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This story first appeared in a special awards season issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
Brad Pitt’s production company, Plan B Entertainment, has become a perennial player at the Oscars, winning best picture two years ago for 12 Years a Slave and scoring a best picture nomination last year for Selma. This year, Plan B has The Big Short, which is up for five Academy Awards, including best picture, best director (Adam McKay) and best supporting actor (Christian Bale). Plan B co-president Jeremy Kleiner, 39, who runs the Paramount-based company with president Dede Gardner, recently spoke with THR about working with Pitt, how his company’s latest Oscar contender — based on Michael Lewis’ best-seller about the 2008 financial meltdown — got onto the big screen and why Bale wore tailor-made T-shirts throughout the production.
Adam McKay, known for comedy, was hardly the obvious choice to direct The Big Short. How did you decide to give him the film?
It sounds weird to say, but when we heard the name pitched to us, I literally said, “Why did we not think of that before?” We love his comedies, and we love his Broadway show, You’re Welcome America. He had also developed a script about Lee Atwater that was very relevant. He’s extraordinarily impressive, he’s better-read than anybody, kind of like the smartest guy in the room. Watching him on set and the way he harnessed his own improvisational methods with a certain kind of rigor for the script was great.
In one of many twists and turns this awards season, The Big Short won the top PGA Award. You must be feeling pretty good about that.
It’s wonderful to be recognized by our peers. It was great, and I wish Adam could have been there with us, but he was in New York.
The film also has grossed $112.6 million globally — not bad for a movie about credit default swaps.
I would say it’s found an audience. It’s a film that traffics in some complicated notions, so I think the idea that it would be reaching people and reaching people across political lines and starting conversations about the nature of government involved in the economy is an incredibly encouraging result.
Was it always part of the plan for Pitt to play retired trader Ben Rickert?
When we acquired the rights, we didn’t have that specifically in mind. It wasn’t in the cards necessarily. When [Pitt] read the script, he gravitated to Ben. There was something to him that had a certain perspective [that Pitt liked].
Did Christian Bale spend time with Michael Burry, the drum-playing trader he portrayed?
They met for like nine hours or something. Then Michael was on the set when Christian was there for a few days. They just really had a connection, down to Christian wearing Michael Burry’s clothes, like his T-shirt. Michael Burry doesn’t like to have confusion or to have his mind occupied with choices of what to wear. He typically will have 12 of the same T-shirts, and they’re all custom-made, so Christian was wearing that T-shirt. And I think [Christian] understood that Michael Burry’s relationship to numbers and the market situation was very emotional.
Did you ever imagine that The Big Short would get an Oscar nomination?
No. It’s amazing to think we wrapped the film only a couple of days before Memorial Day.
And then it got pushed up to a Dec. 23 release. Was it dicey finishing on time?
There wasn’t a lot of breathing room, so it was definitely challenging. But I think as we previewed the film, people were responding to it and executives at Paramount were very supportive. I think that we had basically a consensus about what the film wanted to be.
Statistician Nate Silver is predicting that The Big Short will win best picture. How are you coping during the final stretch?
We’re in a busy moment at our company, so there is a lot of other things going on, which is nice. We had a great time making this movie, so there’s just a great positive energy going on.
• Studio: Paramount
• Release date: Dec. 23
• Worldwide box office: $112.6 million
• Director: Adam McKay
• Cast: Christian Bale, Ryan Gosling, Steve Carell
• Top awards and noms: PGA best picture; Globe, BAFTA and SAG noms; won AFI’s Movie of the Year
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