Q&A With The Big Short Director Adam McKay At The Picture House

The man behind Step Brothers discusses an upcoming project, Christian Bale learning speed metal, and the national delusion that exposed a world of fraud.

The Big Short director and co-writer Adam McKay made an appearance at the Pelham Picture House on Wednesday for a sold out screening of the film and a Q&A, during which he encouraged the audience to stay informed on political and economic events, “even if it’s a bummer.”

“Truth is like poetry,” begins a maxim superimposed over a bright scene in The Big Short. “And most people [expletive] hate poetry.”

Set in 2007, The Big Short dramatizes the lives of several key players involved in predicting the housing and credit bubble that resulted in the global financial crisis of 2007-08. Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt), Dr. Michael Burry (Christian Bale), Mark Baum (Steve Carrell), and Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) are played as rugged and uncertain, McKay looking to portray Wall Street as flawed in comparison to the exuberant and impressive depictions we typically see from Hollywood.

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The film wants the audience to be enraged, as bankers continue to act fraudulently, and crookedly, even as the consequences of their actions become more and more apparent. Our emotions evolve alongside the protagonists’: from Baum’s obsession with a failing system to his disgust with the audacity and carelessness of mortgage loaners, and from Charlie Geller’s (John Magaro) desire to best the investors that he initially dreamt to be a part of, to his fear of the ripple affect careless actions will wreak on the average American life. Yet, nestled between scenes of tension exist laughable dialogue and realistic moral dilemmas. 

“We never viewed it as any one genre,” said McKay. “We viewed it as ‘God Bless real life.’ Real life doesn’t fall into any genre, it shifts constantly.”

The instructions from Marshall Fine, The Picture House’s Critic-in-Residence, prior to the screening to “pay close attention,” echoed the scrutiny needed for Burry to initially detect, and the rest to then capitalize on, the blatant fraud that led to what McKay called a “national delusion.”

“It was the most obvious bubble you’ve ever seen,” said McKay in regards to the research conducted in preparation for the film. “It’s interesting how an entire culture and society can fool itself. How did we miss this?”

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The Q&A stayed lighthearted and humorous, as McKay detailed his two-year position as “Coordinator of Falconry” on the Saturday Night Live set, and Bale’s crusade to learn speed metal drums with a heavily injured leg. However, the discussion circled back to one of the film’s main topics: that not understanding the scope of certain political and financial actions landed us in this crisis in the first place.

“It’s so much fun to know what’s going on and to not be in the dark,” said McKay. “I don’t understand when people say ‘I’m not into politics’ or ‘I’m not into economics.’ Well that sucks, ‘cause it’s way into you.”

Although The Big Short represents a drastic break away from McKay’s customarily comedic directorial projects, like Step Brothers and The Other Guys, the film did not fall short in supplying laughter and madcap situations. Most notable was the use of celebrity cameos, from Margot Robbie in a bubble bath to Selena Gomez playing blackjack, to disclose the more complicated aspects of credit-default swaps and collateralized debt obligations. McKay explained that the status of pop culture icons in our society made them the perfect medium for these discussions.

“The original script had Beyoncé and Jay-Z, which would have been awesome,” said McKay. “And the most definitive ‘no’ of my career.”

When asked about any upcoming projects, McKay mentioned a possible film with Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, about “two hapless guys who go down to protect the border.” 

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