8th February: Side Effects released (US)
15th March: Side Effects released (UK)
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LET THEM ALL TALK
Photos | Official website
Photos | Official website
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?
A Talk with Steven Soderbergh: The Man behind Erin
By Pam Grady
(Reel.com, February, 2000)
With his first feature,
1989's sex, lies, and videotape, director Steven Soderbergh created
a sensation. An uncommonly provocative drama that delved into voyeurism,
human sexuality, and the battleground of the relationships between men and
women, the film won the Sundance Film Festival's Audience Award and the
Palme D'Or at Cannes on its way to becoming a benchmark in the history of
independent cinema. In the decade-plus since sex, lies, and videotape,
Soderbergh has reaped critical praise for such films as King of the
Hill, Out of Sight, and The Limey while achieving little
Erin Brockovich promises to change all that. Soderbergh's most
mainstream film to date is an uplifting, real-life drama starring box
office queen Julia Roberts as a spunky working-class woman who takes on
California public utility behemoth, PG&E. On a press junket in New York to
promote the film, Soderbergh sat down with a group of reporters to talk
about Erin Brockovich and what it was like to work with one of the
world's biggest movie stars.
Q: People are saying this isn't the movie they would necessarily expect
you to do. Does that please you?
Yeah. That's part of the reason I did it.
Q: We hear about actors wanting to avoid being typecast. Does that
apply to directors, too?
Yeah, in my case, it does. I think it's healthy to jump around a bit -
at least it is for me - to try and do something different each time out.
And part of the appeal of doing this film was not just the story - which I
thought was really compelling - but that it was not like anything I've
made before and so different than the two films that I just made back to
back. It required a different set of muscles, and that was really
Could you talk about working with Julia?
She just so impressed me. I've worked with a lot of really good
actors, and she - just in terms of sheer ability - is as good as anybody
I've ever seen. She was so on top of this, and she was so prepared, so
ready to give this performance, that I just made sure that the camera was
in the right place. It was the smoothest production I've ever had, which I
didn't anticipate, only because it wasn'tÖ We're not making Apocalypse
Now, but it was a film with a lot of different characters and a lot of
scenes with children and a lot of emotional scenes. And I just thought,
"Well, this could go one way or it could go another," and it turned out to
be an incredibly smooth production. We finished early; we were four
million dollars under budget. It just came together quickly and easily. I
was sort of waiting for the other shoe to drop the whole time.
Q: Is Julia an intense kind of person on the set?
No, she likes to have fun. She likes to be in a good mood. And I would
imagine that the only time that she has an unpleasant experience is when
something in the production is sort of dragging everyone down. The key is,
if you're not monkeying around with the script, then everything usually
goes pretty well. I'm sure she's been in circumstances where the script is
being worked out while shooting was taking place, and that's a nightmare.
Q: How would you define the quality that makes her a star?
There's an irrepressibility about her that's really enticing. She just
has an energy. She just has that sparkle, she has that thing. One of the
reasons this was such a good part was that it played to all of her
strengths, and yet there was something a little heavier at the center than
she normally plays. We were talking about another project, and she was
saying, "Oh, what about this? What do you think about this part? It was
something I was contemplating in the future," and she said, "Do you think
that would be a good part for me?" And I said, "No, it wouldn't, because
it would require you to extinguish everything that I find compelling about
you. And why would I want to see that? It would break my heart to turn off
everything that I like in your spirit, in your personality. I couldn't do
it, it would just be too depressing."
Q: What was the nature of the role?
It was someone who is emotionally dead inside. I mean, just absolutely
hollow. And I don't want to see Julia do that.
Q: That was the problem with Mary Reilly.
I didn't see Mary Reilly, so I don't know. It's unimaginable to me
that you would cast her as someone like that when her gift is that she has
this life force that really pulls you in, it makes you want to watch.
Q: Having done a couple of studio films, without meeting your stars
first, do you ever worry about what kind of attitude or baggage they might
bring with them?
I don't know. I guess I've been lucky. I have a pretty good sense of
when that might happen. People talk. You know pretty much ahead of time
whether somebody's going to be trouble or whether they're going to be a
certain kind of trouble. I also don't necessarily believe everything I
hear. There are certain actors I know of that aren't worth it - [actors] I
haven't had a problem with, but I know other directors have. So, I tend to
wait until I meet them before I make the call. But it's a two-way street.
