In comedy drama The Big Short, Steve Carell plays real life investment maverick Steve Eisman, who bet against the market in the run up to the financial meltdown of 2008. It’s like Wall Street with jokes but, as Carell explains, we’re still feeling the punchline with the credit crunch.
Why make a comedy about the 2008 financial crash?
“Watching The Big Short you will actually learn something. It’s a magic trick Adam McKay (director of Anchorman) has played. Because how are you going to sell the comedy in a movie about the biggest financial crash in years and say that collateralised debt obligations are gonna be a fun, raucously good time! And the worst thing you can say is you might learn something. Oh, do people hate that! Imagine saying that about Star Wars – people would avoid it like the plague.”
So how do you let the audience in to this complicated world?
“Ryan Gosling’s character turns to the camera, breaks the fourth wall, and says, ‘You feel stupid right now. You don’t understand what’s going on. Well that’s what the banks want you to feel!’ I love that moment because you realise it’s not gonna be that kind of movie. We’re not gonna be talking over your head. It won’t be a lesson. That’s part of the magic trick.”
What was it like working with Ryan Gosling?
“I could be in the background of a scene with a stern, disapproving look on my face but praying the camera didn’t linger on me in case I started tearing up with laughter. My character might not find his character amusing but I found Ryan really funny. He’s a great improviser. It was hard not to laugh, every day.”
And you’ve got some cool celebrity cameos…
“Adam teamed Selena Gomez with behavioural economics professor Richard Thaler at a roulette table to explain Synthetic CDOs. That’s a great scene.”
How did you prepare for the film?
“I spent time with Steve Eisman (changed to Mark Baum in the film) and he’s still a conflicted person. There’s a dilemma he faced because his conscience was at odds with his business and the instinct to make money that was his livelihood. People ask me if these are the guys we root for in the film. Are they the heroes? But if they win the economy and everybody else loses. We know what happens. It’s the Titanic, we know this ship’s gonna sink. It’s strange because Baum stands to make a fortune but on the backs of people losing they’re homes and jobs. It’s a moral dilemma and something he has trouble rectifying. That grey area drew me to the character because guys like this are not heroes or villains, they’re just human.”
What shocked you most?
“Nothing in the banking industry has really changed. No reforms have been put in place and just one person went to jail so it’s a kind of a terrifying thought to leave people with at the end of the movie, which is good because it makes people talk.”
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What’s been your worst investment?
“I bought a General Store in Massachusetts. It’s the kind of place where locals meet and have a coffee on the porch or sit in the summer time and have an ice cream. But talk about a bad investment! I’ll never make a dime but it’s not about that… It was about preservation really. Not only preservation of the physical space itself but preservation of its spirit and what it means to the community.”
Since the success of Foxcatcher has it been nice to shake the tag of being that funny guy and show another side in your films?
“I haven’t thought much about it, because if you start thinking about how people perceive you then you’re just working to gain someone’s approval which has nothing to do with the characters you’re playing.”
What’s the creepiest role you’ve been offered since Foxcatcher?
“I guess that prosthetic nose I wore scared a lot of people because I’ve been offered several films involving me playing serial killers. Incredibly sadistic horrible people.”
Is it a case of never say never?
“I’m not saying I’m not – I just haven’t found the right horrible serial killer. Yet!”
The Big Short is in cinemas January 22