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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.
1
"Side Effects"
Open Road "Side Effects"

Do you see this as a companion piece of sorts to “Contagion?”

They’re cousins. I don’t know if they’re siblings, but they’re cousins. Certainly it’s kind of a flip side of pharma or drugs that are being produced on a mass level.

Obviously in the case of “Contagion” you’re focusing primarily on the CDC and they’re a non-profit organization. Their job is not to develop drugs to serve non-lethal diseases. They’re the virus police. In this case you’re dealing with multi-billion dollar corporations who are either trying to solve a problem that’s widespread or, I wonder sometimes, trying to create the sense that it’s a widespread problem. There’s a big difference between sadness, which is an ordinary response to a certain set of circumstances, and depression, which is a debilitating syndrome. There are some amount of depressed people, and then there are a whole lot of people who at some time in their life are sad.

READ MORE: Steven Soderbergh's 'Side Effects' Shows He's Ready For a Break

That’s a bigger business -- if you want to be part of the war on sadness, you’ve got a lot more soldiers. It’s an interesting issue. Then you add the fact that literally everyone’s physiology is different. Everyone reacts differently to these drugs. Everyone reacts differently to combinations of drugs. How your body reacts over a long period of time and whether or not your dosage needs to be adjusted and whether or not that will affect your side effects. You can’t ask for to more complex things to be interacting with than a chemical made in a lab and your body. It really does require an intermediary like a doctor, hopefully a good one, to navigate that interaction. And as we know there are really good doctors and then there are doctors who are not so good.

So I think Scott’s great idea was to use psychopharmacology in the same way that “Double Indemnity” uses the insurance business. That then becomes the Trojan horse to hide a thriller in. He’s very good at that, at identifying sticky ideas and then stuffing them with other things that make them more, that make them not completely disposable when you leave the theater. This wasn’t viewed as some sort of exopose of that business. But it’s fun when it’s rooted in some reality. It makes the thriller more interesting if you walk out going, yeah, we all know somebody who’s on something. I’m gonna be on a beta blocker tonight for sure!

"When we were doing Liberace I was much more in the mode of looking around and thinking 'that’ll be the last time I x.' I didn’t think that way at all on 'Side Effects.'"

The film’s been in development with Scott for 10 years. How long have you been attached to it?

A little over four years ago he started sending me drafts to read as a friend. I’ve been watching from the sidelines for a while. It was a year ago, November, that “U.N.C.L.E.” blew up and I called him and said I want us to be working together in April. I asked, "Would you consider me doing this?" And he thought about it and said, yeah. He’s got at least two other great scripts that I’ve read that he’s going to do. I think he felt like, you know, I’ve got a pocket full of watches, I’ll just pick another one. And I’m glad he did because we had a great time on it. I really wanted to have it be a trilogy.

Did the fact that this marks your last film to open in theaters weigh on your mind when making/conceiving it?

No, not at all. I just wanted to do something fun. When we were doing Liberace I was much more in the mode of looking around and thinking “that’ll be the last time I x.” I didn’t think that way at all on “Side Effects.”

Blake Lively was originally slated to play Rooney's part. What happened to her casting?

That was such a mess. We had one set of financing that I thought was solid, then it wasn’t solid, then in the midst of putting it back together she fell out. I had a movie that was starting in three and a half months. We were scrambling. And I knew Rooney from David. I made the call. It was a clusterfuck. There were a lot of people working at cross purposes very intensely for a 72 hour period of time with a lot of smoke and dust and when everything settled literally over the course of three or four days we had different financing and a different actress. It wasn’t a creative issue, let’s put it that way.

It all worked out.

Yeah, those things happen. I don’t think any of us looked back. We just had to get this thing on the rails quickly. Like I said, I knew Rooney through Fincher and I thought this would be a great, if this is the next thing people see her do after “Tattoo” this’ll be interesting because it’s so different.

"Ain't Them Bodies Saints"
IFC Films "Ain't Them Bodies Saints"

Have you seen “Ain’t Them Bodies Saints?”

No, how is it?

She's great it it. Very subdued but powerful.

I know she had a good time doing it. She has a lot of range. There’s even more for us to see out of her. The question is will there be parts written that allow her to stretch. She just wants to be engaged, she doesn’t care about the money. I think she is protecting her image, that she looks at herself that way. She just want to do things that she’s interested in. I hope she finds things.

Can we talk about you and David Fincher? I find your friendship or whatever you have so fascinating because you two, to me, share so many aesthetic similarities as filmmakers. You recently admitted to Vulture that you're a huge fan of his work. How long have you guys known each other?

We’ve known each other a long time; 20 years. We met on the Fox lot. He was working on “Alien 3" -- I think he was in post. I don’t know why I was over there. “Kafka” had come out a couple of months before. He almost did one of these episodes of “Fallen Angels,” this Showtime anthology that I did two episodes for. He was gonna do one the first year, but had to drop out because “Seven” got greenlit and he had to jump in right away. So we had a little bit of interaction then. And we would run into each other and have conversations every once in a while.

I would invite him to screenings and stuff, then a few years ago he bought a building in L.A. to work out of. I started renting editing rooms there and we started spending more time together and talking at greater length about work and the business.

We're both very opinionated but I think are interested in getting similar things. It’s fun. There are a handful of directors who I know reasonably well. Directors don’t typically hang out together, so when you find one that you can, because it’s such an isolating job, it can be really calming to talk to somebody who’s going through similar issues even if they’re self-inflicted and it doesn’t have anything to do with external forces -- you’re just hitting the wall of your own abilities and your own frustrations. It’s nice to commiserate.

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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