Adam McKay on ‘The Iron Virgin,’ the Rise of Trump, and His Aborted Reagan Alzheimer’s Project
The Oscar-winning director of ‘The Big Short’ and ‘Anchorman’ dishes on his new ESPN 30 for 30 short, upcoming superhero movie ‘Irredeemable,’ and much more.
One of the funniest—and frankly, random—films to emerge at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival was A.C. Green: The Iron Virgin, a satirical exploration of the NBA’s Iron Man who, whilst playing on perhaps the most debauched, sex-crazy team in professional sports history, clung to his virginity like a suckling babe to a teat.
Director Isaac Feder’s 8-minute short, which airs May 13th on ESPN, features humorous interviews with Green’s Lakers comrades, including James Worthy, Byron Scott, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Jerry West, who tell wild stories of sending girls to Green’s room to tempt him, placing bets on whether he’d hold out, and the crazy sexcapades of the squad known as “Showtime,” which included regular orgies at ringleader Magic Johnson’s L.A. mansion.
The Iron Virgin is produced by Gary Sanchez Productions, the company run by Oscar-winning filmmaker Adam McKay (The Big Short, Anchorman), and his good pal/collaborative partner Will Ferrell, who also narrates the wacky proceedings.
“I was driving to a basketball game with my friend, Todd [Schulman], who’s a producer on this, and we were talking about things we’d like to see on 30 for 30, and we both thought, ‘How come nobody’s done the A.C. Green story?’” McKay tells The Daily Beast. “The more we looked into it, the better it got: that he came up during the most debauched party time, ‘showtime’ era, and how his teammates would try to tempt him and it would just make him laugh. And the fact that it all led to him becoming the NBA’s all-time Iron Man, it’s just a crazy story.”
Yes, Green hold’s the distinction of being the NBA’s Iron Man, or the most durable player in league history, having not missed a single game from Nov. 19, 1986, all the way to his final game on April 18, 2001—a grand total of 1,192 consecutive games played. Oh, and he did it all as a virgin. Green retired in 2001, married his wife Veronique the following year, and finally got it in.
Denver native McKay, 48, says he grew up a Celtics fan but then converted to the Knicks after moving to New York. Though, since moving out to L.A., he’s started to grow an affinity towards his hometown Clippers—and says he may fully convert if Knicks GM Phil Jackson goes ahead and inks his pal, Kurt Rambis, as the team’s head coach. “Honest to god, if they hire Kurt Rambis as their coach, I’m no longer a Knicks fan. I’m done,” he says. “I’ll fully become a Clippers fan at that point. That would be the dumbest hire in professional sports. I have no idea what’s going on there! Go hire the guy from Indiana [Frank Vogel] or something, loosen up on the triangle.”
This sad Knicks fan could not agree more.
But, the never-ending calamity that is the New York Knickerbockers aside, McKay found himself in the middle of a truly bizarre nontroversy recently when the Gary Sanchez-produced Reagan, a film project rumored to star Will Ferrell as the late Republican commander-in-chief as he struggles with the effects of Alzheimer’s during his second term, came under heavy fire from conservatives—including members of Reagan’s own family—for allegedly mocking the oft-heralded politician. The problem? Nobody really knew if the film was going to mock Reagan for his illness. Outlets simply saw Ferrell as a rumored candidate for the role and their imaginations ran amok.
“I’ve never been that close to a story like that where so little information became such a tidal wave. It was really crazy to behold,” says McKay. “People hadn’t even read the script, it was just three words: ‘Reagan, Ferrell, Alzheimer’s,’ and it became this huge thing. Finally, The Hollywood Reporter wrote a piece where they actually read the script and thought it was a really thoughtful script and tender towards Reagan, but yeah, it’s this culture we live in. It’s all about clicks, clicks, clicks, and hits, hits, hits.” “I kept saying when that story snowballed, ‘Is there anyone who really thinks Will Ferrell would make a comedy about a horrible disease likeAlzheimer’s?’ In a million years no one would do that!” he continues. “You’d have people on the left and right coming after you. I think it’s more about the deification of Ronald Reagan, where you can’t go near the subject of Ronald Reagan. Remember all the brouhaha over that Reagan miniseries? That miniseries was so soft, but nobody wants to hear anything near the reality of Reagan’s eight years as president.”
Also, McKay says, “Will wasn’t even attached to do the movie! He was just looking at it. It didn’t even have a director yet or was set up. It was just one of 30 projects Will was looking at.” Nonetheless, Ferrell was forced to formally announce his separation from the project.
