Magic Mike director Steven Soderbergh talks exclusively to Metro about why he's thinking about hanging up his director's hat, and why he wants to stop making so many serious films.
It’s easy to imagine Steven Soderbergh waking up hearing that his male-stripper opus Magic Mike debuted in the US with a $39.2million bang, outstripping all his previous opening weekends bar Ocean’s Twelve, and wondering whether he’d been a bit premature in announcing his much-ballyhooed retirement. However, it’s still on the cards.
‘I need to rebuild,’ insists the man who brought us Out Of Sight, Erin Brockovich and Traffic. ‘I think once a film-maker has reached the apotheosis of their aesthetic, they should just destroy it all and start over, build a brand-new approach.Most film-makers don’t. They make that one movie that’s a perfect example of what they do and then, 15 years later, they’re still doing it.
‘I’m feeling at the end of this version of myself as a film-maker and I need to annihilate everything I’ve done and start over again.’
Do his peers in the industry think he’s nuts to walk away? ‘Most people get it; Matt Damon gets it. A lot of my friends who are actors have said: “I totally understand what you’re talking about. I don’t have any new tricks as an actor and I’ve thought about whether I want to keep on doing it.”’
Though it’s a bleaker tale than its glitzy marketing campaign suggests, Magic Mike is still as much of a hoot as you’d expect a film starring Channing Tatum, Matthew McConaughey and Alex Pettyfer as male strippers to be.
‘As I get older, I’d just rather do something that’s fun,’ says Soderbergh. ‘My appetite for serious movies has diminished. Even something like Contagion; I was trying to make it as much a genre film as I could. I could have made that movie feel more like Oscar bait but I edited an hour of material out of it because it was starting to feel too important.’
Magic Mike is a Tatum passion project based on his own stripper experiences that he told Soderbergh about while they were making Haywire. Soderbergh calls it ‘a comedy, a buddy movie and Saturday Night Fever rolled into one’.
Having spent his career weaving in and out of wacky experimentalism (Bubble, Schizopolis) and star-studded studio pics, Soderbergh likes to let his avant-garde impulses rip, even when working for The Man. At the start of Magic Mike, Soderbergh told his cast: ‘Jump off a cliff and I’ll catch you’ – and they deliver the goods with game, spirited performances. Renowned for a swift, no-fuss directing style that actors love, there is, in Soderbergh’s own words, an ‘artisanal, hand-tooled quality’ to his films that’s increasingly rare in Hollywood.
And there are few directors as prolific or genre-hopping: last year, it was viruses run amok (Contagion) and oestrogen-fuelled martial arts action (Haywire); this year it’s beefcake celebration (Magic Mike), pill-popping drama (the upcoming The Bitter Pill) and famous fop pianist Liberace in an HBO biopic.
Soderbergh is also prepared to walk away from choice assignments – as he did last year with The Man From Uncle, a big-screen adaptation of the cult TV series, after he and Warner Bros couldn’t settle on casting or budget. The only time Soderbergh has felt pressure on his career was on Out Of Sight, the George Clooney/Jennifer Lopez vehicle that propelled him on to the directorial A-list.
‘I was very conscious of the fact that if I f***ed that up, I was in real trouble,’ he admits. ‘I’d just made five movies in a row after Sex, Lies, And Videotape that nobody saw and that was the first proper studio assignment with movie stars that I’d said yes to. If I didn’t pull it off, my career was going to be in trouble but I was still able to go on the set each day and act as though I was shooting Schizopolis.
‘Once I got through that, I felt like: “If I can keep pulling that Jedi mind-trick of blocking out all external forces, I’ll be fine.”’
Soderbergh has kept that aura of creative liberation throughout his career, feeling no pressure to fulfil anyone else’s expectations but his own. ‘If somebody put a gun to my head and said: “Pick one of your films for me to watch”, I wouldn’t be thinking: “Should I give them a serious movie or one of my fun movies?” I would just look at it as: “Which one of them is the least flawed?”’
And which one would that be? ‘There’s not a lot about Out Of Sight I would change,’ he volunteers. ‘But never trust an artist praising their own work.’