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Steven Soderbergh isn’t one of those omnipresent filmmakers who takes advantage of every interview opportunity when they have a film heading to theaters. Rarely do you see Soderbergh sitting down for a long-form Q-and-A with the hottest pop-culture magazine, and I’d swallow my own tongue if you ever heard Soderbergh’s name on TMZ. So when he grants a lengthy and informative interview, we tend to sit up, pay attention, comb through his comments with care and see what news we can parse.
With his latest film, Side Effects, heading to theaters on Feb. 8, Soderbergh opened up to Vulture for a candid conversation about his pending retirement, the genesis of his most recent films, the truth about the “myths” of Soderbergh’s legend, and much more. There are so many interesting things the director spoke of, we just want to run through the top talking points.
On the reason for his pending retirement:
These things — I can feel them coming on. I can feel it when I need to slough off one skin and grow another. So that’s when I started thinking, ‘All right, when I turn 50, I’d like to be done.’ I knew that in order to stop, I couldn’t keep it a secret — so many things are coming at you when you’re making films that you need to have a reason to be saying no all the time. … It’s a combination of wanting a change personally and of feeling like I’ve hit a wall in my development that I don’t know how to break through. The tyranny of narrative is beginning to frustrate me, or at least narrative as we’re currently defining it. I’m convinced there’s a new grammar out there somewhere. But that could just be my form of theism.”
On the theory that Soderbergh follows a “one for them, one for me” method of choosing film projects:
No. There may be some directors who do that, but anyone who works with me can tell you that I don’t operate that way. I can’t spend two years on a project without being totally excited about it. Any movie I’ve made has been because of the challenge it offered me as a director, because it provides a new canvas. Even the big-budget stuff like the Ocean’s films.”
On the old movie he watched in preparation for Side Effects:
Fatal Attraction. I watched that a lot. That’s a very well-directed movie. Adrian Lyne knew exactly what he was doing. The eighties was a terrible decade for American films, with a few exceptions in the independent world. It’s basically when the corporations took over. And one of the few, to my mind, interesting aspects of the decade were these psychological thrillers that popped up. I don’t know why they stopped being made. Maybe they priced themselves out of existence.”
On the poor treatment of directors in today’s film industry:
It’s become absolutely horrible the way the people with the money decide they can fart in the kitchen, to put it bluntly. It’s not just studios—it’s anyone who is financing a film. I guess I don’t understand the assumption that the director is presumptively wrong about what the audience wants or needs when they are the first audience, in a way. And probably got into making movies because of being in that audience. But an alarming thing I learned during Contagion is that the people who pay to make the movies and the audiences who see them are actually very much in sync. I remember during previews how upset the audience was by the Jude Law character. The fact that he created a sort of mixed reaction was viewed as a flaw in the filmmaking. Not, “Oh, that’s interesting, I’m not sure if this guy is an asshole or a hero.” People were really annoyed by that. And I thought, ‘Wow, so ambiguity is not on the table anymore.’ They were angry.”
And finally, on his plans for a Kafka remake:
I’m overhauling Kafka completely. It’s funny—wrapping a movie 22 years later! But the rights had reverted back to me and Paul Rassam, an executive producer, and he said, “I know you were never really happy with it. Do you want to go back in and play around?” We shot some inserts while we were doing Side Effects. I’m also dubbing the whole thing into German so the accent issue goes away. And Lem [Dobbs] and I have been working on recalibrating some of the dialogue and the storytelling. So it’s a completely different movie. The idea is to put them both out on disc. But for the most part, I’m a believer in your first impulse being the right one. And I certainly think that most of the seventies directors who have gone back in and tinkered with their movies have made them worse.”
The entire interview is worth a read. And of course, we’ll all be seeing Side Effects when it opens. We don’t know how many movies Soderbergh has left, so we’ll cherish the ones that arrive as he puts the finishing touches on his cinematic legacy.