8th February: Side Effects released (US)
15th March: Side Effects released (UK)
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Released: 8th February (US)
BEHIND THE CANDELABRA
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NEW & UPCOMING DVDS
Now available from Amazon.com:
Now available from Amazon.co.uk:
DVDs that include an audio commentary track from Steven:
Clean, Shaven - Criterion Collection
The Graduate (40th Anniversary Collector's Edition)
The Third Man - Criterion Collection
Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
THE BREAKOUT STAR OF THE YEAR TALKS TO THE DIRECTOR OF
Steven Soderbergh interviews Erika Christensen
(Interview, April 2000)
Erika Christensen's angry,
confused, drug-addicted teen in Steven Soderbergh's Traffic was one of the
most compelling film portraits in recent memory. The 18-year-old actress
was the standout in an ensemble full of heavy hitters: it was the debut
performance of the year.
Performances like Christensen's are not born. They are coaxed, encouraged,
and shaped by a director, or perhaps more correctly, by a director-actor
relationship. Of course, Traffic's director was Steven Soderbergh, the
Oscar double-nominee (for Traffic and Erin Brockovich) currently helming a
much-anticipated remake of Ocean's Eleven starring George Clooney, Brad
Pitt, Matt Damon and Brockovich heroine Julia Roberts. Here Soderbergh
talks with Christensen, a rich conversation in which the relationship the
two built on the set of Traffic is revealed. The result is a virtual "How
To" for aspiring actors arid directors, and a glimpse into the minds of
Hollywood's hottest director and its brightest new actress, whom we're
sure to see lots more of in the future.
[The telephone rings.)
STEVEN SODERBERGH: Hello?
ERIKA CHRISTENSEN: Hey. How's it going?
SS: Oh, good, thanks. You?
EC: Good. Thanks for interviewing me. I know you're really busy.
SS: Couple of things going on.
EC: Yeah? [Laughs] Just a couple. Like getting ready to clean up at the
Oscars and starting on your new film, Ocean's Eleven.
SS: So where are you? Are you in L.A.?
EC: Yeah. You are too, right? How's it going?
SS: Pretty good. We start [Ocean's Eleven] in 10 days.
EC: Are you starting in Vegas?
SS: No, we start on the east coast, then we go to Vegas, and then we come
back here for soundstage stuff. So what are you doing?
EC: I am looking for a job that I won't be ashamed of after being in
SS: Oh, well, you should give up on that! [both laugh]
EC: I should! It's really hard!
SS: It's hard because you want to find something good to be in, and you
don't want to suddenly have people try and stick you in some cheesy teen
EC: Oh, no! I'd never be able to show my face to you again!
SS: Sure you would--everybody's got to eat. But you know, it's nice if you
have something that keeps you on the path that you started.
EC: Yeah. I want a track record. I want a good career built from the
SS: Well, borrow some money from your parents and wait it out.
EC: [laughs] That's what I'm doing, basically. Living at home and turning
down teen movies.
SS: Have you thought about going to school?
EC: I have, but I think I would rather do that later because if I did, it
would be to learn how to direct, and I'm not ready to do that right now.
SS: I can teach you how to do that in an hour!
EC: An hour versus four years? I'll take the hour.
SS: I can get you on your feet in 60 minutes, guaranteed. The rudimentary
aspects of how to put a scene together can really be taught to anyone with
a brain in about an hour, and the rest of it is a question of whether or
not you are an artist in that particular venue. There's no question you're
an artist as an actor, but the question of whether or not you would be as
good a director as you are an actor--well, you won't know until you try
Plus, if you have a DVD player, that's the best film school in the world.
I wish I'd had DVDs when I was coming up; those commentaries by terrific
filmmakers telling you how they did everything--you can't put a price on
that. Or rather, you can--it's $29.95. [laughs] But seriously, that's
EC: I've just started watching the classics. There are so many great films
that I know are great films that I haven't seen yet.
SS: Then you should be taking advantage of your off time now, because when
I was slightly younger than you, like 13 to 17, all I ever did when I
wasn't at school was watch stuff and read stuff. When you're young, things
imprint in a way that they don't when you're older. And looking back, my
only regret was that I didn't stay up later and read one more thing or
watch one more thing, because at that age, it's all potential and things
just hit you.
EC: That's good advice. I've got some free time.
SS: Well, make great use of it because there's so much stuff that you
would really like, that's great art, that you would get a lot out of. Not
just technically, but emotionally. There have been a lot of really
terrific pieces of art made by filmmakers over the past century. You
should see all of them.
EC: OK. Even the bad ones?
SS: Sometimes that's really important, seeing a bad one, so you know what
not to do. It can be a little scary because you realize how easy it is to
make something bad.
EC: I was just reading a script and went, "Mmm, that was terrible!" But I
couldn't put my finger on why it was terrible, and that was scary.
SS: Yeah, it can be a very fine line. A lot of it can just be the
execution. Take for example a movie like Erin Brockovich: You could take
that material in one direction or you could take it another, and that's
where as an actor, it helps to be director-driven, I think. If that's the
case, then at least you have a sense of things because although you have
no control whatsoever over the circumstances, someone you trust does.
EC: Traffic was such an interesting experience for me because it was so
simple and when I watched it for the first time, I thought, "Yeah, OK,
that's me, that's what I do." And then when people started showering me
with compliments, I took another look and went, "What are they seeing?"
SS: It's normal to feel that way because probably, like me, you're
process-driven and not result-driven. I just like the work and when the
movie's done, I'll watch what happens with a bemused eye, because it's the
part of the business you can't control. It's impossible to sort out what
you're supposed to do with people's reactions. That's why I work all the
time. It's clean.
EC: Traffic was such a relaxed environment. I trusted you. When you said,
"We're moving on," I went, "OK, fine." It never occurred to me to be
unhappy with what I was doing.
