A version of this story first appeared in the Dec. 11 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
On the afternoon of Nov. 23, The Big Short is premiering in New York, just a cab ride away from the epicenter of the financial meltdown of the mid-2000s. The film's Brad Pitt is livid that greed continues unfettered and justice is elusive. "It's disgusting. It makes me angry," he tells The Hollywood Reporter of the Wall Street-generated housing and credit bubble that left millions without a home due to foreclosure. "What I liked about the film is that it tries to explain to people how they got screwed." Pitt, who also produced the $28 million film through his Plan B Entertainment, hopes the film spurs the public to question exactly how this happened. In a wide-ranging conversation, Pitt talks about why he opted for a small role, how comedy director Adam McKay won the job and whether or not he blames President Obama for the lack of accountability.
How did you become involved as a producer?
Well we got the book. We're sitting on this great book by Michael Lewis, and it was a subject that I really wanted to take on -- still wondering, questioning, angered by the fact that this whole collapse happened and people suffered as they did, and yet no one was held accountable and nothing seemed to change. And it's true nothing has really changed. So we were lucky to win Michael's book and we set about developing the script, so we started with Charles Randolph, and we got a really smart, insightful script but still, this kind of material is very, very difficult to get made these days. So I had met Adam McKay a few years prior. We were looking, talking about doing a film about Lee Atwater that he had developed. And I walked away completely charmed by him and absolutely impressed with his knowledge of global affairs and his wit. And my partners had been talking to him at the same time about something, and it just made sense. It just felt like the perfect [fit] if we could get Adam on. It would be the perfect kind of balance and delivery system for this kind of material. And it's fair to say once it went through Adam's filter, we really felt like we had our script, we had our story.
This felt like one of the quickest films to move from option to production. From your perspective, was it unusually quick?
Yeah. Once we had [the book], it was very, very quick. We had it at Paramount, and again this is challenging material for them to gamble on, certainly in today's paradigm. So I immediately jumped in. [With] projects like this, studios need, for better or for worse, marquee value to sell the thing on. So like 12 Years a Slave, I gladly jumped in to help with that aspect. Our first choices were Christian, Ryan and Steve, and I think it's just a testament to who Adam is and how Adam developed a script, and they all jumped in immediately. That all happened within two weeks and we were up and running, heading to New Orleans and trying to figure out how to shoot New York [in] New Orleans.
Why was it challenging material?
There's no guarantee the movie is going to get to what it's become. We believed it would, and we believed in Adam and we believed in the players. There's just no guarantee. And you know with the growing expense of P&A, these kind of midrange films about complicated material, studios can lose a lot of money on. So you know without some kind of comfort there, I've just seen many of them just not get made. It's no one's fault, it just didn't fit their business model anymore. We all did it for the fraction of [our] worth because we wanted to get this story made. And that's just the reality of today's market.
You took a very small part. Why not one of the leads?
Well actually, I was supposed to, but I was committed to doing another film that was going to overlap with this that ended up not happening. So it wasn't in the cards for me. Though truthfully, these guys were all better than I could have been, and I think it just worked out perfectly. So if I'm going to jump in, then where can I jump in and pull my corner of the sheet and not be distracting in any way. This is what felt right to us, what developed into a mentor-student relationship in our storyline.
What was the film that posed conflict with this one?
[Angelina Jolie Pitt and I] were trying to get Africa made, which is still trying to get made. It's an Eric Roth script.
In your own personal opinion, do you think that people should go to jail for what they did to the financial system?
I think people should have been held accountable, yes I do. What we're seeing now is that greed is still alive and kicking, and banks are bigger than ever. There's a few more safeguards than before where they can't risk as much debt, but the worry is that as time goes by, people forget, [but] the same things are being done, being done outside the banking system, but the same behavior is going on -- and we also got to look at our credit rating system. It's an absolute joke. I think what the film tells us and what time tells us is human nature cannot be completely trusted. We need regulation. We need really smart regulation, and there's been a few attempts at it, but nothing like when [senators] Chris Dodd and I think Al Franken were going after the rating system, which got nowhere.
Elizabeth Warren, too.
Elizabeth Warren as well, you're right. But nothing has really changed. It's just packaged in a different way or going down [in] a different venue.
And Bernie Madoff is the only one who has gone to jail.
