Brad Pitt to play Steve Eisman in Big Short film: Michael Lewis at LSE

Michael Lewis, author of The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine, was in converation at a free LSE lecture tonight. He confirmed that the book, about the collapse of the sub-prime mortgage market, and subsequent spectacular fallout, had been bought by Brad Pitt and Paramount Pictures.

He also said that Brad Pitt would star in the film as Steve Eisman, a hedge fund manager who made millions by betting against the subprime market.

Lewis, in his usual irreverent style, described Eisman as a guy who ‘gets pleasure out of saying things that are true and offensive, like a really bright four-year-old on steroids.’

Eisman’s wife says of him in the book, ‘Even on Wall Street people think he is rude and obnoxious and offensive.’

So it looks Pitt should have a lot of fun playing this character, and we should have a lot of fun watching him when the film comes out.

Lewis had a host of great throwaway quotes at LSE:

“People have unreliable memories, especially about their own financial decisions.”

He pointed out the most of the characters in the book are reprehensible in many respects. About Greg Lippmann, who had shorted the market at Deutsche Bank: “Even when he is saying a profound truth he can seem like he is lying.”

About the bond traders: “None of them thought they had made bad decisions. They thought they were victims of a natural disaster…they were not good witnesses. They hadn’t understood what was happening to them when it was happening to them.”

He also told a terrific story about his own LSE days when the students used the sport budget to buy a racehorse. Upshot was the racehorse wasn’t very good and some people weren’t happy so the sport budget was instead spent on sending folk like Lewis around Europe to play basketball.

Lewis described LSE students in the early 1980s as ‘the most irresponsible people I’ve met, including sub-prime mortgage traders.’

He also showed himself to be a master of the Q&A, using all of the questions as an opportunity to pull out more from his seemingly endless supply of stories.

And finally he gave this wonderful insight into his writing style and indeed good writing generally: “The trick is to leave a hole in the story to allow the reader in and let them exercise judgement.”

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