"I’m better than I was five years ago… but at stuff that’s superficial – craft."

Going back to what you said about the kind of films you want to make post-"Che." Indiewire covered the talk you gave at Pratt University last year. When someone asked about your retirement plans, you said something along the lines of, "I’m not improving in a way that justifies me doing this for much longer."

I guess the point is, I’m not getting any better for it to matter to me.

Is that the reason why you’re doing this more accessible fare?

It’s a combination of things. It’s feeling out of sync with everything that’s going on this business at every level. I could probably deal with that if I really felt that I was evolving into something better. Like I said, I’m better now than I was when I started. I’m better than I was five years ago… but at stuff that’s superficial – craft. You know, filtering, problem solving... that stuff I’m better at. But in terms of making something that’s just off the chart, I’m not. That’s not a shift or change that’s going to take place incrementally. It requires some form of amputation. So I just need to stop for a while.

How do you gauge what you’re talking about – whether you have that possibility to achieve greatness ?

Well, I guess I haven’t done anything that I haven’t seen before. I want to do something I haven’t seen before. I don’t know what that is, but I know I’m not doing it.

And you’ll feel it when you do?

Yeah, I think so. I mean, that’s really what it comes down to. Like I said, it’s not just about, "Oh, I’ll put the camera here instead of there." I’m talking about a completely new way of thinking about how a movie works. That’s what I want to see. So I've just got to go off for a while and see if I can figure out what that is.

What filmmakers have you seen in the past decade who have done just that -- wowed you?

Well, it’s hard to say because I see movies but I don’t see everything. I’m sure there’s a lot of stuff being done outside of this country that’s great. Some of the most recent Godard films are really extraordinary. “Notre Musique” I thought was really something. He was getting at something there that I wasn’t sure you could get at in a movie. The ending was really something. The problem is, who’s the audience for that? Maybe that’s part of the problem; maybe I’m just kind of gradually backing my way out of the room because the kind of thing I’m talking about is not a sort of mass audience thing. Maybe I'll just have to work at a different scale over a different time period.

Certainly there’s a lot of stuff in the Malick film ["The Tree of Life"] that I thought was really extraordinary. Like, stuff that you can’t put on paper.

And that was done on a whole other level that the Godard film, budget wise.

Yeah, so that was inspiring. I know from a directorial standpoint how difficult that is to go in and get. But he was certainly getting at things that are really difficult things to put across. It’s a feeling, it’s not a story idea. That sequence where those kids go off and they’re kind of marauding, breaking shit around the neighborhood, just the way that felt was so evocative. I remember that. Him getting caught up in that energy, I just thought that was a great, great sequence.

But that’s for him. The reason Malick is Malick is because he doesn’t imitate anyone else. So if you want to be Malick, by definition, you can’t imitate him. You have to be your own version of an original. But I’m not that and I may never be that. I’m a synthesizer, I’m not an originator. If I can’t come to terms with that, then I may face the decision of, "I guess that was it."

But you have your own style.

Yeah, but it’s just built on other stuff. It’s all built on something that I’ve seen or liked, whether it’s a movie, painting or piece of theater.

Spike Jonze, I think, is an originator. I don’t know where this came from. I know Spike, I’ve never grilled him about this. It just seems to come right out of his unconscious, his nine year-old head. I love his stuff. Just the ideas and the way of doing it… his video work is unbelievable. That’s not built on anything else to me. He’s just an original.

I can start blaming him. It’s his fault. If I can’t be him, then I quit.

Moving on from this sad topic, let's talk about your future projects, of which there are many.

Well, we’re almost done with “Magic Mike” and we’ll be starting “The Side Effects” in early April.

About “Magic Mike,” you’ve never been involved in a project that has erupted quite the way this one has on the blogosphere. What’s that whole experience been like?

Magic Mike

It’s great because it validates and vindicates exactly what I thought when Channing [Tatum] told me the idea. That’s just one of the best movie ideas that I’ve ever heard. The fact that it’s blowing up without us having really done anything.

Well, the casting…

Yeah, but it’s great. I’m really having fun with it.

Was the casting doctored in a way to rally up hype around the project?

No. Look, we were looking for the right people who had some buzz behind them. They also had to be able to do what we needed them to do and willing to do what we needed them to do. But I mean, we got really lucky. All these guys were great and have brought something specific to the movie. There’s nothing like shared potential humiliation to bond. These guys bonded very quickly. As soon as they started rehearsing these numbers, you rally around each other because it’s so embarrassing. Except for Chan, because he’d been through it before. But watching them all do it for the first time in front of 120 women was awesome. It’s kind of a binary thing. It’s terrifying then once you’ve done it, you’re in. You've just got to jump off the cliff.

What is about you and Channing? In addition to “Haywire" and “Magic Mike," he's starring in “Side Effects.” He’s like your Leo.

It’s a combination of things. I think he’s talented. I think he’s got a lot there that people are going to see, he just needs the opportunities.

A lot of which seem untapped. He was great in “Stop-Loss,” but not a lot of people turned out for that film.

I think he’s fearless. He has nothing to protect. No part of him would ever think, “Do people want to see me do that?” He just doesn’t give a shit. And he’s fun, he’s a great hang. He understands scenes and he understands movies. I think he’s going to have a big year.