Yeah, but that's not connected to this in any way. It was a Ponzi scheme, and he was an absolute easy bad guy. I've tried to ask a few of the experts, "Why wasn't anyone held accountable?" and the answer seems to be that the government didn't go after them in 2009 because they were too worried about affecting the bank bailout, and that's as much of an answer as I've been able to get.
And yet there are so many victims here.
Mortgages, savings, pensions. Yeah, it's disgusting. It makes me angry. What I liked about the film is that it tries to explain to people how they got screwed. The language is intensely tricky, so people are relying on the people giving them advice. It's rigged to be so confusing that no one could even begin to understand until suddenly there are loans adjusted without anyone really aware of what's really going on.
Do you think this film will do anything to make people say, "Enough is enough. These people have to be held accountable?"
I think it lifts the sheet up a little bit and makes it more visible of what's going on and what could happen again. So many people got hurt. It triggered a worldwide economic collapse. There's no reason it couldn't happen again at this point.
You've worked with Michael Lewis before on Moneyball. Is he somebody you have a relationship with?
Yeah, I have great respect for Mike. Michael is able to take what should be normally dry and uninteresting material -- certainly convoluted material -- and bring a clarity to it. I think it's because of his writing that we can see a way into a film because of the way he breaks it down.
Adam is not an obvious choice for this type of material. What made you think he could handle this topic?
First of all, what he and Will [Ferrell] put out is really prolific. But it was his interest in national and world affairs. He's the smartest guy in the room, and it's quite evident from sitting down with him. You could see he was right for it, and it was a lovely confluence of interests, us coming together on this thing. And I hope he does more [films] like this. I'm sure he will, because he's got a unique voice.
Do you have any plans to work with Adam again?
We don't have anything. We've talked about a few ideas. He's got hundreds of ideas, and we've talked about a few ideas, but nothing concrete as of yet.
Any plans to work with Steve, Ryan or Christian again?
I don't have anything specific. I only have one thing that I know I'm doing next. It's [an untitled World War II love story opposite Marion Cotillard at Paramount], so I don't think those guys will be in it.
You've been working with Brad Grey for a long time. What does Paramount bring to the equation that is different form the other studios?
Brad Grey's been a longtime friend. We've certainly been in the trenches on some films, like World War Z, when we really had to buckle down and pull it through. So I think we got that combat-in-the-trenches closeness. We just work well together. We just have a relationship.
As a studio, is Paramount more hands-off?
No. They're certainly opinionated, which I appreciate. They've been helpful in that way. They would push back and say, "You know what, this scene or that scene ..." So, we push back. Conclusions are made. Good conclusions are made.
Tonight is the premiere in New York, ground zero of bank malfeasance in America. What kind of message are you hoping to send to the New York banking community?
My message is more for the people who got screwed, who lost their homes, to understand how this happened. And for the public to understand how this happened and begin asking questions. And for the powers that be, I hope this resonates with them too and [they enact] tougher regulations and more safeguards and certainly an overhaul of the ratings agencies. It would be my dream.
Have you been disappointed at all that President Obama hasn't done more? You've been a supporter of President Obama, correct?
Yes. I am just disappointed no one is being held accountable. Because without those kind of incentives not to behave this way, why shouldn't it happen again? A lot of people made a lot of money.
What scene was the most gratifying to shoot?
Well, the reason I wanted to do this, where I thought I could be a value to this story, was where [Pitt's character Ben Rickert] reprimands his proteges on exactly what they're doing, what it means to be betting against the American economy.
See more from Brad Pitt in the gallery below!
