'Dumb Money' Director Craig Gillespie Reveals How His Son's Own GameStop Experience Led Him to Make Film (Exclusive)

'Dumb Money' Director Craig Gillespie Reveals How His Son's Own GameStop Experience Led Him to Make Film (Exclusive)

'Dumb Money,' starring Paul Dano, Pete Davidson and America Ferrera, is now playing in theaters

I, Tonya director Craig Gillespie is back tackling another wild true story in Dumb Money, which recounts the 2021 GameStop stock short squeeze in his trademark fast-paced and entertaining style.

Based on Ben Mezrich's 2021 book The Antisocial Network, Dumb Money stars Paul Dano as Keith Gill, a financial analyst who invests his life savings into the GameStop stock.

When his big gamble begins to pay off, Keith finds himself at the center of a David vs. Goliath-like movement, where everyday people join him in his quest to flip the script on Wall Street. The film also stars America FerreraSebastian Stan and Anthony Ramos, with Pete Davidson as Keith's brother.

In an interview with PEOPLE, 56-year-old Gillespie, who's also behind the Hulu miniseries Pam & Tommy, discusses the challenge in bringing real-life stories to the screen; working with Dano, 38, and Davidson, 29; and how his son inspired him to make a film about the GameStop phenomenon.

PEOPLE: What attracts you to telling these sensational true-life stories?

As somebody once said, it's seeing ordinary people in extraordinary situations, and that just fascinates me. Obviously in this one, COVID is the backdrop of this, and I think much more than just being about the stock exchange, this was a moment that was so profound for us as a society that we were all living through this moment. It's never happened before in our lifetimes. There was this isolation, there was real hardship and loss with family members and then people losing jobs, people out of work, businesses closing down, small businesses, and you could see this huge disparity of wealth that was happening, that is still very front and center.

<p>Claire Folger</p> Paul Dano in <em>Dumb Money</em> (2023)

Claire Folger

Paul Dano in Dumb Money (2023)

From what I understand, one of your sons inspired you to make this?

Honestly, I don't think I would've quite understood the intensity of it if I had not been living it. We were in COVID lockdown. I've got two sons, but one of them was living with us; he was 24 at the time, and he was checking out the stock exchange, looking at different things, and on WallStreetBets, pretty early on, three months in advance at this build that was happening. So he was talking about it at the dinner table, popping down and saying things.

But then it started to get very intense in that two-week period and just constant updates. He'd come running down and be like, "Elon Musk just tweeted GameStop, and the stock popped by 5%, and Mark Cuban's commenting on it now." He was starting to feel the sense of the movement happening, and it escalated from 400,000 people in WallStreetBets to 8 million in eight weeks.

Related: Noah Centineo to Star in New Netflix Movie About GameStop Stock Saga

And as it got into that incredibly intense situation, there were always parts of the film that I relate to where we're sitting at the dinner table and I'm like, "What are you going to do? Are you going to sell? What are you doing? When are you going to sell?" And all of it's somewhat foreign to us and trying to understand the options of it and what was going on and him holding and the intensity of that last 24 hours, checking every three minutes, when to get out, what's going on pre-market, what's going on aftermarket. And he timed it perfectly, got out — huge relief.

The next day, Robinhood froze the buy option, the stock got created and then [came] the outrage and the anger and the frustration at feeling like a system that is inherently rigged against them. I got to feel all of that and see that and the memes, all through him, and just that incredible frustration. So it was this amazingly emotional journey.

<p>Claire Folger</p> America Ferrera in <em>Dumb Money</em> (2023)

Claire Folger

America Ferrera in Dumb Money (2023)

Your elicit such great performances from every actor you work with. What's your approach?

Honestly, the interesting thing is every actor is different, every actor has their process, so you've got to start there and see how they like to work. But then outside of that, it's really trying to make them comfortable and give them the freedom to feel safe and try things and make mistakes and they reach for it. So fortunately, there's a lot of people I've worked with over the years that I've had really nice relationships with.

And sometimes you have the time — like in this case with Paul Dano, I was thrilled to work with him. We got to sit down every weekend in the prep, for six weeks, and just go through the script and go through his character. And in doing so, we added five or six scenes to the film. It'd be like, "Oh, this is interesting right now. What was happening in the house when he lost $30 million in 24 hours? What happened when he got subpoenaed?" Try and figure that out what that scene would be.

Pete Davidson, we've been trying to work together, many, many times, and then I called him on this and he jumped right in. But I think we all have this similar sensibility and I am trying to find actors that love to live in this tone that I work in, which is this dance between humor and drama.

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<p>Claire Folger</p> Pete Davidson and Paul Dano in <em>Dumb Money</em> (2023)

Claire Folger

Pete Davidson and Paul Dano in Dumb Money (2023)

What surprised you most about working with Pete Davidson?

This was a very demanding film for everybody, so the amount of content that he would have to come in and turn up and shoot — he was always prepared, while simultaneously doing his own show. We were having to weave it into the schedule. And the best part of Pete as well is not only is he prepared, but he can go off script in a nanosecond in the best way and improvise.

And what was really exciting to me was to have Paul and Pete in these scenes together, because they have such different energy and such different methods of preparing. Paul is very classically trained, very methodical, does a lot of homework, really digs in, and of course he's playing this real character and wants to get the cadence right and all the mannerisms, and we would be going over specific lines within the scenes.

And then Pete comes in — we'll get the script, for sure, but then he'll go off script and create these spontaneous moments where you get to see actors just reacting to each other and playing off each other. And to see two actors with such different styles actually elevate each other was really fun.

Dumb Money is now playing in L.A. and N.Y.C.; it opens wide on Sept. 29.

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