The M Interview: Steve Carell is the big shot in THE BIG SHORT
Comedy actor Steve Carell shows he's a drama heavyweight in latest movie
When successful US comedic actor Steve Carell made a left turn in his career in 2014 playing a creepy convicted murderer under heavy facial prosthetics in the dark drama Foxcatcher, he was rewarded with Oscar and Golden Globe nominations.
And he's continuing that lucky streak with another Golden Globe nomination for his latest film, The Big Short, based on a true story and currently showing here.
The 53-year-old is almost unrecognisable as Mark Baum, an overweight, cynical and impatient hedge fund manager with a conscience.
He's one of four outsiders who recognised the fraud, greed and stupidity of the banks and government regulators, and watched in growing disbelief as their forecast for an epic meltdown came to fruition with the global financial crisis of 2008.
That they took advantage of the situation and reaped billions in the process of betting against the collapsing US economy shows they were no heroes, but they tried to speak out about their findings and no one listened.
The Big Short is nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Director (Adam McKay) and Best Supporting Actor (Christian Bale). It also won top honours at the recent Producers Guild Awards.
Carell is unassuming in person, not a comic who is always "on".
At our interview at the Four Seasons hotel in Beverly Hills last November, we saw he'd shed the pounds and lost the unkempt look.
Not one to take his job home with him, he said: "When I'm doing a comedy, it's not wacky time at home."
He added that he's a pretty normal guy who goes home to his actress-wife Nancy Walls and their two children "because ultimately it's my job, as opposed to, I don't want it to just be who I am all the time".
Did you have an understanding of what happened when the markets crashed?
I had a cursory knowledge but I didn't understand the intricacies and the downright fraudulent activity that was going on. So that was eye-opening.
I think the last part of the film plays like a horror movie because you see it unspooling, seemingly out of control.
What was most frightening about it was when we were doing research and we were talking to analysts and traders, and they were recounting how they felt during that period. They thought it was Armageddon, the end of the world, and they didn't see it coming. And that's what they do for a living!
STARS: Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling co-star in The Big Short. PHOTO: UIP
Did you know much about the financial industry when you started filming?
I'm just an actor. I don't know much about anything.
I read the book (The Big Short is based on) when Adam (McKay) offered me the part. And then I had to read it again because it's so dense and complicated. But I don't pretend to know an awful lot about this. I think I learned just enough to make it viable.
Adam likes to improvise. We had to learn enough about the world so we could improvise within those characters and feel fairly confident with it.
Do you know anyone who lost their job or their house?
Yeah. One of my brothers lost his condo.
I think it affected more people than most know. So no bankers went to jail, they were all bailed out by the taxpayers, there was some outrage and then people seem to forget the situation.
Do you think The Big Short will make a difference?
It would be nice if it did. I don't want to be pretentious about it and say "yes", this is the beginning of a revolution.
But I think if it starts a little bit of a conversation, it's certainly a step in the right direction. And going to the screenings is neat because afterwards in the Q&A, I've been finding that there is sort of a palpable sense of outrage.
We did a screening with a bunch of 20-year-olds from a mall, who were really riled up about it. And that was exciting to see.
What made you pick the dramas that you have been doing lately?
I try to look for the humanity in the part. That's before the comedy or the drama. Because I never think of a movie as being necessarily a comedy or a drama, I just think of it as being a person navigating a story and relationships.
And whether it turns out to be funny or not, a character doesn't know whether they're in a comedy or a drama. So I try to approach movies in that way.
The M Interview: Don't ask Ryan Gosling about financial investments
He's an actor who prefers to let his movies do the talking.
But publicising one's film is part of the game, so 35-year-old Canadian heart-throb Ryan Gosling is resigned to granting interviews, a task that has have grown exponentially since The Big Short's Oscar nominations.
The unlikely real star of the movie is US writer-director Adam McKay who comes from a comedy background (The Other Guys, Talladega Nights, Anchorman, Step Brothers).
His interest in the global economic meltdown led him to adapt a seemingly impossible-to-adapt book, Michael Lewis' bestseller of the same name, into a film that makes sense of concepts like credit default swaps and sub-prime mortgages in hilarious ways.
Gosling's character Jared Vennett, loosely based on a real person, is a slick Wall Street trader who narrates the story and is one of those who saw the financial crash coming.
The long-time McKay fan told M: "His movies are almost not even movies, they're like friends of mine.
"I check in on Step Brothers to see how it's doing.
"Anchorman is someone I try and catch up with when I can."
Unlike his The Big Short alter ego, Gosling has no interest in financial matters and doesn't follow the stock market.
He believes that bankers intentionally push away people with concepts like collateralised debt obligations because "it's meant to alienate you so that you feel stupid and you don't ask any questions".
Gosling said: "I think my eyes roll when these things come up."
So how did he prepare for the role without knowing anything about the business?
"Adam is freakishly smart and very, very passionate," he explained.
"There isn't anything you can't ask him that he doesn't know.
"He provided us with a lot of help from financial analysts who were with us to answer our questions."
Since The Big Short makes it clear that history can repeat itself if major changes are not made, does he fear another economic meltdown?
"I think it's part of our own wilful ignorance in not understanding what was going on and allowing ourselves to be alienated from it that allowed it to happen," said Gosling.
"What Adam is trying to do is educate people on what happened. The only way to stop history from repeating itself is to understand how it happened in the first place and I think this is a first step in doing that."
So what investment has he made that has paid off?
"My family. I feel very lucky to have a beautiful, healthy daughter who's an angel. That's a great investment."
Gosling has a daughter Esmeralda, born in September 2014, to his US actress-girlfriend of five years, Eva Mendes.
"I don't know what to say except that I'm with the person I'm supposed to be with," he said.
Would he like a bigger family?
He replied: "One step at a time, please."