Brad Pitt through the years
Brad Pitt wants justice for victims of financial collapse: 'It's disgusting. It makes me angry'
136698 06: Actor Brad Pitt from 'A River Runs Through It' September 15, 1991. (Photo by Liaison)
204937 03: Brad Pitt in the film 'Legends of the Fall.' (Photo by Liaison)
341913 01: Actor Brad Pitt in the film 'Meet Joe Black.' (Photo by Liaison)
TORONTO, CANADA: Film star Brad Pitt rushes into the world premier for his new film 'Seven Years In Tibet' at the Toronto Film Festival in Toronto, Canada, 13 September. Pitt was posing for photographers when a group of women started to rush across the street towards him and he hurried into the theatre. AFP PHOTO/Carlo ALLEGRI (Photo credit should read CARLO ALLEGRI/AFP/Getty Images)
372599 01: Brad Pitt Stars As Joe Black In Universal Pictures Recent Release 'Meet Joe Black'. Pitt Stars Along With Anthony Hopkins, Claire Forlani Under The Direction Of Martin Brest. (Photo By Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, UNITED STATES: Actors Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston arrive for the 51st Emmy Awards 12 September, 1999, in Los Angeles, California. (Electronic Image) AFP PHOTO / Hector MATA (Photo credit should read HECTOR MATA/AFP/Getty Images)
369691 01: Brad Pitt And Julia Roberts Together For The First Time On Their First Day Filming Together In Dreamworks Pictures Action-Comedy, 'The Mexican' May 17, 2000 In Real De Catorce, Mexico. (Photo By Getty Images)
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - AUGUST 23: Hollywood actor Brad Pitt arrives at the london Premiere of his new film 'Snatch' 23 August 2000, in London West End. 'Snatch' is a movie directed by Guy Ritchie. (ELECTRONIC IMAGE) (Photo credit should read HUGO PHILPOTT/AFP/Getty Images)
Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston at the premiere of 'Rock Star' at the Mann Village Theater in Los Angeles, Ca. 9/4/01. Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images.
Brad Pitt at the premiere of 'Panic Room' at the Loews Century Plaza Theater in Los Angeles, Ca. Monday, March 18, 2002. Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images.
Brad Pitt at the premiere of 'The Bourne Identity' at Universal CityWalk in Los Angeles, Ca. Thursday, June 6, 2002. Photo by Kevin Winter/ImageDirect
WESTWOOD, CA - DECEMBER 11: Actors Don Cheadle (L) and Brad Pitt attend the premiere of the film 'Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind' on December 11, 2002 in Westwood, California. (Photo by Vince Bucci/Getty Images)
SANTA MONICA, CA - APRIL 12: Michelle Pfeifer and Brad Pitt during Nickelodeon's 16th Annual Kids' Choice Awards at the Barker Hangar April 12, 2003 in Santa Monica, California. (Photo by Robert Mora/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD - JANUARY 12: Actress Jennifer Aniston and actor Brad Pitt attend the Los Angeles premiere of Universal Pictures' film 'Along Came Polly' on January 12, 2004 at the Grauman's Chinese Theatre, in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Vince Bucci/Getty Images)
BERLIN - MAY 9: Actor Brad Pitt attends the official European premiere of long-awaited epic film 'Troy' at the Cinestar Cinema, Potsdamer Square May 9, 2004 in Berlin, Germany. The story is of two nations' battle after the prince of one steals the beautiful wife of the other. Precedes U.S. premiere tomorrow and international screening at Cannes, May 13. (Photo by Kurt Vinion /Getty Images)
CANNES, FRANCE - MAY 13: Actors Brad Pitt and Orlando Bloom attend the Photocall for 'Troy' ahead of tonight's World Premiere showing, at the 57th Annual Cannes Film Festival on May 13, 2004 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Bruno Vincent/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD - DECEMBER 8: Actor Brad Pitt arrives at the Warner Bros. premiere of the film 'Ocean's Twelve' at Grauman's Chinese Theatre December 8, 2004 in Hollywood California. (Photo by Vince Bucci/Getty Images)
WESTWOOD, CA - JUNE 07: Actor Brad Pitt arrives at the premiere of 'Mr. & Mrs. Smith' at the Mann Village Theater on June 7, 2005 in Westwood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JULY 20: Actor Brad Pitt poses at the Hollywood Foreign Press Association annual installation luncheon at the Beverly Hills Hotel on July 20, 2005 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
DAVOS, SWITZERLAND: Actors Angelina Jolie (L) and Brad Pitt leave Hotel Belvedere in Davos 26 January 2006. UN goodwill ambassador Angelina Jolie is in Davos for the World Economic Forum. AFP PHOTO ERIC FEFERBERG (Photo credit should read Eric FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images)
CANNES, FRANCE - MAY 21: (EDITORS NOTE: THIS BLACK AND WHITE IMAGE WAS CONVERTED FROM ORIGINAL COLOUR FILE) Actors Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie attend the premiere for the film 'A Mighty Heart' at the Palais des Festivals during the 60th International Cannes Film Festival on May 21, 2007 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images)