Because of the numerous—and erroneous—media reports, from both the Hollywood trades and right-wing websites, McKay found himself in the crosshairs of a mad-as-hell fraternity of conservatives who flooded his office with threatening letters and phone calls. “It was scary, man. There are some scary people out there who respond to stuff like that,” says McKay, dead serious. “There were scary messages left at our office. Stuff like, ‘How dare you say anything bad about Ronald Reagan, you better watch your back.’ Some very scary voicemails.”
Before he earned his Academy bona fides with The Big Short, McKay was chiefly known as comedy director, having helmed hits like Anchorman, Talladega Nights, Step Brothers, and The Other Guys, and also writing and producing the 2012 political comedy The Campaign. And McKay, an outspoken Democrat, also directed and co-wrote the 2009 Broadway play You’re Welcome America. A Final Night with George W Bush, which saw Ferrell reprise his George W. Bush character from SNL.
Despite the lowly Dubya years, the political climate has gotten even crazier now, as epitomized by the rise of former Celebrity Apprentice host Donald J. Trump, now the presumptive Republican nominee for president. When asked whether, given how insane things have become, it’s difficult to pull off political comedy these days, McKay pauses. “I think it’s incredibly hard. I mean, what do you really do? You almost just need to have someone on camera just screaming!” he exclaims. “How do you make fun of Ted Cruz? Do you remember the odd candidate character Will Forte used to do on SNL? It’s exactly like Ted Cruz. When Trump talked about the size of his dick in that debate, I annoyed everyone around me because all day long I kept bringing it up. It’s really remarkable. You’re really seeing America just completely unravel.”
While McKay has voiced his support for Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, it’s looking increasingly like the race for the White House will come down to Trump and Hillary Clinton. And McKay warns his fellow Dems to not sleep on The Donald. “It’s going to be a competitive race. I know everyone wants to believe it’s not, but it is,” says McKay. “I remember when Bush had his first debate against Gore, and I thought, ‘Oh my god, you’ve got to be kidding me, this is over with, this guy’s a clown,’ and then sure enough.” He pauses. “For twenty years now, we’ve been saying, ‘We’ve got to be careful, we’re heading down a bad path, America is going to become a banana republic,’ well, we’re here. All the stuff we were worried about for the past twenty years, we’re here. Crazy, rampant income inequality, destroying our manufacturing base, education falling apart, the news turning into a for-profit machine where each consumer can just pick the pocket of news that agrees with them—we’re here. And Donald Trump is the kind of guy who would be president of a banana republic, and there’s a large chunk of our country that has a lot of similarities—when you look at income inequality, infant mortality rates, literacy rates—to third world countries. It’s really heartbreaking.”
It’s not all doom and gloom for McKay, however. Just last week, the news broke that McKay would be directing the upcoming superhero film Irredeemable, based on the Boom! comic book series of the same name, and written by screenwriter Tommy Wirkola (Dead Snow). For years, McKay had flirted with directing a superhero film for Marvel—and even rewrote the first Ant-Man film, as well as its upcoming sequel Ant-Man and the Wasp, hitting theaters in 2018.
“I’m rewriting the second Ant-Man movie, so I still love working with Marvel. They just have their storyline so mapped out for so many years to come—until like 2021 or something—that it’s hard to casually jump in on these projects,” he says. “Marvel knows exactly what they’re doing, man. I was blown away from working with them about the good taste that they have. Kevin Feige just has a great sense of what works. But Paul Rudd and [director] Peyton Reed are really good friends, so I had a fun time doing a draft of the last Ant-Man, and I’m having a good time working on the next one.”
He says he envisions Irredeemable as a multi-film franchise—and one that will put a new spin on comic book movies.
“It’s a franchise, for sure,” says McKay. “What I love about it is it’s a whole new world of superheroes. I’ve been begging studios, saying, ‘You don’t just have to do DC or Marvel, there are so many other superhero worlds,’ and this one has such a cool, new edge to it. Deadpool was pretty darn impressive and Suicide Squad looks really cool, and I think this fits into those as a new kind of superhero movie.”
Since the project is just in the planning stages, McKay isn’t even sure if it’ll be his next film. And while superheroes are a passion of his, the one subject he hopes to tackle the most on film is climate change.
“The biggest story in the history of mankind is climate change, so I’m interested in cracking that,” he says. “I have a few ideas I’m toying around with. I had a great time working on The Big Short, so there’s no question that I’ll go back to doing something like that that tackles a big, pressing issue in our society.”