NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Friday, December 4, 2015, 4:00 AM
Don’t take Steve Carell too seriously.
He doesn’t, even though his role as a money manager in “The Big Short,” opening Friday, is the latest in a string of edgy, dramatic parts that stray from his earlier zany comedic work.
“It’s not intentional and I’m fearful of the whole subject because it just sounds so pretentious,” Carell tells the Daily News.
“I think most actors are at the mercy of the kind of parts that they are offered,” he adds. “I tended not to get offers like this five or 10 years ago …
“Boy, that answer sounds pretentious, too.”
Steve Carell stars in ‘The Big Short’ as a clever money manager who makes a killing by anticipating the 2008 financial crisis.
Carell, 53, stars in “The Big Short” as investment manager Mark Baum — based on the real-life Steve Eisman, a major player in Michael Lewis’ book of the same name that the film is based on. It centers on a small faction of investors who correctly predicted and bet that banks’ reckless lending of subprime mortgages would lead to the 2008 financial crisis.
Playing a character inspired by a real-life person who was on set watching him film was a little awkward for Carell — especially since Carell had previously bonded with the money manager and his family at Eisman’s Upper East Side apartment before cameras started rolling.
You’d think the former star of lighter comic fare like TV’s “The Office” would be used to it, having portrayed real-life LGBT advocate Steven Goldstein in “Freeheld” earlier this year, and the late millionaire-turned-murderer John du Pont in “Foxcatcher” in 2014, a role which earned him his first Oscar nomination.
“It’s a strange thing to talk to someone who you are going to portray,” says Carell, “Because it’s creepy. You don’t want them to think that you’re just exploiting them.”
Carell plays Mark Baum and Ryan Gosling plays Jared Vennett in the comedic drama.
The last thing Carell wanted to do was offend the guy by playing him with a cartoonish turn that painted him as a villain profiting off others’ economic hardship.
“When (Eisman) first got there (on set), they instructed him not to crowd around the monitor where (director) Adam McKay was working and watching takes,” Carell says. “And apparently he immediately went over, took a seat by the monitor and by the end of the day was giving notes to the actors and to Adam.
“And they were good notes.”
McKay put a casting wish list for “The Big Short” on a corkboard and landed just about everybody on it, including Brad Pitt, Christian Bale and Ryan Gosling. But the top priority was Carell, who knew McKay from working with him in the Second City improv comedy troupe in the late ’80s, years before they’d reteam on “Anchorman” movies.
Carell’s character is based on real life money manager Steve Eisman.
“The idea of the Mark Baum character as such a fiery and righteous guy, kind of smart but a little nudgy — it’s a weird combination of things that there’s a very short list of people to look at,” says McKay.
And Carell was top on that list.
Once he scored him, McKay had bigger things to worry about: not losing the audience in all the economic jargon about the devaluation of housing-related securities.
He solved that problem by deciding to interrupt the film with celebrities who cameo as themselves and explain to the audience what’s going on in a fun way. Like having Margot Robbie explain what subprime mortgages are — while she takes a bubble bath.
Carell, right, with Channing Tatum, in a scene from ‘Foxcatcher,’ which earned him an Oscar nomination.
“I started thinking about pop culture, we hear about the Kardashians and who’s dating who all the time,” McKay says. “What if those people in that pop machine actually broke the fourth wall and told us information we needed to hear. Like what would happen if Kim Kardashian was being filmed on TMZ walking into a place and stopped to talk about the Libor rate scandal.”
Leave it to Carell and company to make a two-hour movie about the implosion of the U.S. economy fun.
“I don’t think this is a partisan sort of movie,” says Carell. “There’s fault on both sides. The only people this will alienate are big banks. We’re just calling them out once again.”