Honor Roll is a daily series running throughout December that features new or previously published interviews, profiles and first-person stories of some of the year's most notable cinematic voices. Today, we're re-running an interview with Steven Soderbergh, who released the surprise summer smash "Magic Mike" shortly after seeing his action film "Haywire" open wide.
For a director who claims to be nearing retirement, Academy Award-winner Steven Soderbergh shows no signs of slowing down. His action spy thriller "Haywire," starring MMA superstar Gina Carano (who Indiewire profiled) opens this Friday; "Magic Mike," his all-star male stripper comedy is opening this summer; and he's set to shoot two films this year -- the thriller "The Side Effects" and his long-in-the-works Liberace biopic "Behind the Candelabra"; -- and last September saw him release his answer to the disaster movie, "Contagion."
Indiewire caught up with Soderbergh in New York to discuss working with Carano on "Haywire," the buzz surrounding "Magic Mike" and why he's still set on retiring soon.
Thanks for supplying moviegoers with something of value during the doldrums of January.
Oh, good! People seem to like the movie, which is interesting. I think internally for a while there were a lot of questions as to whether or not the things that we worked on making it distinctive would work in our favor or not. So far they’ve seemed to work in our favor with people who watch films for a living. How that’s going to translate, I don’t know.
How was she?
Great! Really easygoing and rather charming, which was pretty disarming given what you have her do in this film.
No, exactly. I saw her fight, then I looked up some interviews with her. She just had a great vibe. That’s what really convinced me that this was worth pursuing. You’re dealing with a cage fighter… you never know what you’re going to get. But she seemed pretty normal, sincere.
How did you first learn of Gina? Are you a big MMA fan?
No, not at all. I mean, I’ll watch boxing occasionally, but MMA I wasn’t watching. CBS was doing this Friday night fights thing for a while and she was on one of those. That’s where I saw her for the first time.
How early in the development of “Haywire” did you know you wanted Mallory played by someone with Gina’s abilities?
Oh -- well, no. If she had said no when I went to see her, then the movie wouldn’t exist. It was not an idea before her – she was the idea.
What inspired that idea initially?
Well, I’d be trying to find an opportunity to make a spy movie sort of like this. Something that was more like the '60s spy movies that I like. But that was kind of a nascent idea that wasn’t going anywhere. When I saw her, I thought I could put these two things together. And it would be great to see a woman do this, who could really do it. That could be our contribution to these kind of movies. That, shit, she can break people in half… she can run like a gazelle.
Did you gauge her on-camera acting abilities just from watching her in those specials?
Yeah. I just thought if we can get her relaxed and she can stay herself, then we’ll be okay. Look, she knows what to do with her body. And she knew what to do with her eyes. So I felt we were going to be fine.
It was probably terrifying for her.
What was your first meeting with her like? How did you sell her on it?
I wanted to talk more about her. So I asked her about her family and her upbringing. I just wanted a sense of her. If I’m going to spend anywhere from 18 months plus with this person, I need to know – from a quality of life standpoint – was is it going to be pleasant or not? I sort of walked her through how we like to work, what would be involved. What I needed was her permission to go and pitch the concept, which was her in a movie with A-list actors around her.
Even at that point, she had enough of a following to make them feel like her and this movie could work.
You have a tendency to work with big name actors, but you managed to mine a solid performance from former porn star Sasha Grey in “The Girlfriend Experience.” Did that give you the confidence that you could pull this off?
Well, I’ve been doing this for a while. I mean I’ve been working since “Traffic” with real people who aren’t actors. I like it. I think they have a quality that’s refreshing. But you have to be careful. You have to make sure you’ve sort of reverse engineered everything to play to who they are and what they are. If you try to push them out of that, you’re not going to get a good result. Even in the case of Gina, I didn’t try to make her do things that I felt would make her have to act. I wanted her to behave like herself. I’m sure she would tell you, if she didn’t already, it was interesting to watch the flippant dynamic between watching her in a dialogue scene with an actor and sort of being the one having to really deliver… and then going into an action scene where she feels in control.
I look at and I go, she belongs in a movie.