Interview, Pt. 3: Director Steven Soderbergh of 'Magic Mike'
'The best argument I can make for porn is while you're watching it, nobody is flying a plane into a building ...'
In the third part of our interview with director Steven Soderbergh about "Magic Mike," the director spoke with us about strip-club music, the importance of humor, sex, drugs, 'Stripper Wisdom,' what porn is for and how it's shot, as well as what happened to his proposed reboot of "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." and his view of how Hollywood budgets are taking the fun out of Hollywood films. We did not talk about his long-discussed retirement, ostensibly coming at the end of this year, for two simple reasons: 1) We ran out of time, and 2) I refuse to believe it.
MSN Movies: Did you feel like you got completely up to date on bad dance music making this film, just in terms of the horror of it all? Like, say, Big n' Rich's "Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy?"
Steven Soderbergh: Again, tricky, because I had to use music that I wouldn't listen to. That was hard, because I have to watch this thing over and over again while we're making it, but honestly, though, in this situation I knew how lucky we were to get it. This was not a big budget movie. We didn't have all the money in the world to buy all the music we wanted, and I knew that was an important piece of music for us to get, because of how popular it is, how recognizable it is for the sketch that they're doing. Yeah it's not my iTunes, but I'm glad it's in the movie. It needs to be in the movie.
Are you hoping to get a thank you note from Paul Shaffer, one of the writers of "It's Raining Men," for bringing it back?
Well, has it ever gone away? Not in this universe.
Paul Shaffer. Canadian.
Well, he just got a check ...
There's the whole thing where Mr. Tatum and Ms. Horn are talking and she's like, "I was hoping it was a joke," and he's like, "It is pretty funny." I'm sure it was really important to find the comedy to keep it from just being skeevy and smelling like body lotion ...
I looked at it as a comedy in the way that "The Last Detail" was a comedy. The characters were kind of funny and the situations were odd, and we were always trying to find a way to keep it amusing. It wasn't that difficult, because it's such a weird environment. As Channing said when he was first starting to get into it was, "Its only weird if you make it weird. You just got to choose how you look at it."
I was reading about the 'Entertainment Weekly' cover shoot where between the gentlemen wouldn't be snacking or having any coffee, they would be doing pushups. They'd be doing crunches. Was it just this total bro-pocalypse, just this total testosterone storm?
These guys are not macho in a really annoying way. That's what was really good about them. They're all pretty cool. They ate like rabbits for months. I saw them. It was salad with like lemon juice on it. I think men in that situation are -- a kind of vanity that’s even more powerful than the kind women have takes over. Every one of them were so disciplined and so diligent about looking great. I haven't seen women do this on the movies I've made. They always look good, but these guys were crazy.
How do you explain to a hundred and fifty female extras that at any point Joe Manganiello might lift you up and you might have some junk near your face?
They didn't seem to have a problem with that.
You didn't have to have them sign waivers or anything?
In their contract it does say there's going to be material of a sexual content, and if you're not down with, don't come.
That's the actual legal document, "If you're not down with that?"
That's what I wanted it to say. Channing told me about this, even though this was the environment we were making, he said, "When they would lock the doors, these women would turn into animals." They behaved in a way that no man in a straight club would ever behave. Totally out of control, no boundaries. He said, "It really altered my view of women for a while, because went crazy." They went tiger, as Chris Rock would say. No sense of boundary at all. They would put anything anywhere. He goes, "It was very weird." I'm saying that in the context that without prompting, they seemed to do that here. When Matthew (McConaughey) was doing his thing, he had to hold his thong on, because some woman ripped it off and was trying to take it. She just couldn't help it.
There's a great throwaway moment where Mr. Tatum says, "Can I lay some stripper wisdom down on you?" What other pieces of stripper wisdom did you learn?
Well the one, "It's only weird if you make it weird," that was one of my favorites. It wasn't so much stripper wisdom, but I wanted to make sure we got it into the film, him describing the process of trying to straighten out all the one dollar bills.
Right on the edge of the table.
Yeah. He said, "I remember buying a plane ticket with two hundred singles." He would go and buy stuff and pull out like a wad of ones. I thought, "That's a weird way to live." The other thing he talked about, although there isn't that much of it in the film, he said, "You know it was a weird life cycle. You really were like a vampire." They would go into work at night, and they would stay out and up all night, and then go to bed, and then start the whole thing over again. So you're doing that, because you're on G all the time and you're not hungry.
G being GHB.
Yeah. You're dancing and swaying and you're going out and partying, and you're not in the sun so you look pale. In order to look better when you strip you're getting that spray tan stuff. So your body is just so toxic, and your doing this for month after month after month and you can really feel it starting to take its toll. You just don't feel good. All these guys had to go and do this. You'd see the costumes at the end of the day and they would just be orange. The stuff would've just dripped out of their skin. It was disgusting.
Little things like the fact that Mr. Bomer's tear-away pants are partially torn away just during the Fourth of July number or that Mr. Manganiello has to duck going through the entrance to the stage to come out from the back of the club ... How much of your process is happy accidents?
That’s your goal. I've learned over the years that there's a method to creating an environment in which they happen. Most of it is in not imposing yourself on the environment and on your cast, and sort of letting things develop. The scene where the kid first comes back to meet everybody. If you read the script of that it’s the spine of that, but it isn't what we got through a process of kind of running it, people popping in with ideas, me going "I like that idea, I don't like that idea, or take that idea and move it down." If you watched us rehearse it, I did more takes on that than I would probably do. I did like ten or twelve, because I wanted a very specific rhythm. We had Adam and Bomer talking in the back. It had to all balance out just right. Again part of that is me walking in and just asking them, "Where do you want to be physically? What's comfortable?" Then they look around and Nash deciding, "I own the couch. That's mine. It's just stuff like that. That's how you start. Then you've got the props there, and you let them look at the props, and Adam decides, "Well, I want to be shaving."
