Filmmaker Adam McKay doesn’t think the subject of his new banking-themed movie “The Big Short” is all that complicated.
“It’s ‘The Music Man.’ It’s the oldest trick in the book,” says McKay, describing his take on the story of men who won (and lost) during the financial crisis of the 2000s.
Recently in The City to promote the movie (which opens Friday), McKay says he was thrilled by its source, Michael Lewis’ book “The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine,” which he devoured.
He even envisioned a movie while he read it, but didn’t pursue it as a project. At the time, he thought, “I know how to do this, but no one would let me make it,” says the writer-director best known for comedy (“Saturday Night Live,” “Anchorman,” “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby”).
But after a talk with his agent, it became clear that he actually might be able to do it, and, to his amazement, the actors in his dream cast — Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt — were interested.
“Within two weeks, they all said yes,” says McKay, pointing to Bale’s interest in playing a type of character he hadn’t played before — a geeky introvert, who has a glass eye.
McKay sees the movie as a character-laden tragic-comedy: “It’s not a story about heroes and villains, it’s about a massive, corrupt system chewing people up,” he says.
He used somewhat unconventional methods in his attempt to keep a movie about the housing mortgage collapse from being “cold.” A strip club appears in an early scene, and sexy actresses Selena Gomez and Margot Robbie break the fourth wall, to explain purposely obscure banking terms.
“Banks go out of their way to make it sound quite tricky, and to make people feel stupid,” says McKay, who claims that people who take the time to educate themselves can understand the industry, and how it affects them.
McKay says Lewis had very little involvement in the movie (which he calls “99 percent accurate”), but that the writer gave him his blessing at the outset, telling him, “This is your baby, now. Take it through college.”
As for the difference in working a wacky comedy vs. a story based on real life, McKay says he enjoyed not having the pressure to look for, and push for, the next joke. He liked doing drama, he says, for its more relaxed, “have a glass of red wine and cheese” quality.
IF YOU GO
The Big Short
Starring: Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling, Brad Pitt
Written by: Charles Randolph, Adam McKay
Directed by: Adam McKay
Running time: 2 hours, 10 minutes