Earlier this week, ComingSoon.net had the opportunity to have a lengthy phone interview with Oscar-winning filmmaker Steven Soderbergh, whose action-thriller Haywire comes out on January 20. That movie actually shot a few years back and since then, Soderbergh made the viral outbreak thriller Contagion and he’s filmed his next project Magic Mike with Channing Tatum, which we spoke to him about.
Written by Reid Carolin, Channing’s production partner, Soderbergh explained to us what interested him in the film, which takes place in the world of male strippers and is loosely based on Channing’s own personal experiences:
“When Channing told me that he was developing a movie about male strippers, that just seemed like a homerun to me. I said, ‘Dude, that’s one of the best ideas I’ve ever heard,'” he told us, and we were curious how it compared to The Girlfriend Experience, a lower budget film starring porn star Sasha Grey, which took place in the world of high-priced escorts. “It’s a little more fun, and the scale of it’s a lot bigger, but yeah, it’s more of a party. It’s a buddy movie, in a way. It’s got him and this young kid who sort of falls into this job. It’s connected to that film in the sense of like you’re saying, ‘I haven’t seen this world on screen, not like this.’ In the case of ‘GFE,” there are lots of movies about prostitutes, but I didn’t know the specific strata of prostitutes existed. That was news to me.”
Hearing about what a “fun party movie” this was going to be, and having seen the pictures released, we wondered whether there may be some sort of connection between Magic Mike and the British comedy The Full Monty:
“I think it’s got that same spirit. It’s not a dark movie at all. It’s not an exposé of this world. It’s almost like a Robert Altman movie. It’s very funny, but it’s because the characters are funny. It’s not like “joke funny,” it’s not like there are gags in it. It’s just, the people are funny and the situations are funny.”
Speaking of “the full monty,” we had to ask about the proverbial elephant in the room, which was whether a film about male stripping would inevitably have to have male frontal nudity in it and how that would be handled. Without giving anything specifically away, Soderbergh said:
“There’s one shot that I’m curious to see how the MPAA is going to react to. I’m hoping we’ll be okay because it’s played for humor. It’s one of the things in the movie that gets the biggest laugh, but I can never predict how they’re going to respond. I mean, I don’t know why we got an R on ‘Haywire.'” (You can read more about Soderbergh’s relationship with the MPAA in our full interview next week.)
After finishing Magic Mike, Soderbergh will begin shooting his next movie The Side Effects (formerly The Bitter Pill), also starring Channing Tatum, Contagion star Jude Law and Blake Lively. The psychological thriller was written by Contagion and The Informant! screenwriter Scott Z. Burns, who ComingSoon.net spoke with last year when he was still planning on making his return to directing with it, following Pu-239 starring Paddy Considine. Soderbergh told us how he convinced Burns to let him direct it after he bailed on a long-in-development movie version of The Man from U.N.C.L.E.
“I’ve been bugging him about it for years and when ‘U.N.C.L.E’ fell apart, I called him and said, ‘Look, I know I’ve been bugging you. This is the last time. You can say no, but can I have this?’ I guess I wore him down and he said ‘okay.’ It’s a thriller, but it’s fairly contained. It’s kind of a psychological chamber piece. It’s really, really good, but the scale of it’s very manageable and it’s shooting here in New York, which is great.”
Burns has been wanting to return to directing for a while, but Soderbergh doesn’t feel his taking over The Side Effects will slow down that plan:
“I’m sure he will (direct). I mean, the good news is he’s got lots of ideas. He said, “Look, I thought about it and I just decided, you know what? I’ll write something else and I’ll do that.” So yeah, he’ll be directing soon, I have no doubt.”
The Side Effects will also make it three movies in a row with Soderbergh directing actor Channing Tatum and he told us what he saw in Tatum that has put him among the ranks of Matt Damon, George Clooney and Julia Roberts, Soderbergh’s other frequent collaborators:
“I think it’s a combination of ability and attitude,” he told us. “When you meet somebody that’s good and that you just share a sort of ethos with you about the work and how to work, it becomes appealing to repeat that experience because your quality of life is affected positively.”
That will begin shooting in New York City in May, followed in July by the long-gestating “Liberace” project Behind the Candelabra for HBO, starring Michael Douglas as the gay lounge singer, who grew to epitomize “uncool” among music circles.
That didn’t daunt the uber-hip Soderbergh as he feels his movie will show a different side of Liberace that should change the skeptics’ views on the consummate performer.
“Well, I think most people don’t know him at all. He was the first of a certain kind of entertainer, do you know what I mean? I mean, you don’t really have Elton John and Cher and Madonna unless he comes first. There was something very specific about the one name thing, but It’s just the kind of performing that was unique and that now we see a lot of, but when he did it, nobody was doing it.”
Having spoken to producer Jerry Weintraub about the project a few years back, we knew that Michael would be playing Liberace at a couple different ages, but we won’t be seeing any sort of “Benjamin Button” like CG tricks to see Douglas portray the younger Liberace or heavy make-up.
“We’re not going to do anything crazy. The period of time that we’re talking about only covers a few years. I mean, he gets very ill at the end, but the performance really isn’t about the makeup, and I don’t want to get into the situation where Michael’s in the chair for many hours every day. We’ve already started meeting with people, and I think have come up with some things that really work, that don’t take very long to apply to him at all. The hair is a big part of it, and that’s easy. We’re all excited. I just saw (Michael) last week, and he’s starting his piano lessons. He can play enough to get at least the movements right so at least I’ll be able to use his arms. He can get me there, and then with a little movie magic, I can get to the endzone.
Soderbergh was quite optimistic about Douglas recreating Liberace’s signature singing style, saying his voice is in great shape following the actor’s fight with throat cancer. The director also has a pretty good game plan on how he’ll finish up three projects in the next year.
“We’re cutting while we go, but what I might do is get that pretty good cut of ‘Bitter Pill’ going and while we’re shooting ‘Liberace,’ we’ll have the score done and get it sort of keyed-up, and then I can finish it as soon as we’re done shooting ‘Liberace,’ and then I’ll finish ‘Liberace.'”
The last time we spoke with Soderbergh, he was telling us what a gamechanger James Cameron’s Avatar would be (and he was right), so we were surprised we hadn’t seen the director known for doing his own camerawork doing some experimenting in the 3D format, and he told us why.
“We were going to do the Cleopatra musical in that format, but then that couldn’t happen. That was really the only thing I had that was appropriate for that format, so it looks like I may miss that one.”
And what comes up after these three films with the long-standing rumors of Soderbergh’s plans to retire or take a long sabbatical?
“I don’t know. I don’t have different speeds. It’s either I’m all the way in or I’m all the way out, so I’ll just drop off the grid for a bit and see what happens.”
In the meantime, his next movie Haywire opens on Friday, January 20, and you can read our full interview with Mr. Soderbergh sometime before then. Magic Mike will be released by Warner Bros. on June 29.