An Interview with Jeremy Strong from "The Big Short"

Last week I got the amazing opportunity to meet one of the many talented actors from the movie "The Big Short", out in theaters December 23rd, 2015. The movie, which explains the whole financial crisis that happened in the mid-2000s in a very funny and easy to understand way, stars Jeremy Strong as Steve Carell's (Mark Baum) right hand guy. The actor talked to us about prepping for this role, about (possibly) being star struck, his love for theater, and about meeting Vinny Daniel (whom he portrays in the movie).

It was my very first time getting to interview an actor and it was a great experience actually! Jeremy made it so easy and comfortable that all my nerves flew out the window the moment he sat down to talk to me.

Without further ado, here's my interview with Jeremy Strong:

Before landing the role in this movie, how much did you know about what brought upon the financial crisis?

Actually, we were on the same boat as you, which is that none of us in the movie knew the first thing about this. So, we had to learn about it. But also, [Director Adam] McKay wanted to make a movie fun and entertaining, but that kind of broke all these concepts down into really simple, understandable terms. Going into the movie, I read the book and I read a whole other books to understand. But, Michael Lewis (author who's book the movie is based on) wrote a very compelling book that is easy to understand and it reads like a thriller. It is really fun to read. Which is really surprising because you wouldn't think that a movie about the subprime mortgage crisis would be this much fun.

Did Michael Lewis have any involvement in the movie?

No, he wasn't around at all. I mean, he's seen so many of his books get turned into movies, he is over it. But I did meet him on Thursday, the night of the premier of the movie, and we all wanted to live up to his book and Adam McKay wanted to do right by it. I think this is one of those cases where the movie almost surpasses the book because it's just bigger than the book, because it's not just about the financial crisis, but about the way we live and our country.

So, how did you get involved in this project?

I had worked on "The Producers" from Plan B (production company owned by Brad Pitt), and so I got to know them doing that and then I was told this book was being turned into a movie, and so I read it and felt very passionately about it. I am very lucky that I got to work on a lot of films that are socially minded films, that are about, for example, moments of history. And for this film I actually auditioned for like four different parts of the movie because from the moment I knew about it, I knew I had to be a part of it.

The socially conscious movies you have been involved with have been very serious, but this one is very different because it juggles almost low ground humor with some very sobering drama. How was it on the set? Was Adam always saying "it's too funny" or "reign it in"?

I didn't know what the movie was going to be about when I saw it, the tone of it. I think it's hard to pin down. I don't know if you can call it a comedy, or you can call it a drama; it's a combination. I know Adam has worked in some funny movies; he's a very funny guy and says very funny things all the time. So the set was a very light, upbeat environment to be in. He brought some lightness to very heavy material, but I think, in this case, he just wanted to tell the story. As a director, one of his virtues is that he allows his actors to take chances, take risks, play, be free, so there was a lot of improvisation, which was high wire act because we were acting in the environment of finances. As much as he is the director who also directed "The Monty Pythons", this is what he likes and is passionate about, so this movie was very personal to him.

You  mentioned how you've worked in all these amazing movies, so you've worked with really big names. Do you ever get starstruck when you meet them? 

No. You know, I probably used to. Like the guys in this movie, I admire them as actors and I have for a very long time. They are great actors and have done some courageous work. But yeah, when you meet Brad Pitt, you're like 'it's (beeping) Brad Pitt', but the thing you learn is that, at the end of the day, they're all just actors. And, you know, Brad, a big part of the reason why we made this movie is because he is one of the producers on the movie. [His company] Plan B makes these incredible socially minded, really important necessary movies that he is putting himself into so they get made. I think what I would say is that, when you are working, you aren't working with the actor,  you are working with the guy they're playing. I had all these scenes with Steve Carell, but I felt like I was in a scene with [his character] Mark Baum. You sort of meet them when you're doing press, or when you see the movie, you have a moment, but when you're doing it, your job is to forget all that stuff. I would say, though, I was star struck when I met Michael Lewis.

Did you actually get to meet the real Vinny Daniels?