There's a lot that hadn't occurred to me until after the shoot was over.
The question I get so often is, "Weren't you intimidated by all those big
names? All those people?" I say, "Well, I should've been, but I wasn't."
SS: I often talk about there being a chain of command but not a chain of
respect. I think that's really important when you're trying to create an
atmosphere in which people feel comfortable and safe.
EC: Absolutely. Since you're so driven by the process, and not necessarily
by the outcome, do you ever have a sense of just not knowing whether or
not a film is going to turn out good or bad?
SS: Oh, yeah. I've always followed the same methodology and some of them
turn out well and some of them don't. [laughs) It's important to try and
figure out why something didn't work, but you can't start second guessing
yourself. The bottom line is, I always try to make something that I would
want to see. Now, what I want to see changes sometimes from the beginning
of the film to the end. But again, as long as you're following your
instincts, your mistakes are your own.
EC: Right. Like you said, it's clean.
SS: But then again, this is a business--especially for actors--in which
you don't have a lot of control and sometimes you have to make
adjustments. Momentum is really important and you're in a spot right now
where you have some. You need to think, "Well, what do I want to do with
that? If I can parlay it into something that I'm going to be happy about,
then great! And if not, I'll trade off some momentum for not doing
anything before the [actors'] strike."
EC: Oh, man! That would drive me nuts.
SS: Again, there's no such thing as wasted time.
EC: I want to use this momentum--I've had so much more recognition than
I've ever had in my life. I'm thinking, "Maybe I can get some good roles
SS: I think you can--and you will--but you've run into the problem,
frankly, that almost every woman in this business has: coming across a
great role. It's hard. Most movies are written for men.
EC: Which is why eventually I think I'm going to write, produce and
direct. At some point I think I'm going to get so frustrated that I'm
gonna to have to start coming up with my own material.
SS: That's a way to exert some amount of control over your destiny. There
are a couple of very famous actors out there who've created their own
opportunities. I think that's always a good idea.
EC: That's the way it should be--everybody taking responsibility for
SS: If it turns out that you've got some time on your hands, time to sit
down, read a lot, see a lot of things, and try your hand at writing some
stuff, that's not wasted time at all. And the good news is, the best news
is, you don't have to prove yourself to anyone anymore. You were put into
a circumstance that someone who doesn't have talent and poise would have
been run over by. You delivered, you stepped up, and you were there. And
now you don't have people wondering whether or not you can act.
EC: Wow. God, thank you!
SS: Nobody's wondering whether you can do it or not. What they might be
wondering is, "How does she fit into X, Y or Z."
EC: Right. "How can she be incorporated into what we're doing?"
SS: Exactly. Just remember that you have every right to want to do
something that isn't a typical teen movie. You can wait for the right
project to come along.
EC: Right. I have the time to develop myself.
SS: Yep. I'm telling you--that's really important. I'm assuming that you'd
like to continue doing this, so remember, how you develop personally over
the next 10 years is what's really important for you and for your career.
Again, if it turns out that there's time spent expanding your ideas and
your sense of the world, it's just going to make you a better actor.
EC: I want to travel for that very purpose. I love being anywhere that I
SS: If you ever become famous--movie star famous--you'll miss that a lot.
For an actor, losing the ability to be the man on the bus is really
EC: There's another reason to travel!
SS: I feel so old! It was 20 years ago I was out here trying to get my act
together ... and I ended up going back home. But, you know what? The
things that I believed in back then have stood me in good stead. My ideas
about how you should work and what kind of stuff you should make.
EC: That's good to hear because people tell me that I'm going to change. I
believe that I will, that I'll grow, that I'll learn--but I don't want to
feel like what I am now is somehow not valid.
SS: I don't think that'll happen. I still believe the same stuff I
believed--about what you should make, how you should make it, the kind of
people you should work with, and the way you should conduct yourself--that
I did since I was 14. It was because at a very young age I was exposed to
some people who had very humane and progressive ideas about art and the
making of art. And again, it came at that time I was speaking of earlier
where you're very receptive to that stuff.
EC: I think I'm lucky in that way, too. Because I'm still young and
because I'm doing it, and all of a sudden I'm working with people that I
really respect, people I think I can learn from. About every six months I
think, "I get the hang of this acting thing." But I'm not
satisfied--that's something that's innately a part of me.
SS: I think that's going to be a constant. Every time I start a movie I
feel like I'm reinventing the wheel, that I don't know enough, that I'm
going to get beat. I never feel like I'm ready, and it just never goes
away. In a sense, every film is different and you are starting over, but
you rely on the foundation of craft that you've built--you hope that'll be
enough and, usually, it is. And if it's not, you hope that you have people
around you to help get you through it. It keeps you from being complacent
and from getting lazy. Just that little pocket of anxiousness keeps you
alert. But I always have it--I have it right now.
EC: You of all people.
SS: I feel like I bit off more than I could chew this time. This [film,
Ocean's Eleven] is going to be the one where I get caught.
You know, Erika, it was really good talking to you because we haven't been
able to speak for more than 30 seconds at a time in six months.
EC: Yeah, and every time I see you it's like "Wow! Congratulations--again!"
Every time I see you you've won something else.
SS: Yeah, well that's coming to a close.
EC: Only with the end of the awards season--until next year.
SS: Well, thank God I have another movie to distract me.
EC: Thanks again for doing this. I appreciate it. And thanks for the
SS: Do with it what you will, but you know, I look back and feel that for
the most part I've been lucky and at the same time I've created
circumstances in which luck could occur.
EC: Talent plus perseverance?
SS: That's right.
EC: Right. Thanks again. I guess I'll be talking to you sometime soon.
SS: Yes, you will. Bye.