Steven Soderbergh has a distrust of the Internet – which becomes quite evident from Jude Law's character in Soderbergh's new film, 'Contagion.' And, to be fair, Soderbergh makes some valid points. Last week, he set the record straight with us about Internet speculation surrounding his second unit directing work on 'The Hunger Games.' And, as you'll read below, he also sets the record straight about George Clooney dropping out of 'The Man from U.N.C.L.E.' and the news of Soderbergh's own impending retirement -- which he partially blames on Matt Damon -- to, instead, hone his skills as a painter.
Oh, also, 'Contagion' is here to scare the living sh*t out of you. Not in a "jump out at you" kind of way, but more by presenting a realistic and very plausible story -- with an all-star cast that includes Matt Damon and Kate Winslet, no less -- about a worst-case scenario, highly contagious and very deadly virus. Soderbergh shares with us the disturbing facts he learned though his research (including the fact that, apparently, "we're due,"), the latest news on his upcoming films the male stripper-drama 'Magic Mike' and 'Liberace' -- and, at long last Soderbergh breaks down the scene you've all been losing sleep over: Tess posing as Julia Roberts in 'Oceans 12.'
Moviefone: 'Contagion' is the worst movie to attend while having a slight cold. Even one cough will get you looks of scorn from fellow audience members.
Steven Soderbergh: Yeah! They do. I have to control myself. Well, look, we're getting on a plane today and it doesn't get much worse than airplane bathrooms. It just doesn't.
Over the last couple of years, a big topic surrounding you is the retirement talk and what piques your interest and what doesn't. So why 'Contagion'?
Well, it just seemed like the kind of thing that movies do really well. And I felt it had been awhile since somebody had really approached it analytically. I just felt like, wow, we might be able to connect ourselves with people who can really help us make this super accurate. And the more accurate it is, the scarier it will be. Or the more intense it will be. And, so, the research phase was pretty fascinating. Getting to talk to people who go out and solve these sorts of problems for a living was really incredible. It made me feel a lot better about our chances of survival.
When you see a Steven Soderbergh film, you really never quite know what you're getting. I didn't know if you were going to emulate the B-movies of the '70s or were going the serious route. After watching, I'm assuming you tried to get this as accurate as possible?
Yeah, all of the science in it is airtight. Ian Lipkin, who is at Columbia, designed the virus, essentially. Both in terms of how it would have come into existence and then literally the design of it -- that scene where Jennifer Ehle and Laurence [Fishburne] are looking at it on a screen and she's describing what it does -- Ian designed that. So it's for real. It's a very realistic, plausible fictional virus.
So you basically asked him, "Create me your worst-case scenario?"
You know, we talked through a couple of different scenarios and this one seemed the most plausible. When you're dealing with wet markets during certain periods of the year and you don't have refrigeration, this is a hotbed of this kind of stuff.
I'm almost scared to ask, but how plausible?
Oh, very! That's how a couple of these things have started. That's how the sort of species jump takes place. I don't know if you've ever been to a wet market in Asia, but it's pretty intense.
Are you the only director who could have made this movie with this cast? That, without you, there would be a fear that subject matter like this could easily slip into B-movie territory?
Well, that will get you through the door. But if the script's not any good, you're not going to get them. The other thing is, ironically, when you do an ensemble like this, it's easier to get people because their commitment is so short. It's usually like eight days. You shoot that person out, then you move on to the next person. So it's actually an easy commitment for them because the time is so short. And it's fun for them because it's almost like making a short film in which they're the lead. There is kind of a little arc, it's just all very compressed. And it's fun for us because every eight days you feel like you're making a different film. [Writer] Scott [Burns] was really great about figuring out ways to connect them occasionally, but not in a way that felt bogus. And one of the last characters that he created was the Jude Law character, which now I look at the movie and it's unimaginable that that voice wouldn't be in the film. You have to have that voice.
Who was the hardest to convince to come on to this?
We got... there was only one person who said no.
Can you say whom?
No. But that's pretty good, considering. But, yeah, there was only one person who didn't want to come play with us.
What was the most surprising and/or disturbing thing that you learned during your research?
One is that everyone that you spoke to said, "we're due for a big one."
You see some of the ugly side of the human spirit in this film. Do you think it would be that bad, rioting at the drug stores?
It's like anything: You'll see the best of people and you'll see the worst of people. And, look, there's a quite version of that same impulse when Laurence tells his fiancé to get out of Chicago. That's a form of jumping the counter, in a way. Are you telling me that you wouldn't do that? He's wrong, but I get it.
Well, in that case, of course I would. But I don't think I would jump a counter...
Ah, you know, I don't think I would either. Unless I really was desperate.
I'm too passive to say anything even when someone blatantly butts in front of me in line...
Yeah, I'm amused by people who gyp in front of me at Chipotle. But in this situation, I don't know. That specific kind of fear is very infectious.
With Jude's character as a blogger, the Internet really takes a beating in this movie.
Absolutely! You know, what's hilarious is that we would test screen the film: every time there was an Internet bashing joke, the audience just exploded in laughter.
My screening was the exact opposite.
[Laughs] We came out of one screening and Scott said, "I should have written a lot more Internet bashing jokes."
He should have been at my screening for online media to see if he feels the same way.
Yeah, I've had a couple of different interviews where people right up front made it very clear that that's not what they're like.
Have you had a bad experience on the Internet?
