Golden Globe nominee, director of Traffic, Erin
Steven Soderbergh is busy, happy, planning next film
By Paul Vercammen
(CNN.com, December 26, 2000)
Director Steven Soderbergh's
star is rising fast in Hollywood. How fast? If he were a publicly traded
company, Soderbergh probably would declare a stock split.
Soderbergh seems in two places at once these days. The filmmaker, who was
born in Georgia and raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, just received
separate Golden Globe nominations - one for Traffic with Michael
Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, and another for Erin Brockovich
with Julia Roberts.
Traffic follows three separate tales of the drug trade in the United
States and Mexico. Erin Brockovich traces the battle of a
whistleblower who took on a huge company.
Several critics' groups also have named Soderbergh director of the year,
and onetime whispers of a possible Academy Award nomination are becoming
Before the Golden Globe nominations, which were announced last week,
Soderbergh sat down with CNN to talk about success, Traffic and
that mysterious "Peter Andrews" guy listed on the credits.
CNN: How are you dealing with all the praise for Erin Brockovich
Steven Soderbergh: It seems very abstract to me. If we end up being
very lucky [and receive Academy Award nominations] then I'll go anywhere
that we're invited.
CNN: You might have to buy a tuxedo, or at least rent one.
Soderbergh: I'm happy to do that. I'll charge it to the studio.
CNN: You've developed a pretty good reputation for letting actors talk
things through with you, and not being a dictator.
Soderbergh: I like to hire actors who have ideas, and I give them room
to breathe. … You can over-direct actors if you're not careful. So I tend
to leave them alone, unless I sense they're having a problem; then I'll go
over and talk to them.
CNN: Traffic very much had a news or documentary style. Why did
you make that choice?
Soderbergh: The feeling that I wanted was, this is sort of happening
in front of you. So to kind of [put a] patina or gloss on it would have
been counter productive in trying to get people to think it was real.
CNN: The subject matter - the drug war - has lots of gray areas. Did
you try to tell the stories that way in Traffic?
Soderbergh: To try and go into the [drug] story and pretend that there
are sort of good guys and bad guys in the traditional sense would be a
huge mistake. They're really aren't. … We have characters who are
basically good people with flaws, and we have characters who are basically
not good people, but extremely intelligent and articulate. So it's fun to
watch the movie. And you sort of go up and down about how you feel about
You'd like it if some of the people who see Traffic left the
Soderbergh: I was thinking of the people who are on both ends of this
policy issue, and whose job it is to sort of render an opinion about what
we should do about the drug war. As it turns out, we screened the movie
for both those sides and they both think that the movie actually proposes
their point of views. So I guess that didn't work out.
CNN: You did succeed in showing a myriad of views, didn't you?
Soderbergh: Oh, absolutely. I think it would have been silly for me to
pretend that I know what the answer is to this problem, because it's just
too complicated. There are no easy solutions. I think that there are
things that we can be doing to make it better, like not locking up
were your own director of photography. How were you listed on the credits?
Soderbergh: I used a pseudonym: Peter Andrews. It's my father's first
What's it like to be the director and the director of photography?
Soderbergh: I tend not to look much further than the next day's
shooting in order to keep from flipping out. So it didn't feel like a big
movie. The crew was very small, actually. And when you've got the camera
sort of on your shoulder and you're just running around, it [feels] like a
huge student film.
CNN: Considering some of the hot-button topics of recent films, are you a
big reader, or do you just scan the papers?
Soderbergh: I read the papers a lot, but it's sort of coincidence that
that I ended up making two movies back-to-back that have sort of social
issues at their core. The next movie I'm making [Ocean's Eleven
2001, a remake of the 1960 Rat Pack action comedy] has no social value
whatsoever. I'm looking forward to that.
CNN: With so much going on, what do you do to get away from it all?
Soderbergh: The good thing of having more than one thing going on at
one time is that you don't get tired of each one, and it keeps each one
from being too precious. We were prepping Traffic while we were
finishing Erin Brockovich and I've been prepping Ocean’s Eleven
while we finish Traffic.
It keeps you very objective about the piece. You don't agonize over stuff.
You make very fast decisions based on instinct.
CNN: Are you a workaholic?
Soderbergh: I guess so. I like to work. It's fun. I have a great job.
I really like my job, so that puts me ahead of 95 percent of the people
who have jobs.