TORONTO - SEPTEMBER 10: Actor Brad Pitt attends 'Babel' press conference during the Toronto International Film Festival held at the Sutton Place Hotel on September 10, 2006 in Toronto, Canada. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON - MARCH 05: Actor Brad Pitt attends with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Majority Whip Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) a press conference following a meeting to discuss the 'Make it Right' project on March 5, 2009 in Washington, DC. The project, launched in 2007, helps to construct affordable and environmentally-sustainable housing for low-income residents of the Lower 9th Ward in New Orleans who lost their homes as a result of Hurricane Katrina. (Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD - APRIL 06: Actor Brad Pitt onstage during the taping of Idol Gives Back held at the Kodak Theatre on April 6, 2008 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
WESTWOOD, CA - DECEMBER 08: Actor Brad Pitt arrives at the premiere of Paramount's 'The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button' held at Mann's Village Theatre on Decemeber 8, 2008 in Westwood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
Oscar-nominated actors Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie arrive at the 81st Academy Awards at the Kodak Theater in Hollywood, California on February 22, 2009. AFP PHOTO Robyn BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
SAN SEBASTIAN, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 18: Actor Brad Pitt attends 'Inglorious Basterds' photocall at the Kursaal Palace during the 57th San Sebastian International Film Festival on September 18, 2009 in San Sebastian, Spain. (Photo by Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - DECEMBER 03: Actors Brad Pitt (L) and Angelina Jolie arrive at the premiere of Warner Bros. Pictures' and Spyglass Entertainment's 'Invictus' at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Theater on December 3, 2009 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD - JULY 19: Actor Brad Pitt arrives at the premiere of Sony Pictures' 'Salt' at Grauman's Chinese Theatre on July 19, 2010 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
US actors Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie pose as they arrive for the premiere of her movie The Tourist by German director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck in Rome on December 15, 2010. AFP PHOTO / ALBERTO PIZZOLI (Photo credit should read ALBERTO PIZZOLI/AFP/Getty Images)
US actor Brad Pitt attends the press conference of 'The Tree of Life' presented in competition at the 64th Cannes Film Festival on May 16, 2011 in Cannes. AFP PHOTO / ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT (Photo credit should read ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT/AFP/Getty Images)
US actor Brad Pitt and his wife, US actress Angelina Jolie, pose on the red carpet before the screening of 'The Tree of Life' presented in competition at the 64th Cannes Film Festival on May 16, 2011 in Cannes. AFP PHOTO / FRANCOIS GUILLOT (Photo credit should read FRANCOIS GUILLOT/AFP/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - DECEMBER 08: Actor Brad Pitt arrives at 'In the Land of Blood and Honey' premiere held at ArcLight Cinemas on December 8, 2011 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images)
PALM SPRINGS, CA - JANUARY 07: Actor Brad Pitt accepts the Desert Palm Achievement Award onstage during The 23rd Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival Awards Gala at the Palm Springs Convention Center on January 7, 2012 in Palm Springs, California. (Photo by Michael Buckner/Getty Images For The Palm Springs International Film Festival)
LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 29: Actors Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie arrive at the 18th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at The Shrine Auditorium on January 29, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)
CANNES, FRANCE - MAY 22: Actor Dede Gardner and Brad Pitt pose at the 'Killing Them Softly' photocall during the 65th Annual Cannes Film Festival at Palais des Festivals on May 22, 2012 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 26: Actor Brad Pitt attends The Cinema Society with Men's Health and DeLeon hosted screening of The Weinstein Company's 'Killing Them Softly' on November 26, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images)
Honoree Angelina Jolie (R) and actor Brad Pitt attend the 2013 Governors Awards, presented by the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), at the Grand Ballroom of the Hollywood and Highland Center in Hollywood, California, November 16, 2013. AFP PHOTO / Robyn Beck (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 16: Producer and actor Brad Pitt, winner of the Best Film award, poses in the winners room at the EE British Academy Film Awards 2014 at The Royal Opera House on February 16, 2014 in London, England. (Photo by Anthony Harvey/Getty Images)
Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt arrive for the world premiere of Disney's 'Maleficent,' May 28, 2014, at El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood, California. AFP PHOTO / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Actor Brad Pitt and children Pax Jolie-Pitt (L), Shiloh Jolie-Pitt (C) and Maddox Jolie-Pitt arrive for the U.S. premiere of Universal Pictures 'Unbroken,' December 15, 2014 at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, California. AFP PHOTO / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
PALM SPRINGS, CA - JANUARY 03: Actor Brad Pitt speaks onstage during the 26th Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival Awards Gala at Palm Springs Convention Center on January 3, 2015 in Palm Springs, California. (Photo by Jason Merritt/Getty Images for PSIFF)