Julia was attached to this before I got involved. I went to meet her and I
told her how I saw it, and it was absolutely her call. She was there
first, and it's her right to say, "You know, I don't see it that way," in
which case I go, "Well, then, I'm the wrong guy, you should get somebody
else." It's that simple.
Q: You're a director who's attractive to actors. To use George Clooney
as an example, he was floundering trying to make the transition from TV
stardom to the movies. Then he does Out of Sight with you and
suddenly he's a hot property. Julia Roberts' films make a lot of money,
but she's not taken that seriously as an actress. From the looks of this
film, you might turn that around for her. Do you think that has some
attraction for the actors that you work with?
You're going to have to ask them. I think I'm good at amplifying an
actor's strengths, and minimizing their weaknesses. And they all have
strengths and weaknesses. I think I'm pretty good at just making sure that
they are, more often than not, playing to their strengths. But I've never
gotten anything out of an actor that they didn't have. I mean it's there,
it's about opportunity and content. Part of that is the writing, and the
other is the environment that you create on the set for them. So I had no
hesitation whatsoever about Julia. When I read the script, I thought,
"She's the only person I know who I think can do this the way I think it
ought to be done." So, even if she hadn't been attached, I would have gone
after her. I've always liked her, and I've always thought that she could
do it all, given the opportunity.
Q: You put the real Erin Brockovich in the film in a bit part. Why did
you do that?
I wanted her in the movie somewhere, and in that scene, in the diner
scene, she plays the waitress, and right behind Julia's shoulder, in the
next booth, is the real Ed Masry [Brockovich's real-life boss]. I wanted
them in the movie somewhere. It was their story and I liked them so much
personally that I wanted to see them in the film.
Q: The film is very beautifully done and everyone seems to love it.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in making it?
The hard part was really during the script stage. When I came on, I
had to familiarize myself both with Erin and Ed, and the facts of the
case. The first cut of this movie was three hours and twenty minutes. It
was a big case. And it's all about finding that balance of how much do you
portray so that people understand the complexities but don't tune out, and
just go, "I don't give a s**t. I was with you and then you lost me," or,
"I just don't care about the minutiae of this." [It's about] trying to
find a way to keep the details of the story connected to some emotion that
the audience can respond to. And that's hard. You're going on your gut
about, "Well, if I was reading about this, this would be interesting to
me, this part of it." So the riskiest scene in the movie to me is the
seven-minute scene between Julia and Albert [Finney] in his office, where
she's got the map up on the wall, and they're talking about the case, and
he's saying, "I don't know, I'm running out of money. I can't get anybody
else to come on; I don't know what to do. Here's a possibility: I can file
the suit and see if it sort of sends a shockwave and maybe it'll jar them
loose, but it could backfire and the whole thing could fall apart
literally." I thought it was a really crucial scene to have, but I also
knew it was a seven-page dialogue scene in an office, and that, to me, was
the scene I was most worried about.
Q: Was there any temptation to have any super-dramatic courtroom scenes
and have all those sick people show up in the courtroom?
Not on my part. There were some discussions about that, but I just
said, "I'm not going to do that. There is a better way to do it." I wasn't
going to have that "raised fist" scene. It's not what I like to see.
Q: But it would seem so tempting for the studio to have that tearjerker
Well, it's funny. When we had our first preview, it went very well,
and I realized why Julia gets paid what she gets paid. Because I've never
had a preview go like this before. But it was clear in that preview that
the movie wasn't landing quite right. You could feel the audience wanting
to release [emotion], and they weren't being allowed to. Most of the
people on the studio side felt it was because that scene was missing: that
big courtroom scene. But I didn't feel that way, and neither did Jersey
[Films, Erin Brockovich's production company]. And what we came up
with was the last scene between Erin and Ed, which was based on something
that happened between them. Because I felt that it wasn't that you wanted
a courtroom scene - you were so invested in the relationship between Erin
and Ed that without thatÖ Imagine a movie without that scene, he just sort
of leaves the story, and you never see him again. Their relationship never
concluded and that's what I thought was missing. So we sat down, I talked
to Erin and Ed. We sat down and wrote this new scene between them. And
then we showed the film again, and then the audience felt, "Okay, I've
been allowed to release all of this stuff that I've built up." It's often
the case where you know you have to - that the audience wants something
that they're not being given. I think the key is to figure it out - not
jump to the simplest conclusion, and sort of really analyze, "Well, why is
that? And if I were sitting there, what would be missing for me?"
