Nobody except Adam McKay, the former Saturday Night Live head writer turned director of such unserious movies as Anchorman and Step Brothers, who in March 2014 persuaded Brad Pitt’s Plan B production company, Regency and Paramount to let him bring the book to the screen. McKay, 47, co-wrote the script (with Charles Randolph), tackling head-on the complexities of the subject matter and bringing a satirical edge to the material — a funny, angry, Michael Moore-style piece of advocacy in which the entire American financial system is the villain, complete with characters talking incredulously to the audience and actress Margot Robbie explaining subprime mortgages while sipping champagne nude in a bathtub. With Steve Carell on board as investor Steve Eisman (whose name is changed in the film), Christian Bale as neurologist turned hedge fund manager Dr. Michael Burry and Ryan Gosling as a composite character based on Deutsche Bank trader Greg Lippmann, the $28 million film came together in January (Pitt took a small role as an angel investor, and Marisa Tomei, Melissa Leo, Finn Wittrock and many others round out a deep cast). In one of the faster turnaround times for a studio movie, The Big Short was ready for its well-received premiere Nov. 12, ahead of a Dec. 11 release and a spot in this season’s awards race.
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While the events of the movie took place nearly a decade ago, the subject matter has been thrust into the spotlight via the presidential campaign. Hillary Clinton, who has accepted $20 million in campaign contributions and speaking fees from banks and financial institutions, is beating back accusations that, if elected, she might be too cozy with the banks that caused the financial crisis. “Clinton Defends Image of Being Soft on Wall St.” read a front-page New York Times headline Nov. 22, a day after the former secretary of state was heckled at a rally in North Carolina. “I have the toughest, most comprehensive programs for dealing with Wall Street,” she told a crowd. Responded a man with a Bernie Sanders sign: “By taking their money!”
Fittingly, Sanders has received money this campaign season from McKay, one of Hollywood’s most reliable Democrat donors, who has given millions to candidates and causes — but not to Hillary this season. McKay stumped for Obama in 2008, helping the candidate ride outrage over the financial collapse and government bailout into the White House, only to see the Obama administration refuse to prosecute the architects of the implosion. It’s a topic McKay addressed when he joined Lewis, 55; Carell, 53; Bale, 41; and Gosling, 35, for a lively group interview and photo shoot Nov. 13.
“We’ve shown the movie to economists and finance people, and they all say the same thing: Not enough has changed,” says McKay (second from right). He was photographed with (from left) Christian Bale, Lewis, Ryan Gosling and Steve Carell on Nov. 13 at Line 204 Studios in Hollywood.
Other than changing his name, was there anything he asked you to alter about him or complaints he had?
BALE Michael [Burry] came to visit the set a number of times. And he’s a fascinating individual. We just talked for, it was like eight or nine hours straight. I became very fond of him. I love playing real characters because you create a mannerism, and the director might question that, but you’ve got the evidence. You can just call him over and chat with him for a little bit and go, “See, right?”
The book and the film both go into detail on the kind of person who bets against conventional wisdom or who wagers on bad things happening. Are any of you that kind of person?
How familiar were you all with these issues before signing on?
BALE Familiar to a point.
BALE Most businesses do that, don’t they? Certainly lawyers with legalese. The movie industry to a degree does it as well. You think? Because it’s all about protecting your own —
BALE Protecting your ass.
Have you ever tried to read your own deal on a movie? Hopefully your lawyer understands it because there are only two guys at every studio who do.
BALE Adam uses a microphone, so he didn’t have to actually look at me. “That’s crap; do it again.”
That sounds like a story.
BALE Really helped. I got it.
Did working on this movie inspire any of you to be more active in the financial markets?
BALE God, no.
Source: The Hollywood Reporter