Steven Soderbergh

Filmmaker Steven Soderbergh is winding down and this has been the case for a while now. His five-year plan meant retiring from filmmaking at the age of 50. Having just reached this touchstone earlier this month, Soderbergh is essentially done with the business of moviemaking. His final theatrical film, “Side Effects” starring Rooney Mara, Jude Law and Catherine Zeta-Jones, is complete and his final, final film, “Behind The Candelabra,” is also complete and will air on HBO later this year following a likely premiere at the Cannes Film Festival. So what’s left? Aside from promoting these last two movies, he’s done… for now.

But self-imposed retirement for Soderbergh doesn’t fit the definition of what it means to you: vacations and not working. In fact, it’s more of a recalibrating pivot more than anything that means no more traditional filmmaking for the time being. It’s an opportunity to try out other creative fields without the distractions of moviemaking. He already paints, he dabbles in photography and these are two creative endeavors that he’ll explore in the future. He’s also done theater in the past and two more stage plays are also on the relatively immediate horizon. Last weekend, we spoke to the [former?] filmmaker by phone for a lengthy chat about “Side Effects,” his creative process and in many ways, his entire career. Part one of this conversation concerns itself with his final film ‘Candelabra’ starring Michael Douglas and Matt Damon as Liberace and his gay lover, respectively, what “retirement” means to him, and what the future has in store.

"Behind the Candelabra"
HBO "Behind the Candelabra"
So it's happening. Your filmmaking obligations are complete except for promotional duties like this.
Yes, yes. Both movies [“Side Effects” and “Behind The Candelabra”] are delivered.

So I guess it ends with ‘Candelabra’?
Yeah, there's a lot of eye candy in it. It's fun to look at. It's the kind of thing, the kind of movie that I've always liked. “The Dresser” [Peter Yates' 1983 comedy about an effeminate personal assistant and his relationship with a deteriorating veteran actor] is one of my favorite movies. I love two handers. It's really just Michael [Douglas] and Matt [Damon], it's a real two hander. It's got a great supporting cast but the heart of the movie is the two of them and they just kind of did a “Thelma And Louise” they just jumped off the cliff together and I never had to, I never had to push them at all, they knew exactly where this thing needed to go. I think people would be surprised at how emotional it is. It's not a cartoon.

And it’s at HBO because studios wouldn’t touch it?
Apparently not. Everybody had a shot at it.

Considering its viewership, one could argue more people will see it on cable then they would have in limited release.
Oh, I think so. I don't think there's any question of that. Ultimately when this opportunity came up and I called Michael and Matt I said, “Look we all want to go do this and I could make an argument that more people are going to see it this way than any other way, so why don't we go and do it?”

I have no regrets about the way this played out. HBO have been fantastic to deal with. They're really excited about it. They're going to make sure, as they always do, that millions of people are going to see it. That was clearly just the way that this had to play out and all of us are really glad that it did. I can't imagine not being allowed to go out and make this. It's been 10 years since I did something with [HBO], so I was happy to be back.

"I had a five year plan around the time I was finishing 'Che.' I was like, 'I want to be out of here January 2013.' "
Speaking of television, is that a draw for you post-“retirement”?
Absolutely. I think there's a lot better chance, if I were to go back to work that it would be on television than in movies. I love the long form and most of the stuff I want to see is on TV right now.

Strong, long-form storytelling has really blossomed on cable.
Yeah, and the technology these days is at the point where -- look at what's happening with “House of Cards.” People want to binge. They want to watch all ten episodes in a weekend and this is the place to do it. I think that's kind of the new thing but I've done it before, it's fun.

Is there a filmmaking scenario you couldn’t refuse that would undo your plan?
I don't know.

So George Lucas didn’t call you before he ultimately settled on J.J. Abrams?
[Laughs] I did not get that call. I can say that under oath. They did not call me.

Would it have made a difference?
I don't know, I like those movies too. Like I said I don't know what that would be.

There's always going to be the added thing of, “Oh, he came back for that?” I'm just saying I can't imagine what it would be but I also can't imagine everything so I don’t know. Certainly it's unlikely for a while because I really sort of cleared the decks and I've got some other stuff I want to do that's coming up. I'm going to do this stageplay that Scott Z. Burns wrote, I'm going to try and do ‘Cleopatra’ on stage next year with Catherine [Zeta Jones]. There are projects that would be in the way even if I wanted to come back to filmmaking soon. But I’m not looking for that. I'm not hoping somebody sends me something. More often than not now when somebody says, “Can I send you [a project to read]?” I say, “No. don't.”

You had this finite period it seemed because you almost took on “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” and then quickly switched gears to “Side Effects” in a weekend.
My 50th birthday [which just occurred on January 14th] was my hard out and so that's why when “Magic Mike” came up I told them, “We've got to jam this thing into a September shoot or I can't do it.” And we did. I had a five year plan around the time I was finishing “Che.” I was like, “I want to be out of here January 2013.”