Adam McKay interview

At the AFI premiere of Adam McKay‘s newest film, The Big Short, the director joked that his past films — Anchorman: The Legend of Ron BurgundyStep Brothers, and more — were all his failed attempts at drama. The writer-director has explored sexism in the workplace, the 21st century manchild, and unrelenting ignorance throughout his body of work, to hilarious effect, but rarely a subject matter this serious.

With The Big Short, McKay has made his first drama, but even he resists putting that label on his film. Based on Michael Lewis‘ book, adapted by McKay and Charles Randolph, the film is a potent mix of laughs and misery, depicting the years leading up to the 2008 financial crisis. The Big Short stars Steve CarellChristian BaleBrad Pitt, and more actors we all know.

We discussed the tricky tone of the film, why you can’t kill dogs in cinema, and more with Mr. McKay. Here’s our Adam McKay interview:

Your sense of humor is definitely in The Big Short. Even though there’s quite a bit of drama in the film, did this feel wildly different from directing your past work?

I guess. I just love movies. I’ll watch everything. In fact, probably the movies that I watch the least are comedies. I devour documentaries. I love dramas. I love Prisoners from a couple of years ago. It was like, my God.

Have you seen Sicario?

I have it cued up in the loading area. I am so excited to see it. I’m going to base a night where my wife are having Indian food [and watch it], and I can’t wait. He might be my favorite director working now, actually. What is his name again?

Denis Villeneuve. 

He’s fucking good, that guy. I want to meet him, man. I’m just blown away. He writes too, right? He is a writer/director?

I think he mostly just directs.

Does he? That’s even more impressive. It’s one thing to write your style and direct it, but that’s always why I think Martin Scorsese is so amazing. He didn’t write a lot of those movies, but yet they are Scorsese films. I couldn’t do that. That’s amazing.

Do you always have to write your material?

I always have to, yeah. David O. Russell and I have talked about this, and he’s the same way too. We are just like, “No, of course you have to write it.” So I just love, love movies. For me it wasn’t that hard. I’ve done a lot of rewrites on movies that are outside of my genre. I loved this experience. It was freeing not to be a genre. That was what was so much fun, is that even though there is funny stuff, and I think it has some of the energy that I normally direct with.

I just loved that I could do a scene and it didn’t have to end with a laugh. I loved that I didn’t have to have a happy ending. I loved that I could just do a scene strictly because it looked beautiful. I can do the characters leaving that casino in slow-motion. I didn’t have to cut for time because you’re driving energy for laughs, and I have to hit certain story points of a genre.

Believe me, Will [Ferrell] and I fuck with genre as much as anyone. We are always fighting the comedy genre, but it’s there. In this movie, I just felt like there was no genre. I felt like it could be funny. I felt like it could be tragic, informative, whatever it needed to be. So in that sense, I actually found it easier. Easy is not the right word. I’d say it was freeing.

Do you ever feel confined by comedy? Have there been instances where you want to end a scene on a sad note, but because of the genre, you couldn’t?

Absolutely. All the time, Ferrell and I talk about it and it drives us crazy with the comedies. We had the best ending on Step Brothers, and no one would let us do it.

What was it?

I will definitely tell you. I can’t remember how we got there, but it was like the two brothers, after they do the thing at the Catalina Wine Mixer, they know how to be men. Because you know through the whole thing they were trying to figure out how to be adults without being creeps like everyone around them, and it just ends with the two of them in Army uniforms in a truck rumbling down the road, looking at each other going, “This was a good idea, right?” Then, you see them in the truck and you pull out and they go past a sign that says “Fallujah 3 miles.”

The studio immediately said, “We will not allow you to shoot that.” Even [Judd] Apatow wasn’t into it. Ferrell and I were like, “How is that not your favorite movie of all times?” Apatow’s like, “Because they are going to fucking die. That’s why, you prick.” We just fucking loved it, and they literally wouldn’t allow us to do it.

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