Big Short: Interview With Writer-Director Adam McKay

“I started reading the book at around 10:30 at night and thought, ‘I’ll just read 40 pages,’” director Adam McKay recalls. “I couldn’t put it down. I ended up reading the whole thing that night and finished at six in the morning. The next day I told my wife about the characters and how the book weaves together all these different story lines and how it’s like a ‘get rich’ story that’s ultimately about the fall of the banking system, corruption and complacency, and how it’s funny and it’s heartbreaking at the same time. And she’s like, ‘You should do it.’ And I said, ‘I’m the guy who did Step Brothers.’ I didn’t even look into it, because I just assumed a Scott Rudin or a Plan B had already bought the rights to this book.”

Brad Pitt’s production company, Plan B Entertainment, had partnered with Paramount to develop The Big Short as a motion picture. Producer Jeremy Kleiner found striking similarities between the author’s approach to baseball and Wall Street within author Michael Lewis’ book Money Ball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game. “Money Ball and The Big Short both look at familiar subjects that people think they undertsand and ask big questions,” says Kleiner. “The Big Short also has this very distinctive element in that the protagonists are not ‘do-gooders.’ We thought all of that was very exciting, so Paramount, our partner, stepped up to acquire the rights. That started the journey for us.”

After McKay finished directing the hit sequel Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues, his agent challenged him to name the movie he most wanted to make. “Before I even knew what I was saying, I told him, ‘If I could do anything, I would do The Big Short.’” Plan B sent McKay an early version of a screenplay written by Charles Randolph. “I saw some good stuff in the script and I also knew exactly how to make it better,” McKay says. “I met with Jeremy and Plan B president Dede Gardner and gave them my pitch.”

The resulting screenplay incorporated McKay’s signature wit into a story about an era-defining moment in recent U.S. history. “People know me from movies like Talladega Nights and Anchorman or the Funny or Die videos, but I’ve always been involved in different causes,” says McKay, who mastered political satire as head writer for “Saturday Night Live” before launching his movie career. “I feel like it’s your job as a citizen to pay attention to what’s going on in politics and society. You can be a clown and get sprayed with seltzer bottles but you’ve also got to vote and know what you’re talking about.”