With the success of films like “Anchorman,” “Step Brothers” and “The Other Guys,” there’s been no question that writer and director Adam McKay is one of the funniest men in Hollywood. But lately he’s shown his skill set runs even deeper.
First, McKay teamed with long-time friend Paul Rudd to re-work the screenplay for Marvel’s “Ant-Man,” ultimately delivering an audience-pleasing experience that deftly walked a fine line between superhero story, heist thriller and out-and-out comedy. Now he’s co-written the script and gotten behind the camera to direct “The Big Short,” a seriocomic exploration of the buildup to the economy-derailing U.S. housing market crash of 2008, featuring an all-star cast including Steve Carell, Brad Pitt, Ryan Gosling and Christian Bale.
Spinoff Online caught up with McKay on the red carpet of the film’s Hollywood premiere during the closing night of AFI Fest presented by Audi, where he revealed how he landed on the right tone to tell the real-world tale, his openness to return for the “Ant-Man” sequel and another superhero project he has brewing.
Spinoff Online: Tell me a little bit about figuring out the tone of this film. I imagine it was kind of tricky. It’s tragic what happened to a lot of people, but you’re also able to find humor in the build-up.
Adam McKay: Yeah. When I read the book, it had a lot of different tones to it, which I think is what I loved about it. That there was the front half kind of had this card-counting, “21” quality to it, where you’re trying to beat the system. Then when all the individuals realize that beating the system meant beating themselves, there was this turn that went on in the story. That’s what I loved about it.
I really think traditional genres and tones are starting to blur and cross over. That really excited me. Some of my favorite movies from the last ten years blur genres and blur tones. I think we’re at a point where audiences can handle that.
Tell me, these are four very different performers, your leading men – Steve Carell, Brad Pitt, Ryan Gosling and Christian Bale. What was interesting about trying to direct these guys, who I imagine come at things very uniquely?
That’s a great question. I think it was one of the cooler things about this movie was seeing how everyone approached their performance, and kind of dialing into that. I mean, fortunately, I have a theater background. That’s where I came from. So it was just about keeping your ears and eyes open and seeing they need and what they wanted. The guy who really surprised me was Carell was really rigorous, and really method. Once we clicked into each other, it was such a cool experience. Completely different than the comedies that we had done before.
Who in your cast surprised you with their improv skills? Who brought a bigger game than you anticipated?
You know who’s really good? Rafe Spall was very good with the improv. I would say he was the guy that really surprised me the most. Pitt also was very good! Pitt liked messing around. He liked playing with it, yeah.
You were talking about genres burring genres, “Ant-Man” certainly proved how successfully you can do that. Are you on board for number two?
We haven’t officially done any kind of deal, but I had so much fun working on that movie that I told [Paul] Rudd and I told Marvel: “Any time you want me, I’m there.” It may be a case where they go develop a script and then in the end Rudd and I come in and rewrite it. I have no idea. Or maybe they’ll get a great script and I can just sit back and enjoy. Yeah, it was really fun working with [Marvel Studios President] Kevin Feige. He’s a sharp dude.
Is there another property in the Marvel stable that you’d want to direct?
We talked about it. We kicked around ideas. I don’t think there was any one specific one. I mean, from our company Gary Sanchez, we like the idea of creating a new superhero. So we’re working on that right now. We have a couple ideas in the pipeline. Marvel is awesome and Feige’s awesome. So any chance to work with them I’ll do.
“The Big Short” opens December 23, 2015.
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