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With a cinematic retirement just around the corner, director Steven Soderbergh has time for a lot of things now: delivering the annual State of Cinema Address at the 56th San Francisco International Film Festival in April, importing a brandy from Bolivia and doing red carpet interviews at the screening of a longtime friend’s film.
While waiting for actor and first-time film director Wayne Blair to arrive at The Paris Theatre for the New York premiere of The Sapphires, a ’60s-era film about a Supremes-like Australian girl group, Soderbergh talked with The Hollywood Reporter about working with Blair on the stage version in Sydney, turning down future film projects (even if they star Channing Tatum) and sponsoring a roller derby team.
The Hollywood Reporter: You directed Wayne in your play Tot Mom at the Sydney Theatre Company.
Steven Soderbergh: We had a great time making the play [in 2009], and spent a lot of time together talking about movies, and he was talking about [Sapphires], and it sounded to me like a really great movie idea. I felt like it was hitting all the food groups of what you want in a movie: it was visual, it had music in it, it was an interesting time period, there was a political aspect to it that’s totally underneath everything just because of who these women were and the time period. It just sounded really cool. So I hope I was very encouraging. And then it was great in that the next thing I heard about it was these great reviews coming out of Cannes, and that Harvey [Weinstein] had bought it. I went, wow, wow. That last time I had talked to him was, “Yeah, we’re putting together a demo.” Then it’s done and everybody loves it! I like those kind of stories.
THR: What’s left to do on Behind the Candelabra?
Soderbergh: We’re just starting to screen it now; we’ve just started doing long lead stuff. … It airs May 26th, and it’s gonna be interesting to see [laughs] how people react to what it is. I think people are gonna be surprised at how intimate it is, and that there’s no attempt to make fun of them or to characterize, to make them seem like cartoons. Halfway through the movie, it’s just a relationship, and that Michael [Douglas] and Matt [Damon] — I can only describe it as a Thelma & Louise thing: they just grabbed hands and jumped off the cliff. Like I said, it’s so intimate and they’re so not shy that I think that’s the heart of the piece, and I’m really happy for both of them.
THR: Are you happy with it as a last project though?
Soderbergh: Yeah, I am. Honestly, I mean, if I can figure out a new way to come at what I do, then I’ll come back and do it. But if I didn’t — if I failed at doing that and felt like, “I don’t know how to do this in a way that’s different than I’ve done before” — and this was the last thing anybody ever saw, I would be thrilled because what it’s about is totally connected to how I started. It’s still, at the end of the day, two people in a room, and there’s just a lot of rhinestone in it.
THR: You’ve been in a “retirement” before and Channing Tatum pulled you out of it for Magic Mike…
Soderbergh: No, he didn’t. My plan was always when I turn 50, I’m out. I jammed that in. I said to Chan, I’ll do this, we gotta start shooting the first week of September because I’m doing this other thing, so I stayed right on schedule.
THR: You two have such a great filmmaking relationship. What if he comes at you with something new?
Soderbergh: He already has! [Shakes his head.] I had my five-year plan, and I gotta stick to it. And I have another — I’ve just started my five-year plan. There’s gonna be some theater stuff, there’s gonna be probably some TV stuff, there’s gonna be one book at least, there’s gonna be some painting, there’s gonna be some photography. There’s gonna be a liquor that I’m importing from Bolivia.
THR: What kind is that?
Soderbergh: It’s good stuff. I’ve decided, unlike everybody else that’s trying to sell liquor, that the way to really become big is to sponsor a girls roller derby team in New York. The Gotham Girls roller derby is being sponsored by my liquor this year. I’m one of many, but I’m just saying. That’s where I’m starting, because I feel like that’s my core base. And I’ve got some very good photographs of the team that I’m sponsoring, after they’ve had some of the liquor that I’ve provided.
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