Mr. Manganiello, rocking the sewing machine with his granny glasses.
Yeah, him going like, "Well, I thought it would be cool if I'm sewing." You're kind of encouraging this sort of soup to be created and at the same time you're sort of course correcting and saying, "Yes" or "No" or "Maybe" and letting it evolve, instead of sort of dictating it and saying, "No, I had this image in my head, and we're doing that. Anything that isn't that, doesn't make it." That's one way of working, and some people are very successful doing it. That's not the way I like to work. It's not the way to create the vibe of something happening right in front of you that looks like life, so yeah, happy accidents. Exactly.
There's the whole thing about America being a Puritan nation, but at the same time we're this kind of weird, sex-obsessed nation. I have this thesis that part of the ubiquity of sex is just to turn sex into another consumer good you can get more of if you pay properly or if you pay the right money.
It’s a very personal way to motivate someone to spend money, because we're all sensitive to it. Anything that's driven by how you feel about that is going to be a very powerful way to get somebody to open their wallet. I think that’s all it is. I don't think we're actually very interested in it as a subject, because the way we talk about it wouldn't indicate that. I think its just getting somebody to buy someone is about status. It's about comparing yourself to someone else, and the implication of the commercial is that you're loosing if you don't have this thing. There's nothing more primal than attacking or addressing how attractive you feel. Yeah, I think that's our level of interest in it to me.
The whole thing of watching pornography is like watching professional athletes.
Yeah, it’s a weird thing. I have such complicated feelings about what that is and what its for and why its so popular. I don't have an issue with it in the sense that I think its fine that it exists. Again when you think about it, it's just so odd that there's a camera in there.
Right and how much effort and money is being spent on having a lot of our sexual imaginations kind of dictated to us in a weird way.
Again, sometimes I think, "Okay, is it weirder if there's a third person shooting it? Is it somehow less weird if one of the people involved is shooting it on their iPhone?" Is that somehow less weird, because the third person is weird for me.
Right, but better camera angles are always nice.
It's just so strange, and all I know is that the best argument I can make for it is while you're watching it, nobody is flying a plane into a building. I feel like those people, if they'd had more access to porn, maybe they're not flying that plane into that building. There's a repression that then has to come out somewhere else.
The steam has to vent somewhere. Everybody in this movie talks about Miami, and I was totally thinking about the way they talk about Moscow in "Three Sisters," "If we just get there we'll fix everything."
It's "Chinatown," in a way. In terms of it having this mythic weight and you can believe that as soon as somebody brought up going there I went, "Not on my watch." Then there's no way for it to live up to its mythic status the way it's spoken about in the movie. We can't go there. We can't actually go there. It has to be that thing that he decides not to experience. I always think about reading about the arguments in "Chinatown" about whether or not to go to Chinatown at the end of the film. Somebody realized late, very late in the shoot, that they don't go there, and the executive saying, "Well, what if he likes Chinese food?" Yeah, I remember someone saying, "Well, if we go to Miami --" and I said, "No. No. No."
When you hire Ricou Browning Jr. to do marine stunts, do you just grill him about his dad being "The Creature from the Black Lagoon?"
No, I didn't want to be that guy.
But you are kind of that guy.
Yeah, but I've been in enough situations around people are kind of defined by one thing, and I've seen them asked about that one thing, and I've seen the look on their face. I just thought "Nah."
When was the last time you went to a big old, big a** Hollywood film and enjoyed yourself? Is that just not your taste right now?
Well, it's hard to say, partially because by Labor Day, I will have shot three movies in nine months. I don't have a lot of spare time. I don't have any issue with it when it's done well. There are people that do it well. I don't want to be a critic so I can only talk about it in the abstract, and say that there's no question that the mentality in making them lately seems to be vertical as opposed to lateral. At the end of the day one of the reasons I probably got pushed off of "The Man from U.N.C.L.E." was that it wasn't big enough. It had action in it, but it was very intimate. There wasn't crazy, nutty, gigantic s**t. It was a spy movie with action in it. Maybe at the end of the day, even though that meant it could be made for a reasonable amount of money, maybe ultimately the studio felt, "That's not what people want to see," and maybe they're right.
The studio these days seem to be operating the whole idea from "Rounders," that you can't win money at a table you don't keep pushing in the middle of it. They just keep pushing in two hundred million and three hundred million and hope they'll win it back.
My whole thing is, I go to the movies for something else, and I think even when you make that kind of movie, if you wind into -- I still think characters are the most interesting. I still think characters and narrative that supports an exploration of the characters is still an interesting thing. So yeah, Scott Burns and I spent a year on that script and I was really happy with it. I was really happy with the back and forth between Ilya and Solo, because we decided this was the backbone of the movie, and it’s the kind of humor I like, and I feel like I've done and can do well. Again it was more than anything a movie about trust, than it was about s**t blowing up. It was about two guys who aren’t sure at the end of the day if they can trust each other. As it so happens there are some people really trying to take advantage of that for their own purposes, and that was what the movie was about. Whether or not this is cyclical, this shift towards scale with no cost, if that's a cyclical change or a secular change, I don't know if a bunch of these crash and burn or they go, "Let's rethink it." I don't know ...
("Magic Mike" opens this Friday.)