Oh, totally! The sh*t that flies around about my business on the Internet is shockingly inaccurate and superficial. And nobody cares. And I just can't believe it. And these are people who are supposed to be knowledgeable.
Like the story about you becoming a painter?
No. If somebody wants to repeat a quote I've given and paste it and send it around and comment on that – that's fine. I'm talking about stuff that's made up. Intent that is assumed. That when something happens, somebody goes, "Oh, this obviously means X." When, in fact they have no idea what's going on.
Do you have an example?
It happens all of the time. I could sit down in five minutes and look through whatever sort of "considered" sites that deal with the entertainment business and I could go, "OK, that's wrong. That's wrong." It's a combination of credulity and superficiality. I don't think it's that important with the entertainment business, but I can't imagine that this is only with the entertainment business.
You should do that one day. Just spend the entire day debunking stories. People would read that.
Occasionally, when I hear something that's particularity egregious, I've though, sh*t, I should create a screen name and log on to this thing. Then I thought, ugh, that's just... you'll never get out from under it. There's just too much stuff and it's not worth it.
I'm fascinated by 'Oceans 12.'
So, the part where Tess plays Julia Roberts...
So does Danny Ocean also look like George Clooney?
Well, we thought about that. We thought about how far to go with that. Believe me, just the whole Tess/Julia thing made a lot of people really nervous during the making of the movie. There were a lot of conversations between me and Warner Bros. in which they were like, "Are you sure that we have to this?" And I go, "Look, there are a lot of precedents for this. They do the exact same thing in 'His Girl Friday.'" I go, "This idea has been around a long time, we're just expanding it a little a little bit." That breaking of the conceptual fourth wall made a lot of people nervous and I thought, "It's an Oceans movie, how serious... I mean, come on, it's a comedy. I really feel like in a comedy, all bets are off.
It just raises a lot of other questions for me. Do people approach Turk and tell him, "Hey, you look like Scott Caan!"
Well, let's put it this way: If I needed to take that idea and apply it somewhere else, I would have. If suddenly it became narratively necessary to have somebody go, "Yeah, you know, he does look like this movie star," then I would have done it. It just seemed, as we worked out the plot, that she was the most plausible. And I think, also, I don't know, it being her – the fact that it was Julia – that just seemed like the way to go.
The news recently broke that George Clooney has dropped out of 'The Man from U.N.C.L.E.' How tied into that project was he in the first place?
To be honest, this was all predicated on him looking at the script and determining whether, physically, it was going to be a problem for him. He was very seriously injured on 'Syriana.' The guy had fluid leaking out of his spinal column. And from the beginning when we started talking about it, that was part of the discussion. Having been one of the producers on that movie and him being a friend, in addition to a colleague, I don't want to be the guy responsible for him reinjuring himself.
And we got the script to him and he said, "Look, I've got real concerns about this." From scene one, it's the kind of stuff that he really needs to be careful about. And, believe me, it's not... We want to make another movie together and that was frustrating – for both of us. But it just became clear that it's just too risky.
But the movie is still going to be made?
Yeah! Scott Burns wrote a great script and everybody wants to continue. I'm sure that's a classic example of, "Well, if Clooney's not doing it, then it must mean blah, blah, blah. I mean, he and Steven are friends, so the script must be really bad! Has Steven done one of these things where he's gone off on a tangent and it's too crazy?" All that sh*t. As often the case in these situations, the truth is a little more prosaic. It's just a movie and it wasn't a risk worth taking.
When this does get made, you really need to get Robert Vaughn in this movie. Looking at his filmography, his last credit is 'Pootie Tang.'
Is it? [laughs] Why?!
That needs to change. You have the power to change this.
I'll see if he's around. I don't know, 'Pootie Tang'... that means he's diverse! I don't think I'll ever get the image of him in stocking and high heels out of my brain from 'S.O.B.'
I saw 'S.O.B.' when I was seven. That was not a movie for a seven-year-old.
No, it's really not.
I keep hearing 'Magic Mike' compared to 'Saturday Night Fever.' Do you like that?
I hope so! I mean, you know, in terms of its box-office, absolutely. It's a young guy with a dream movie, but set in a world that I haven't really seen before. I've seen some of the routines, it's [laughs] going to be... it's a good summer movie.
And 'Liberace' is still happening, too? When does that start filming?
That will be next June. Yeah, mid-June.
Do you wish you had used another word other than "retirement"?
No. I wish Matt Damon's memory when he's drunk was worse. That's what I wish. Well, the problem is nobody really cared until Matt gave that interview. It really did kind of blow up. People around me knew. For years I've had a plan and an exit strategy that I've gradually made the things I've been developing or let them go. So it was all sort of "within the family," for the most part. And would have remained that way if not for my babblings in Chicago. But, yeah, I just don't think it's very interesting.
It is interesting. People like your movies.
Well, but, you know, there will be other movies. There are lots of people working out there. Since 'Out of Sight,' it's been a non-stop train ride and whatever the ultimate result is, there's no question that I needed an extended sabbatical to be interested in something else for a while. That's not to say that years later I may find a different way into this thing and go, "Oh, I can go back to it now because I have a different approach." That's entirely possible. I don't have a rule in place. And I do want to take some time to see if I can get good at something else. And at least it's somewhat related to what I've been doing. I mean, I've painted since I was a kid – but I've been involved in image creation my whole life. So it's not like I'm completely starting from scratch. It's the 10,000 hour rule: You're not going to get good at something unless you sit down, day after day, for years and try to get good.
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