Was Catherine Zeta Jones really pregnant during filming? How do you direct an actress who’s pregnant? ^ Well, when it’s Catherine it’s really easy. She was more emotionally stable than two thirds of the crew. Never flagged in her energy and enthusiasm, if she weren’t so obviously pregnant you would have thought she was her regular self. That was, again, a very fortuitous development. We offered her the part and she said, “I want to do it, but I’ve got to tell you that I’ve just learned that I’m pregnant and I would be between five and six months pregnant when you’re due to shoot my section of the film. I said “That’s great.”
It added so many more layers to her character. ^ It did, and it also shows that she’s serious about her job. She doesn’t want to spend her whole career being a glamour puss.
It’s almost one of those fortunate accidents that directors talk about sometimes. ^ Oh yeah, it definitely was, because none of us had ever considered that as an option. If everybody didn’t know that she was really pregnant, it would be really cheesy to make that character pregnant. It would be too obvious a ploy. Yeah, we got very lucky.
You work with a lot of the same actors, Don Cheadle, George Clooney again. You keep coming back to some of the same people. Can you tell me why that is? ^ Part of it’s just comfort. It’s one less thing to worry about in a way. Part of it is, when you’re dealing with actors that have something in them that you respond to. Don is going to be in “Ocean’s Eleven” also, and I’m always looking for a place to put Louie Guzma, and George, you know I think is a really unique movie star right now. There’s no one quite like him out there in his age range.
George Clooney apparently is a lot of fun to work with has a rep as a master of playing practical jokes. ^ Yeah, he’s a great hang. “Ocean’s Eleven” is a great part and he’ll be great in the part.
Has he ever played any jokes on you? ^ Yes, I played one on him, I couldn’t avoid it really. When we were shooting out at the site he was announced as the sexiest man alive by People Magazine for that year. So the next morning when he showed up on set 300 of the crew had on t-shirts with the sexiest man alive on them. He sort of looked at me a smiled and said OK. Then, like two weeks later, I found the wallet of the gaffer on the street in Miami where we were shooting. I was standing right next to the car where George and Ving Rhames were sitting in, and I said, “Geezus, I found Dwight’s wallet sitting on the sidewalk here. I wonder what we should do with it. Maybe we should do something with it.” And he says, “No, you don’t want to do that. It’s somebody’s wallet, ya know that’s serious s**t.” So he said, “give it to me, I’ll give it to him”, and I said allright. So, a day or two goes by and I go up to Dwight and I say, “Did you get your wallet?” and he just looks at me like what are you talking about. I said, “I found your wallet on the street and gave it to George.” And he says, “I don’t know what you’re talking about, I lost my wallet, why didn’t you just give it to me? I don’t have it.” He really got me wound up about it, now how did he do this? Somehow it worked out, somehow George had orchestrated, and gotten me convinced, that not only had Dwight not gotten his wallet, but that he had somehow had misplaced it. The bottom line was, I mobilized like half the crew to tear the set apart looking for Dwight’s wallet, and this went on for three hours. While we were trying to shoot I had half the crew trying to find Dwight’s wallet, and this just went on and on. Finally Dwight walked up and said, “You know, I’ve had my wallet the whole time. George gave it to me the minute you had walked away, and this was all orchestrated to make you look like an idiot.” (laughs) He had me going. He knows how to tell everybody what role to play and what performance to pitch, and really had me going.
What is it about the heist-crime genre that appeals to you? ^ It doesn’t really make any sense, does it? I grew up in a suburban subdivision and I’ve made several crime films, and I can’t figure out why. Certainly, I was never exposed to that stuff, ever.
Have you ever committed a petty crime? ^ (Both laugh) Oh sure, I went through a shoplifting phase when I was eleven, but it lasted six months and I got bored with it and moved on. I think it’s probably because genre films are a great place to hide. You can sort of be playing on two levels. The audience is there to see a film of a certain type, and take pleasure in the satisfaction that specific genre can provide. Meanwhile, you can indulge in some of your personal preoccupations without it becoming too pretentious or boring. So, I guess maybe that’s why.
What do you think of the Frank Sinatra original? ^ I think it’s a film that’s more notorious than it is good.
How will your version differ? ^ In every way basically, except for the title and that there’s a character named Danny Ocean who’s putting a crew together to know over several casino’s. Everything else about it is different, literally. I don’t know what else to say. I mean, it’s just a big heist movie, but why he’s doing the heist and how it’s done and the gallery of characters has been rethought.
What are the challenges, and this applies to Traffic and “Ocean’s Eleven,” of filming a movie with such a big ensemble cast? You mentioned Traffic had 130 speaking parts. ^ The final version of the film has about 115, but the script was 165 pages. So there was some material that obviously didn’t make it into the final version. In the case of Traffic, the biggest challenge was making sure that everyone was performing in the same movie. When you have that many characters and you’re shooting in such a fragmented way in so many different cities, there’s a danger that you’ll have a scene where people will seem to be acting in a different film. That was the thing that was most worried about. It wasn’t until three weeks into editing that I felt that we’d been successful in keeping everybody in the same film.
That, to me, is always the mark of an accomplished director, if they can achieve the correct tone for the film. ^ Well, that was the trick. My concern was, I hope the tones match, because if they don’t we’re in huge trouble. We’re already asking so much of the audience, that if I can’t at least keep the tone consistent then I’m going to be in trouble.
Can you tell me any more about “Solaris”? Right now you’ve just secured the rights and you’re writing it. ^ I’m using both the film and the book that it’s based on. Also, again, there are several preoccupations of my own that I’m laying in. It’s funny, I always knew I’d be interested in doing that project, and as I said in pitching myself to Cameron, and John Landau and Ray Sankini as partners. It wasn’t until I actually got into writing it that I realized exactly why I was so interested in it. It’s turned out to be an opportunity to address some subjects that I’ve wanted to write about, but A. didn’t know that I wanted to write about them, and B. didn’t know how to write about them. This is the perfect vehicle for all of them. So, it’s been pretty interesting.
You’ve won quite a few awards throughout your career. What’s your opinion of that? Do awards matter to you? ^ Oh, they’re absolutely fun to get, but they don’t make you any better at your job.
There’s a chance you could have two films nominated for best picture this year, Traffic and Erin Brockovich… ^ We’ll see. What can I say? It’s hard to comment on something that hasn’t happened. I sort of take them for what they are, which is terrific door prizes. Again, it doesn’t make you any better at your job. I remember the first week of January in ’99, and “Out of Sight” won picture, director, screenplay from the National Society of Film Critics, which was a really great thing. It happened to happen at a time when I was in absolute agony when I heard that “The Limey” was just not going to cut together. So, the following day I was getting these calls from friend saying congratulations and it’s really great, and I’m freaking out because the movie that I’m working on doesn’t seem to be coming together. Now it turned out that a couple of weeks later we kind of unlocked it, and it did come together, but at the moment it just made me understand that this is really nice, but I would trade it for a flash of divine inspiration in a heartbeat.
Read more and get Soderbergh on Soderbergh as the director examines his own work. STEVEN SODERBERGH UNLEASHED: Part 4 >>>