EXCL: More on Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Fincher’s 20,000 Leagues


With the recent news that George Clooney wouldn’t be starring in Steven Soderbergh’s movie version of the ’60s television show The Man From U.N.C.L.E., ComingSoon.net thought some of our readers may be interested in learning what kind of movie Soderbergh plans on making with whomever replaces his long-time leading man.

Roughly a month back, ComingSoon.net sat down for nearly 45 minutes with one of Soderbergh’s go-to screenwriters, Scott Z. Burns, to talk about Soderbergh’s upcoming viral thriller Contagion, which Burns wrote, but we also got around to some of the other things he was writing.

At the time, they had just handed in the first draft of the script for Man From U.N.C.L.E. and were ready to work with the studio. Although Burns couldn’t say much about it, he did tell us that it was going to be set in the ’60s, which was part of what drew him to it.

“I thought it would be really fun to go back and look at spycraft in the Cold War and what you could and couldn’t do. When you think about the world in the 1960’s just in terms of cars and fashion and the aesthetic, to be able to go and shoot that world with today’s cameras and today’s technology, I think we could do some really cool stuff. Then also, the thing that was so cool about ‘U.N.C.L.E.’ that people don’t realize–and this is why I like it more than ‘Mission: Impossible’–the initial conceit of ‘U.N.C.L.E.’ was amazing. It was really about an organization that didn’t have an affiliation with a country and Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin were guys who should’ve been sworn enemies. One was Russian and one was American and they worked together. In that way, it was a really incredibly progressive, hopeful kind of show.”

We were curious how serious this version of “U.N.C.L.E” would be, because the original show did have a certain sense of humor, although at the time, he was writing with Clooney in mind.

“It’s fun writing action stuff because we get to go to some cool places, but it’s really fun writing dialogue for George and letting there be some witty banter because with ‘Contagion’ there was no real room for much witty banter there.”

Soderbergh’s soundtracks have become quite legendary whether it’s David Holmes’ music for the “Ocean’s” movies or Jerry Goldsmith’s soundtrack for The Informant! or even Cliff Martinez’s score for Contagion. Burns suggested that he’d love someone like Jack White to tackle it, but ultimately that’s going to be Soderbergh’s decision.

We also spoke to Burns about his collaboration with David Fincher on a new version of Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Below the Sea: Captain Nemo for Disney, a movie that had gone through a number of other directors and incarnations before ending up with that pairing. Burns told us how this unconventional project came his way.

“‘20,000 Leagues’ came about because David and I were trying very hard to find something to do together and I wanted to do something that was science fiction with David because I think science fiction is maybe the most exciting area to work in right now. David is so visually gifted that I was like, I’d love to be able to sit there at my desk and come up with any kinda crazy sh*t and know that David Fincher is going to turn it into something. As it so happened, David and I both loved ‘20,000 Leagues’ when we were kids. It was one of my favorite books. So David came to me and said that Sean Bailey had contacted him about doing ‘20,000 Leagues’ at Disney and I said, ‘I would love to do that.’Then we met with Sean who was really great and said, ‘Come to Disney and let’s try and make a really cool version of a classic story.'”

Burns told us that he had never read any of the other scripts written for the movie but what they were doing wasn’t necessarily going to be Captain Nemo’s origin story as previously planned, although it would still be from his point of view.

“David and I had a really great conversation about who Captain Nemo was and what makes a guy like that happen in the world. As it turns out, Captain Nemo, even if you go back and look at what Jules Verne was doing, Captain Nemo is a guy who you find throughout history of being a guy who’s a little bit ahead of his time both in terms of what he’s capable of intellectually and what he’s capable of in action. He was a revolutionary in a lot of ways and is a great sort of good bad guy. I love kind of bad guys who are a little morally complicated.”

That’s not to say it will depart too far away from Verne’s book for those expecting certain characters from earlier film adaptations. “It has Professor Aronnax in it and it has Ned Land and it’s sort of kind of a triangle between those three guys,” he told us. “It’s a great, big action thing. I mean, there’s as much going on in it as I’ve ever put into 120 pages.”

“I think it’d be great for Disney to take advantage of what David Fincher can do. It would be great for David and I to have a Disney movie that gets that much sort of bandwidth, so I think we can all serve each other on that one pretty comfortably,” he concluded.

You can read the rest of our lengthy interview with Scott Z. Burns, including a few tidbits about the next movie he plans on directing, sometime before Soderbergh’s Contagion opens nationwide on September 9 in conventional and IMAX theaters.

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