In The Big Short, director Adam McKay’s takedown of how the 2008 economic crash occurred, Christian Bale plays Michael Burry, the real-life money manager who created the financial “instrument” – known as a credit default swap – that allowed investors to bet against what Burry realized was an unstable housing market. While this allowed Burry and others to make obscene amounts of money in the short term, it also helped to destablize an already shaky market and ultimately send the global economy into a tailspin from which it barely pulled out, with catastrophic effects.
Burry, a genuine eccentric who played drums to brutal heavy metal music to unwind when not staring for hours at numbers on computer screens, is both a villain and something like a moral center in The Big Short: by the time he sees the horrifying consequences of what he’s created, he’s genuinely dismayed but unable to stop it. And Bale – who met with the reclusive Burry – is the perfect actor to play this conflicted figure. Screen Rant spoke with him about it recently in Los Angeles.
I understand you met with the real Michael Burry for something like nine hours. Talk about that experience and what kind of insight you gained from him.
Christian Bale: Wonderful. It was amazing. Nonstop conversation. We just didn’t stop talking the entire time. Mike was incredibly surprised by the end of it. He stopped and he said he’d never expected to be able to talk with somebody for that length of time. But you know, you share yourself in order that someone will share with you. I’m incredibly aware of the honor he gave me in allowing me into his incredible brain and psyche and emotions, and so I respect that immensely. And I know that he trusts me to keep that to myself, other than what I show in the film.
He’s a man who knows himself incredibly well, and has a brain unlike any brain I’ve ever come across in my life, and who has not only this great understanding and love of numbers and feeling for numbers, but incredible emotion for the consequences. He completely understood what was happening here. Viewed himself not as a hero in the slightest. He completely realized that he was making money from the downfall of the economy and he despises – “despise” may be too strong a word – he does not enjoy shorts. He likes longs, meaning that he wants to be part of investing in good, productive, creative things, and I think he’s actually a sincere, really heartfelt man.
How did Adam pitch the story to you and also the way he was going to shoot it, with the celebrity cameos and the montages and the tone?
He didn’t really set the scene about that stuff, you know, initially. Really, it was just in hearing his disgust, his obsession, his humor – wonderful combination. The fact that he wanted to explode this whole myth of people not being able to understand the language, and so rather painting it in the frame of human consequences, putting faces to this, so you don’t need to know the acronyms of what a CDS is, or a CDO or a synthetic CDO. You don’t need to know that at all. You just need to see the impact that it had, so it’s not a statistic, it’s an emotion that you feel, and that’s what it truly results in. Adam has created a film that is one of the funniest and most entertaining but also troubling films that I’ve ever seen.
You learned how to play drums in two weeks for this?
Yes, yes! It was a wonderful crash course, double kick drum. Pantera, “By Demons Be Driven” – fantastic song to begin with. This is how Mike Burry unwound. This is actually how he calmed down. He would listen to it all day long in his headphones – and not just that, Mastodon as well – but his brain is on fire so much that death metal calms him. He’s a very different individual to most of us.
When four outsiders saw what the big banks, media and government refused to, the global collapse of the economy, they had an idea: The Big Short. Their bold investment leads them into the dark underbelly of modern banking where they must question everyone and everything. Based on the true story and best-selling book by Michael Lewis (The Blind Side, Moneyball), and directed by Adam Mckay (Anchorman, Step Brothers) The BigShort stars Christian Bale, Steve Carell, Ryan Gosling and Brad Pitt.
The Big Short is now playing in limited release. It will expand nationwide on December 23, 2015.