Yeah. I actually got a picture with him. I went to New York, I spent some time on training floors on Wall Street, read a lot of books, and spent a lot of time with Vinny. And, obviously, when you are playing a real person, you really feel this huge responsibility because you are portraying this person in front of millions of people. You know, he's got a family, he's got co-workers, he's got kids, so you really want to do right by them. And I was really lucky because Vinny is someone I really have a lot of affection and respect for him. He's a really strong guy, he's got really strong ethics, he's dark. He's the guy from Queens who works on Wall Street, but he's a blue collar guy with a white collar job, and I think that point of view and that attitude was really important for me to try to capture.

We were talking earlier about how this movie is kind of like a "dramedy". Do you see yourself as a...

As a drametic actor?

As a dramatic actor, kind of more in comedies?

Not really. Although I love comedy, I've always wanted to work on more serious things. Last year I worked in a similar kind of thing; people called it a "dramedy", this movie called "The Judge. I think you bring in similar things, same muscles, but you just bring yourself to work it. It's similar to acting: you  bring yourself to each role, and you think differently from you. I think I prefer to work on things that are meaningful and substantial, so if that means it's a comedy, then great.

In this movie you portray Vinny, who seems like he is a tough guy. Was it a concern in this movie in portraying these mostly unlikeable characters? Do you feel you were alienating your audience?

I guess that's not something I am really thinking about because my responsibility is to my character,  I am trying to connect to how Vinny sees things. But, then again, you are trusting the film maker to do what he wants with that, whether that makes him likable or not. But you do hope the audience would care about them because they are all going through this struggle, and they are all making this trade for reasons that are very personal to these individuals.

This is obviously a very difficult subject matter. What do you want viewers to take from the film?

I think Adam McKay made the movie so that we can all kind of go on this journey together to be like "what the hell happened?" and "how did this happen?" to become aware so that history doesn't repeat itself. So the takeaway, I would hope, is to have a good time, but also to have a new awareness, a new kind of vigilance so that his kind of thing doesn't happen again. In particular here in Florida, you guys witnessed the bursting of the housing bubble because I don't think most people -myself included - really understand how it happened. So, it's not a history lesson, it's a fun movie, but I do think we will come out better equipped to better understand and know what we are up against, and not let this happen again.

I wanted to mention about how earlier you talked about how you auditioned for four different roles for this movie. What is, for you, the scariest part of auditioning for any role?

Fear is always there when you are a performer.

Yeah, they say that if you lose the nerves, you've lost the love for it

Yes, I think there is true to that. But, for me, it's just part of it, you just got to accept it. And auditioning is different some times, it's a terrible nerves, because auditioning for different directors is a different experience. Auditioning for Adam is fantastic because he is throwing ideas out at you, he's very creative.

Since you guys did improve a lot, how true is it to the book?

Well, the book doesn't have Margo Robbie or Selena Gomez explaining things, but I think it is true to the book because it distills the essence of the book, which is about how Wall Street took toxic waste and turned it into artisional spring water, and then made everybody drink it, and everybody got sick. But, yeah, it is try to the basic structure of the book, and the characters in the book. But then, Adam brought in different things, like his humor, which makes it much more entertaining.

You've done a lot of movies like this, and you prepared yourself for this kind of movie as well. Is this something you normally do: study for it to the point that you don't want to do it anymore?

My girlfriend always says that if you want Jeremy to ever care or learn about anything, you have to put him in a movie or give him a part. And I think a lot of actors share this: you suddenly have an insatiable appetite to learn and absorb your favorite parts of a subject. And it is really fun learning for a year, for example, about the Civil War. Believe it or not, when you are in a film, part of your job is to understand the world of it and be in that world, not just the lines in the page. And Wall Street, as we know, is a high stakes world, but I think it is very important to do that part so that when you show up to the set you have this further understanding.

In terms of the movie, did you ever go back to Math class while you were making the movie?

I was terrible in math and I am probably worst now than I was back then. The writers have done that part for you.

Everyone in this film was really fantastic obviously. Was there one moment on set that really stood out to you or that you will take with you to other projects?

There's a moment in the film where Brad Pitt turns to Jamie and Charlie's characters and tells them "don't dance". And I think, for me, that is one of the most striking and important moments in the movie. It kind of encapsulates what this movie is about because, yeah, we are all having a lot of fun and making all that money, but don't dance because there is nothing to celebrate because what is happening is really serious and tragic. And so, the movie is dancing but it's also reminding us that this impacted all these people in a severe way.

And here's my picture with Jeremy

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