Scannain Talks: The Big Short with writer/director Adam McKay
In cinemas now, the highly-anticipated The Big Short is full of humour and explosive with character. Based on the true story of the 2007-08 economic crisis, the film follows a group of hedge fund managers, traders and young investors who spot an opportunity to exploit and benefit from the highly unstable American housing market, a collapse just waiting to happen. Based on Michael Lewis’ bestseller, the feature film is written and directed by Adam McKay, best known as the mind behind Step Brothers, The Other Guys and comedy favourite Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.
Adam McKay was last in Dublin for the Irish premiere of Anchorman 2:The Legend Continues. Now he returns for the Irish premiere of The Big Short with an unsurprisingly jovial attitude, given his latest feature has scored five nominations (including two for himself for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay) at the upcoming Academy Awards. Even with this honour, he says the nomination he is most proud of is Best Editor for his colleague, Hank Corwin. “I love our editor, I think he’s brilliant. I’m also proud of the Best Picture nomination.”
It is this writer’s first time doing a red carpet interview, but my fellow reviewers are friendly and, as I see McKay enthusiastically greet fans outside as they take selfies and request signatures, I know my interview subject is amicable and courteous.
McKay explains his concept and process in the film: “The goal of making the movie was to get your average working person to connect with and understand it. I think a lot of people feel know that they’re being told that they’re stupid or that finance is boring and nobody cares about it. But the truth is that it’s a ground core subject that affects all our lives, how our kids go to college, how people pay for braces, a home or retirement, everything. One of the goals in the movie was to demystify that language. The more I dug into it the more I realized that it wasn’t as tricky as they said, that it was really just moving assets and debt around in a tricky way so they can make money. Once we cracked that idea, it became really exciting.”
Starring Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, Steve Carell and Brad Pitt, McKay describes the actors as his dream cast. “As I was writing the script, I had their names on a board and I never thought I would get them, so it was amazing that they all said yes. They’re all great characters that they get to play so they gravitated towards that.
“With each of those characters, in their own way, there’s something about them that’s broken or odd or strange that allowed them to step outside the mainstream and allow them to see something that was actually remarkably obvious. If you really look at the numbers, it’s shocking how clear it was that there was a massive housing bubble and a massive asset bubble. It makes us all wonder what we were looking at instead of that.”
I am the last reporter standing in a line of interviewers, and time with Adam will be short as the screening is already late starting. Still, I stay relaxed and friendly when speaking with the genius – and frankly, given how few comedies can make one laugh out loud these days, and his do just that, I’m calling him one and sticking to it.
In fact, I’m curious about his maintaining his comedic roots while also merging into drama-biography with The Big Short, and ask if genre is important to his work. “The thing I loved about this was there was no genre. It’s true life. So in writing the script, I just felt totally free to do whatever I needed to do. I think that the part about it that will affect me in the future is that I don’t know if I’ll ever want to do another movie that’s just one genre. I like that a movie can be whatever it needs to be. I think in a way the concept of genres is melting away. If you look at a movie like It Follows or The Babadook, they’re horror films, but are they really? So that was really exciting for me.”
The film is an emotional rollercoaster, making you laugh, feel sad, and even feel angry, but what is it the audience should take away most from the film? “I would love it if they just walked away feeling free to have conversations about the subject. I think in a lot of ways we’re all cowed and told we’re too dumb to understand. I want them to challenge their leaders, challenge the banks and ask questions, because I think we all treat these things like they’re far away but, as I was saying before, finance is a major part of our lives and we need to question it.”