Each seems to be more ambitious than the last, with ANCHORMAN giving way to the big-budget TALLADEGA NIGHTS, the nonsensical (but hilarious) STEP-BROTHERS, the action-spoof THE OTHER GUYS, and the wild ANCHORMAN 2. Anyone who’s watched his movies closely might also have sensed a rising political consciousness working its way into his movies and now McKay makes his leap into prestige film-making with the star-laden THE BIG SHORT – which attempts to dramatize the 2008 sub-prime mortgage crisis by using author Michael Lewis’ non-fiction account of the investors who shorted this market and made big bucks when the housing industry collapsed, even as millions lost their homes. While all this sounds a little heavy, McKay has made a smart, often very funny and entertaining account, which makes this complex story palatable to a wide audience.
THE BIG SHORT marks a big departure for you, in that it’s not necessarily a comedy, although there’s humor in it. How long have you been planning for this kind of change-of-pace?
Well, I’ve been playing around with a few different ideas for the last four or five years. A big one I tried to do was the Dark Horse comic, ‘The Boys’. I really tried to get that made but, unfortunately, I did not succeed. It was right before the moment where studios were willing to do darker superhero movies, like now with SUICIDE SQUAD, they’re kinda open to it. I also wrote a script about Lee Atwater a while back, but it’s a tad too small to get a studio or even a big indie company. So I’ve always been kicking around some stuff, and obviously over the last few years I’ve done a lot of political stuff so this was the one where I just read it and felt like, “wow, this is one of the best books of the last twenty years” and it combines so many of the things I love. I found it wildly entertaining, informative, tragic, heartbreaking, and I really thought I that if I had to explain to someone what America in 2015 was like I’d send them that book.
The Lee Atwater story would have made an amazing movie though…
Well, that one’s not totally dead. We still have a great script by John C. Armstrong, we’ve been kicking around the idea of maybe doing it as an HBO movie because it’s such a good story.
Well, back to THE BIG SHORT – I read the book and I thought you did a good job bringing some tricky economic terms like “CDO’s” come to life, and it didn’t hurt having people like Margot Robbie explaining them to you while sitting in a bathtub. I thought that was pretty innovative.
Well, we’ve seen a lot of Wall Street movies where they take the approach of not really explaining anything. Where it’s more about the character or thriller nature of it, so we felt that this would just be something we’d do with this movie that would be different. So then the idea was like, what would happen if “pop culture” gave up the information? The idea of these icons, you know like beautiful Margot Robbie – who if you knew her is actually really smart and cool – or Anthony Bourdain who has those reality shows or Selena Gomez – if you had these people giving up the salient information and making it understandable seemed like a really kind of energetic way to do it and thank God, when we first started screening it audiences just loved it.
One of the key moments for me is Steve Carell’s dinner scene with the banker played by Byron Mann, when he explains the idea of CDO’s. Carrell was amazing in it and I think he even has a shot at an Oscar nomination.
I agree, he’s fantastic in the movie.
But it’s tough to bring an idea like that to life. I was watching THE OTHER GUYS recently and it’s interesting how that now feels likes a precursor to this movie, particularly with the credits.
Well, I built that entire movie to be a parable about the financial collapse. We took great pains to really structure everything but when the laughs are so big no one really noticed the nuances of the story so I put those end credits in and everyone was so surprised by them, but really the whole movie was about that. It’s certainly what got the ball rolling, and part of it me being interested in that world. There was kind of a peanut-butter/chocolate moment I realized “oh, the movie is about politics and 78% of all politics is economics” so that’s what really got me reading and looking at different websites and talking to people and that’s how I came across the book (The Big Short – Michael Lewis).
You said something interesting during your press tour for THE OTHER GUYS – that compared to the economic fraud out there dealing in billions of dollars the old cop plot of drug dealing bad guys feels quaint. Do you see the people responsible for the collapse as villains - is it as simple as that?
Oh I do, I think when you’re talking about – I think we actually give a lower number in the movie – where the number is sixty thousand people die for every point the unemployment number goes up and it’s a very reputable study – we actually fact checked two of them. So, if you just put it purely in those terms and you look at unemployment which was 3.5 percent before the collapse and got up to eleven percent and that’s every year that those points climb so let’s say conservatively eight times five and your talking four hundred thousand and the unemployment rate has been high for about six years, conservatively a million people died. And that’s not even getting in to how it decimates communities, how people become drug addicts because of it, how crime goes up, the fallout from the criminality of this collapse is breathtaking… You saw that a little bit with WOLF OF WALL STREET. Martin Scorsese’s famous for doing the gangsters, all of a sudden shifts to Wall Street, I thought that was a very good sign.
Haha – simply from the approach that - “oh my God, I’m gonna need really good actors to pull this off.” You know, I needed someone in the case of Dr. Burry (Christian Bale) who could just transform and Carell too, has those chameleon abilities and has been bringing a real kind of anger to his acting that I really love. And then Ryan Gosling, he’s a writer-director who’s also a great actor, who could be both half outside the movie, half inside the movie, and then Pitt was just a bonus. He’s a producer on the movie, he read the script and said “I want to be in it,” so I said, OKAY – haha. And the rest of our cast too, Jeremy Strong is just…and Finn Wittrock, Rafe Spall, Hamish Linklater, and of course Marisa Tomei, Melissa Leo, we really got some high quality actors for this movie and we really needed to as it’s a tough story to tell.
What’s this I read the other day in THR about you, Gosling and hamburgers in a graveyard?
(Laughs) That was just pure nonsense. We just kept joking with Christian Bale about how nothing bores him more than the actors talking about acting so we came up with this story about how I kept the actors away for hours just talking to them about that and somehow we started getting punchy during junket day, we started talking about me taking Ryan to a graveyard and I love that it got out there – that’s kinda fantastic.
I also think this was one of the best edited movies of the year. It makes the info more digestible and we’re a culture that’s used to getting our information fast.
We had Hank Corwin as our editor who I think is one of the great living editors, he did TREE OF LIFE, NATURAL BORN KILLERS, he’s amazing. And the editing is something that I think some of the more curmudgeonly, old-school film people are put off by it but people more into that kinda thing, more avant-garde, bold choice thing, really love it. I personally love the style we came up with and the idea of the movie is these aren’t monolithic, austere Wall Street guys. These are the oddballs, and I wanted the whole movie to feel off-kilter and surprising with it, in addition to Barry Ackroyd’s shooting style – which I thought was crucial to the movie.
I have to ask, I know you’ve been working with Marvel a bit lately (on ANT-MAN), would you every considering doing a superhero movie?
Oh absolutely. I was weaned on Marvel as a little kid so I’d do anything for Marvel. I know they’re talking about ANT-MAN 2 so I let Feige and Paul Rudd know, I’m on deck man man, gimme the call because I had so much fun doing the first one.
What do you think you’re gonna do next? More dramatic stuff?
I just love all movies. I always said, I just saw BABADOOK and IT FOLLOWS, I’d love to do a horror movie. I also have a darker idea I’m kicking around, and another big ambitious epic. What’s fun about this (THE BIG SHORT) is that it opens it up that if I walk into a room it’s not crazy that the guy who did TALLADEGA NIGHTS is pitching this kinda stuff.
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|Extra Tidbit:||THE BIG SHORT opens in limited release this weekend and expands on December 23rd.|