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Interview | Steven Soderbergh, Part 1: 'Side Effects,' 'Behind the Candelabra' and His Friendship With David Fincher

Photo of Nigel M Smith By Nigel M Smith | Indiewire February 5, 2013 at 12:28PM

Well, the time has come. This Friday sees Steven Soderbergh cap off what has been an incredibly prolific and eclectic career of making movies with the release of "Side Effects," his supposed last film to open theatrically starring Rooney Mara, Jude Law and his "Magic Mike" muse Channing Tatum.
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Steven Soderbergh at the premiere of "Side Effects" in NYC.
The Cinema Society Steven Soderbergh at the premiere of "Side Effects" in NYC.

The time has come. This Friday sees Steven Soderbergh capping off what's been an incredibly prolific and eclectic filmmaking career with the release of "Side Effects," his supposed last movie to open theatrically, starring Rooney Mara, Jude Law and the director's "Magic Mike" muse Channing Tatum.

Since announcing his early retirement from his day job in 2011, the Academy Award-winner has churned out everything from an action film ("Haywire") to a male stripper pic ("Magic Mike") to his take on an old school all-star disaster film ("Contagion"). "Side Effects" shares a slew of similarities to "Contagion," given writer Scott Z. Burns' involvement, that of its star Jude Law and its harsh depiction of the pharmaceutical industry, but it also marks Soderbergh's first attempt at crafting a Hitchcockian thriller with twists upon twists that critics are struggling to shy away from.

READ MORE: Steven Soderbergh on 'Haywire,' 'Magic Mike' and Why He's Given Up on 'Serious Movies'

Mara leads the film, in her first role since bagging an Oscar nomination for "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," as Emily Hawkins, a troubled woman reunited with her husband (Tatum) following his stint behind bars. Rather than leave her in great spirits, his return ups her anxiety. Enter Law as a doctor who prescribes her some mysterious new meds that have some unfortunate side effects.

In anticipation of the film's release, Soderbergh sat down with Indiewire for a whopping 45 minutes (per his request) to discuss his imminent Hollywood departure, his friendship with fellow Mara admirer David Fincher, his upcoming HBO biopic "Behind the Candelabra," and whether he'd ever consider showrunning a TV series. (This marks part one of our interview; part two will go live on Indiewire tomorrow.)

It's hard to talk about this movie without giving away some major spoilers. I made my screening on time, but the film's distributor Open Road Films has reportedly turned away latecomers, since the first major twist plays such a key part to the rest of the film. Did you request that of Open Road?

"Side Effects."
Open Road "Side Effects."

We do that all the time when we do friends’ screenings because we’re very anal about time starting, and we decided in this case to keep going with that idea, because if you miss the beginning you miss a lot. We don’t live in the world of Alfred Hitchcock where people would actually enforce that in a real theater. It’s tricky. Even saying, "There are all these twists," gets people primed to look for twists.

Let’s put it this way: when we were in the brief period of trying to set the movie up there was one studio we met with on a Friday who said, “This is a slam dunk, we want to do it.” Then on Monday morning they called and said “We’re not doing it.” And we said, why? They said they’re marketing department said they don’t know how to sell it. So far people have been really cool about it. They understand if they have a readership, why would they want to betray their readers by ruining a movie for them? So far, considering we’re a week out, I’ve been really impressed that people have kept it under wraps.

A spoiler alert only does so much.

It’s true. The good news is there are a couple of different turns so it’s not like we only have one bullet in the chamber. But there’s no question if you could somehow come in cold, then that’s the best.

Do you remember the trailer for “What Lies Beneath,” by any chance?

No, what did they do?

It gave away the entire twist.

Well, it didn’t hurt them.

No, it didn’t hurt them at all.

We didn’t want to do that. But trailers are kinda doing that now. That’s the other problem. That’s become a real lost art. They just compress the entire movie into two minutes and 20 seconds. I’m baffled by that. I remember when we were doing “Out of Sight,” we were having trouble with the trailer and I happened to go see a movie that had a trailer for “Buffalo ’66” on it, and the trailer for that movie is spectacular, really cool... weird. I gave it to the trailer company and said, "Well, I know you can’t do this exactly but can you do something that feels like this," and they did and it was great and what we ended up using. It became the international trailer.

"Out of Sight"
"Out of Sight"

The testing has gotten to the point where if you do anything outside of the box the scores drop and everyone gets upset. And it’s hard to argue with someone who’s spending 20+ million dollars to open your movie to go with this trailer that you like that’s testing 20 points lower because you just think it’s better. In that situation I’m willing to be an asshole when it comes to the movie itself, but at the end of the day I have to look at that and go, I’m not sure. Maybe they’re right. It’s one part of the business that I feel is not as aggressive in figuring out the new paradigm. Everyone seems to be resigned to the fact that if you’re going to put a movie out in a certain number of theaters you can’t even get out of bed for less than 20 or 25 million dollars. That just seems insane to me.

READ MORE: Steven Soderbergh Calls 'The Canyons' "Fascinating" and Hints at a "Spectacular Sex Scene"

What’s interesting about the HBO model is it’s a subscription situation so it’s a different way. The accounting’s completely different because there’s no recoupment. It’s subscriber-based, it’s already paid for. In our case that means if the movie gets released overseas we get cut in right at the gross point. So that could be interesting.

Scott Burns said, "Well, the old cliché is you make the movie three times, you write it, you shoot it, you cut it." He said the other day that "I think we need to add that the fourth time is when you sell it." You’ve got to rewrite it into some version that you can sell, and that can be really tricky. He has good ideas because he came out of advertising. So we’ll know in nine days.

I love the fact that you released a second trailer for "Side Effects" that was a full minute shorter than the first. That’s kind of unheard of.

The first trailer I showed them that tested horribly lasted under 90 seconds. I felt if we go any longer we’re going to have to start showing stuff we don’t want to show. There’s no law that says they have to be 2:20. Everybody, they’re all working hard. It’s their money on the line too. It’s strange.

I’m sure it’s gonna do fine.

I hope you’re right. What’s scary is that they know noon the Friday it opens, they can tell you the number. You get the call going either we’re going to be fine, at lunchtime Friday, or sorry.

This article is related to: Steven Soderbergh, Interviews, Interviews, Side Effects, Behind the Candelabra , Magic Mike, Rooney Mara, The Bitter Pill, Television, TV Interviews







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