Q: Apparently, the real Erin is at least as outrageous, if not more so,
than the way Julia played her.
Yeah, this was not an embellishment.
Q: Were you worried about pushing it too far and letting her become
almost a caricature?
No, because I felt I had a sense of where that line was. I also knew
that the style of the film would keep that from happening too much. That
the aesthetic of the movie is very sort of simple and understated, and
that would keep it grounded. Julia, I think, really knew where that line
Q: Can you
talk about Erin's wardrobe?
I saw the pictures and I know Erin, and she likes to dress in a
provocative manner. They were just telling me the other week that one of
the ladies in the office dug up some dress code from the early '70s saying
that a skirt cannot be more than six inches above the knee. And this woman
would come into Erin's office with a ruler, and measure her skirt, and go
into Ed and say, "Erin's skirt is more than six inches above." And Erin
said when she saw the movie, "The only thing I saw that was inaccurate is
that the skirts weren't short enough."
Q: In taking on this project, were you thinking that the time was right
for a working-class female hero or anything like that?
No, no, I didn't think about that. I guess, because I think the time
is always right for that, if you have the right story. And the fact that
it happened - I mean, I'm glad it happened sooner rather than later,
because the case was fairly recent - this was like '92 to '96 - the entire
span of the case. And they do have these other cases pending, including
this other huge one against PG&E, which is twice the size of Hinkley [the
case in Erin Brockovich]. The problem is - I know this is hard to
believe - there aren't enough lawyers to try them. There aren't enough
lawyers with toxic tort experience and with the money to try them. The
partners that they brought on [for the Hinkley case], there were two of
them, we actually just combined them into one guy. They spent between 10
and 15 million dollars on this case. They spent $10 million on the experts
on this case. That's why Ed says earlier on, "You want to know why these
cases settle? Lack of money. They just bleed you dry."
Q: What are you going to surprise us with next?
Oh God, I don't know. Maybe I'll surprise you by being unsurprising.
Q: Do you have another film lined up?
Yeah, I'm doing a film called Traffic, which starts shooting in
Q: And when
do you start on the remake of Oceanís 11?
Next January. Traffic is about drugs. As detailed a portrait as
I can muster about what is happening in the drug world, from top to
bottom, from policy to how things move on the street. Very dense, very
detailed. A lot of characters. Three interlocking narratives that play out
simultaneously. It's going to be fun. It's a real sprawling piece set in
six different cities.
Q: Have you cast it yet?
Supposedly. Catherine Zeta-Jones and Harrison Ford as of today,
February 4. [Ed. Note: Ford dropped out of the film in late February.]
With others to follow.
Q: So there's a part for a pregnant woman?
Actually when I met with her [Zeta-Jones] she said, "I want to do
this, but I'm pregnant." I said, "It's not a problem." She plays a mother
of two whose husband gets sent to jail and she takes over his business.
Q: Do you have any qualms with remaking a film that so many people are
familiar with like Oceanís 11?
Actually, I found that many people aren't. I've also found that
anybody who has seen it recently agrees with me that it's not a great
film. There's a good idea in the center of it and that's all we've taken.
The script is great; I wouldn't be doing it if I didn't think the script
was great. It's just going to be huge fun. The script is really fun. It's
got the best heist sequence I've ever read. It's 40 pages long -
unbelievable! The characters are fantastic and it's just really fun. And
coming off of Traffic it will be exactly what I need.
Q: What's the status of Julia in Oceanís 11?
I asked her and I will hopefully find out this weekend. She'll
play the woman. I gave her the script. When she found out I was doing it
she sent me a poster of the original with a little note saying, "Anything
for me?" I said, "Yeah, if you want. It's not a big part but it's the only
woman surrounded by 11 guys." She said, "Well, that sounds good." So we'll