Before his declared retirement, Steven Soderbergh is putting out films at a fast and furious rate. After 2012 brought us “Haywire” and “Magic Mike” (with a little second unit work on “The Hunger Games”), and before his Liberace biopic “Behind the Candelabra,” he’s reteamed with his “Contagion” and “The Informant!” screenwriter Scott Z. Burns for the psychological thriller “Side Effects” starring Jude Law as a psychiatrist who prescribes a new antidepressant to a troubled young woman played by Rooney Mara.
It’s a sleek, intimate mystery, shot through with elements of current events and anxieties in that distinctly Soderberghian way, so that it’s a film about one thing that’s also many other things at the same time (read our review here). Law plays the psychiatrist caught up in an ethical dilemma that begins to affect his life and work in terrifying ways, and after playing outside of the straight leading man role in recent years, he carries the picture well as Dr. Jonathan Banks, who realizes he is caught up in a situation far more sinister than he ever expected.
We sat down with Law in Los Angeles to talk about working with Soderbergh for second time, who’s on his wishlist of directors to work with in the future, and what it’s like to face off with Rooney Mara.
“Side Effects” came his way after getting along well with Scott Burns on “Contagion.”
“I read it just after ‘Contagion’ because I got along well with Scott. He had it and had been working on it for a long time,” Law said. “At that stage, Steven wasn’t involved. And then, I got one of those very fortunate phone calls. Steven wanted it to be his next film, and when someone like him asks you, you go do it because you know it’s going to be intelligent, smart, it’ll look good [and] it’s a pleasure to make. The fact that it’s also a really interesting piece of work, an interesting character, it’s a very easy decision.”
Having been exposed to Soderbergh’s on-set working style (usually acting as his own DP), Law was prepared for the easy-going process.
“…he makes it very easy. He makes really important decisions, but kind of simply. Little things like really going to the locations, the real place, immediately you’ve got an authenticity, that you don’t have to recreate—you’re in it, you’re being genuine,” Law explained about Soderbergh’s style.
And Law reveals there are advantages of having a director act as a cinematographer as well. “I love the focus you get from having a director behind the camera, because suddenly all the energy on the set is focused on what is by the lens, which is where it should be. And, he gives you great freedom to do as you wish, you kind of figure out the physicality of the scene. What’s extraordinary is that he then sits there watching, and will make very quick decisions about how to tell the story now in three or four shots. You sort of can’t believe it’s as easy as it is,” he enthused. “That kind of calm confidence gives you great that you’re the right person for the job, and that’s a nice feeling. Not a lot of questioning. I remembered the pace he goes at from ‘Contagion,’ and so I did a lot of my necessary preparation before. I had done all that, asked all my questions, got it all in order and I could just keep up with it. It was very pleasurable. I love New York, so it was an excuse to live there, and my family came over.”
As for the subject of Soderbergh’s retirement, Law is still holding out hope we’ll see him behind the camera again someday.
“It’s something that he wants to do. I certainly know that he’s capable and talented at so many other things in which he wants to delve, I think he’s doing painting and photography. And I can understand why he might feel the need to say, ‘That’s it,’ in order to make that commitment. But, I can’t really believe he won’t return,” Law shared.
Law carefully laid out the stages of the ethical struggles Dr. Jonathan Banks ethical dilemma faces in the film.
“I kind of graded him throughout. There was the comfortable—you could almost argue a little bit smug—‘perfect life’ at the beginning, and then the deterioration, the revelation, and then of course him trying to put it back together and seek some kind of redemption or revenge, even. All of that really, the twists and turns were in the script, so sometimes you just have to stick to playing it for real and bring commitment,” he said the journey his character undergoes.
“There was an interesting element that we did talk about, that we wanted to feel at moments, ‘Who was the mad person?’ We liked going there with him. Also, what I really admire in psychiatry, in some of the work I did prior to the film, was their ability to diagnose, to pick riddles,” he continued. “That’s something that he’s obviously good at. It’s demonstrated the first time you see him when he’s with the Haitian boy. He’s good at assessing and here’s something he can’t work out.“
The opportunity to act opposite cast members such as Rooney Mara and Catherine Zeta-Jones was part of the appeal of this role.
Law said the rest of the cast was, “one of the reasons you get involved in a project like this if it comes your way, because it’s well written, you’ve got great scenes to flesh stuff out, I’m pretty sure that’s when actors are happiest.”
He said about the Soderbergh’s casting process that “he’s terribly good at putting his casts together, and so you just have to make sure you’re organic. Rooney I was really impressed with. I really enjoyed watching her work; I really felt that she had a quality of inner silence. She’s not an actress that comes forward and demands attention. A kind of subtlety— it’s very seductive and powerful.”
Having worked with many of the world’s greatest directors — Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, the late Anthony Minghella — Law still has a few he’d like to work with.
Specifically, he “would like to work with Paul Thomas Anderson, I like his films very much. I would like to work with the Coen Brothers. I would go back to work with a lot of them, I’ve been very fortunate in working with, not just incredibly talented directors, but the talented ones tend to be the nice ones, I don’t know why but that just tends to be it. It’s got something to do with collaboration, I don’t know… I’m very lucky.”
Law’s strategy in choosing roles is quite simple.
“[I’m] just enjoying the challenges, I’m trying to keep people guessing, do different things, and discover areas I haven’t explored before,” the actor said. “It keeps it very alive; it keeps it very fresh. I’m still quite curious, I want to try all those things out.”
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