Now that Steven Soderbergh's hiatus from film has finally arrived (read our discussion with him here), alongside speculation on the director's next professional move comes reflection on his career thus far. One of his most involved projects — an adaptation of '60s spy show “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” — was scrapped in late 2011 after years of development, but now Soderbergh's longtime collaborator has finally revealed what could've been.
Both “Contagion” and this February's “Side Effects” offer a consistent enough tone to gauge what Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns might've brought to 'U.N.C.L.E,' and the Burns recently described (via Collider) a more realistic approach. The two had an idea “based on something happening in the real world,” and after tiptoeing slightly, revealed a large element around which the plot was based.
“I don't know if Warner Brothers is going to use this, but there was a thing that happened with a B-52 bomber in like 1966 or 1967 over Spain,” Burns said, referring to the “Palomares incident” in which the USAF plane collided with a tanker, killing most on board and dropping three hydrogen bombs in the process.
“So we scattered plutonium all over a farm field in Spain, the second bomb was recovered, but the there was a period of time when the third bomb was laying on the floor of the Mediterranean and no one could find it,” Burns continued. “And so it was the race to find it that was what our episode was about, which I thought was going to be really, really cool and I'm bummed we didn't get to do it.”
Ultimately, disputes over budget issues and casting led to the project's downfall, with WB wanting to settle for $60 million and a young lead, not Soderbergh's choice of Michael Fassbender or “The Killing” star Joel Kinnaman. But in the end, Burns feels his and Soderbergh's latest work was borne from the ensuing frustration.
“I think we were all shocked that it didn't happen and it was because it didn't happen that ['Side Effects'] did,” he said. “It was going to be this movie that Steven and I were going to do together, it was going to be our sort of swan song and I think we both felt pretty shitty that we were losing that opportunity because we really liked the script and we were excited about getting it cast.”
Two years on, that fire is obviously still visible in Burns' account, but he doesn't have too bad of consolation prize either, as “Side Effects” opens February 8th.