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​"The Big Short" author Michael Lewis on going Hollywood

"The Big Short" has been described as part comedy, part thriller, part documentary that tells the story of maverick bankers and hedge-funders who spotted the housing bubble in 2008
Michael Lewis: From "The Big Short" to the red carpet 06:10

A new film mixes comedy and finance -- and nobody could be more surprised that "The Big Short" has made it to the big screen than the author of the book that inspired it. John Blackstone offers us a preview:

In a way "The Big Short" is part of a Hollywood tradition: the disaster movie -- a disaster we all lived through.

"Wall Street took a good idea and turned it into an atomic bomb of fraud and stupidity," said Steve Carell's Mark Baum.

"The Big Short" looks at what caused the 2008 financial crisis that cost millions their homes, jobs and savings.

The movie, starring Steve Carrell, Christian Bale, Brad Pitt and Ryan Gosling, tells the story of a few investors who saw the bubble being created in the housing market when no one else did.

The film was nominated this past week for four Golden Globes and two Screen Actors Guild Awards.

Jeremy Strong, Rafe Spall, Hamish Linklater, Steve Carell, Jeffry Griffin and Ryan Gosling in "The Big Short." Jaap Buitendijk/Paramount Pictures

It's based on the 2010 book by Michael Lewis. "You've got these oddballs who are kind of on the margins of the financial system," he said, "who saw this crisis as it was developing. And nobody wanted to listen to them. And they made fortunes betting on the collapse of the system."

"Your books are based on characters," said Blackstone. "Are you always on the look-out for a character?"

"Yes," replied Lewis. "It's a character in a situation. If you ask me what's the starting point for books for me, it's almost always that."

The characters in "The Big Short" are in a complicated situation involving risky mortgage bonds sold by big banks. They are trying to figure out what happens if homeowners begin to default on their mortgages and those bonds lose value.

"I did wonder while I was working on it, is this really a book?" said Lewis.

It turned out to be a bestseller, on The New York Times list for 28 weeks. But Lewis didn't write it with a movie in mind.

Author Michael Lewis (right), with correspondent John Blackstone. CBS News

"I don't feel I'm responsible for the movie; I'm responsible for the book," he said. "It's a very nice situation. If it goes really well, people give me credit for it. And if it goes badly, I just say, HE did it!"

"He" is screenwriter-director Adam McKay. "You don't think of a book about that subject as being a page-turner," he said.

And you don't think of McKay as an obvious choice to write and direct a movie about complex financial issues. His previous works are Will Farrell comedies, including "Anchorman" and "Talladega Nights."

"When you do big, silly comedies, you learn to kind of disengage from worrying about what the critical response is, and you just worry about making a movie that works," McKay said. "And I think it really served me in this case."

When McKay had to explain how banks disguised risky mortgage bonds to look like secure investments, he brought in celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain. The banks, stuck with unsold bonds, Bourdain says, were like a chef stuck with unsold fish.

"Whatever crappy levels of the bond I don't sell I throw into a seafood stew," Bourdain explained. "See, it's not old fish; it's a whole new thing!"

During filming of "The Big Short," Lewis never visited the set. McKay said, "I think later I found out he was a little dubious, until he saw the movie, and then he was overjoyed that it actually worked."

From the beginning, Lewis had found Hollywood baffling. "Well, I still find it baffling. I mean, there's such an accidental quality to these things getting made."

In 2003 producers offered to buy the film rights to "Moneyball," Lewis' book about Oakland A's general manager Billy Beane.

"Billy Beane was really unhappy about the idea of a movie being made," recalled Lewis. "I said, 'Don't worry, they'll never make the movie. They'll just give you the money.' That was my experience up to that point -- they pay you until they get bored with the project and move on. And I said, 'It's just like free money."

"And then one day - it was very funny -- he calls me, he says, 'You bastard! Brad Pitt's coming to my house and my wife is putting on makeup and the babysitter's wearing a dress! You said this wasn't gonna happen!'"

With Brad Pitt playing Beane, "Moneyball" was a hit.

Lewis' book "The Blind Side" also became a popular movie starring Sandra Bullock, as a suburban mother who takes in a homeless high school football player.

"The Big Short" is Lewis' 12th book, but it has much in common with his first, "Liar's Poker," about his brief experience working on Wall Street during the stock market boom of the 1980s.

That, too, was a bestseller. But Lewis admits books about the financial markets don't necessarily appeal to every reader.

"You said you didn't think your mother had read 'The Big Short'? You weren't sure?" asked Blackstone.

"If my mother watches this, I am in trouble!" Lewis laughed. "But I don't know that she has. My mother's a voracious reader, but narratives about Wall Street, even when I'm the main subject, I'm not so sure she gravitates to those. She will see the movie!"

"She will understand it?"

"Oh, totally," he said. "It's very smart and interesting. And so I think she'll be, 'Wow, that's different.' But I think she'll completely understand it!"

To watch a trailer for "The Big Short" click on the player below.

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