Empire (Australasia) - - Contents -

Four years ago we did an exit in­ter­view with Steven Soder­bergh to mark his re­tire­ment. Now he’s back. HR are hav­ing con­nip­tions.

It was Me­mo­rial Day, 2016, and some­where un­der the shadow of the Char­lotte Mo­tor Speed­way’s vast grand­stand, Adam Driver and Daniel Craig were revving up for an unau­tho­rised lap of the fa­mous old NASCAR cir­cuit. Be­hind the wheel of a souped-up Dodge Charger or Toy­ota Camry on site for NASCAR’S Coca-cola 600 race, they could thun­der around the 2.4-kilo­me­tre track in just over 30 sec­onds. Sadly, they were in a golf kart. “There was a whole thing about tak­ing a car, so I went rogue and grabbed a kart,” re­mem­bers Driver, the wheel­man in this im­promptu two-man heist. “For the first two min­utes Dan and I were like, ‘Yeah! We’re do­ing this.’ Then we spent the next 15 min­utes driv­ing re­ally slowly in a fuck­ing cir­cle.” As get­aways go, it was, well, slug­gish.

Along with Chan­ning Ta­tum, Driver and Craig form the larce­nous, love­able heart of Lo­gan Lucky, Steven Soder­bergh’s big-screen re­turn. Es­sen­tially an anti-ocean’s Eleven, it prom­ises a fast-paced, lo-fi jolt of heist heaven. Its hay­seed crew — West Virginia’s ill-starred Lo­gan broth­ers, Jimmy (Ta­tum) and Clyde (Driver), plus hard­ened crim Joe Bang (Craig) — boast no cash, no high-tech gad­gets, no elab­o­rate dis­guises, no acrobats, and def­i­nitely no Jethros, Leon Spinks or Ella Fitzger­alds (big or small). All they have is a fam­ily curse that plagues ev­ery move. “The Lo­gans are known for an in­cred­i­ble streak of flat-out bad luck,” ex­plains Soder­bergh. “They want to re­verse the curse in one move.”

Oh, and the big score? “It’s tens of thou­sands of dol­lars,” says the di­rec­tor. “Not that much money.” High risks, small re­wards, zero re­sources? Lo­gan Lucky, it’s safe to say, is not your reg­u­lar heist movie. Then again, Steven Soder­bergh is not your reg­u­lar moviemaker.


Of course, Steven Soder­bergh isn’t sup­posed to be a moviemaker at all. Not any­more. In 2013, he gave what turned out to be a vale­dic­tory film­mak­ing ad­dress at the San Fran­cisco In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val that didn’t so much be­moan the state of US main­stream cinema as take a chain­saw to the Hol­ly­wood sign. If he sounded fed up — with risk-averse stu­dios; the fix­a­tion on fo­cus-group­ing and for­eign mar­kets; the cre­ative log­jam he’d fallen vic­tim to — he was. Rue­ful, too. “I could tell you a re­ally good story of how I got pushed off a movie be­cause of the way the num­bers ran, but if I did, I’d prob­a­bly get shot in the street,” he noted. “And I re­ally like my cats.”

His cats would have been dis­ap­pointed by what fol­lowed. Soder­bergh’s re­tire­ment swiftly par­layed into three years of cre­ative frenzy. First, he directed two sea­sons of Cine­max’s now-can­celled ori­gins-of-mod­ern­medicine drama The Knick, fol­lowed by HBO movie Mo­saic, which will air later this year. He’s also co-pro­duced Ocean’s 8 and co-cre­ated up­com­ing Net­flix Western God­less. In his down­time he started li­cens­ing Sin­gani, the Bo­li­vian fire­wa­ter he’d dis­cov­ered on the tough Che shoot, for US bars.

The film­mak­ing itch never left, though. While he was free­lanc­ing as cin­e­matog­ra­pher on the Savannah set of Magic Mike XXL, a script put a hook in him again. A heist ca­per he was meant to find a di­rec­tor for, Lo­gan Lucky was writ­ten by first-time screen­writer Rebecca Blunt and passed to him by his wife (Jules As­ner). It was too good to give away. “When some­one sends you some­thing to read, you ei­ther im­me­di­ately see it or you don’t,” he tells Em­pire, “and, in this case, I could see it very clearly.” En­thu­si­asm be­came some­thing more… cov­etous. “Imag­in­ing even friends of mine do­ing it, I got a lit­tle anx­ious,” Soder­bergh ad­mits. “I had a very spe­cific idea for how it should be done.” He had a very spe­cific idea for who should do it, too.


As luck would have it, he didn’t need to sound out any agents or en­dure la­bo­ri­ous stu­dio meets to find his man. He just wan­dered across the set. “It was the per­fect Chan­ning ev­ery­man part,” he re­calls of his pick for Jimmy, the more head­strong of the Lo­gan sib­lings. “It seemed to have been writ­ten for him.” Wary of dis­tract­ing his old Hay­wire, Magic Mike and Side Ef­fects mate from his work on Magic Mike XXL, he didn’t chase a de­ci­sion. He needn’t have wor­ried. “Steven men­tioned this thing he said was a ‘hill­bil­lies Ocean’s Eleven’ and that got a gig­gle out of me,” re­mem­bers Ta­tum. “A bunch of good ole boys rob­bing NASCAR? That sounded su­per-fun.” Be­fore they’d wrapped on XXL, Soder­bergh’s heist had its ring­leader. “Chan­ning be­ing Chan­ning, it would have been a four-word con­ver­sa­tion, like, ‘Yeah, let’s do it,’” says the di­rec­tor. “That was enough for me to start build­ing the project.”

The sec­ond step was to re­cruit Jimmy’s crew, and ev­ery good crew needs a cool-as-ice side­kick. Lo­gan Lucky doesn’t have one of those. It does, how­ever, have Clyde Lo­gan, Jimmy’s more mea­sured, ex-sol­dier brother, played by Driver. “They’re very dif­fer­ent peo­ple,” Driver ex­plains of the broth­ers. “Clyde is or­gan­ised, Jimmy is not. He owns a bar, while Jimmy is fight­ing for work. Clyde is more thought­ful. But they’re a tight-knit fam­ily.” Com­plet­ing the clan is Mel­lie Lo­gan, played by Magic Mike’s Ri­ley Keough. “She has the most go­ing for her,” cedes Driver of the pair’s al­to­gether more to­gether back-up.

It’s not, in truth, an es­pe­cially high bar. Jimmy Lo­gan has lost his job and his brother a hand. The ‘lucky’ part of their moniker is def­i­nitely miss­ing an ‘un’. Typ­i­cally, Clyde’s mishap hap­pened in a traf­fic ac­ci­dent on the way back from war. “It’s an­other ob­sta­cle [for him] to over­come,” says Driver, who picked up an un­usual new skillset for the role. “I think Adam’s some­body who likes hav­ing some­thing to learn,” sug­gests Soder­bergh. “He re­ally en­joyed fig­ur­ing out how to play scenes with a pros­thetic arm, or es­sen­tially no arm at all.” The most awk­ward of them re­quired him to mix a mar­tini one-handed. “I lit­er­ally tied my hand be­hind my back and tried to fig­ure out how to make a mar­tini,” Driver re­calls. “But when I got on set, the coun­ter­top was two feet higher than the one I’d prac­tised on at home. It was anx­i­ety-pro­duc­ing!”

Hav­ing never pre­vi­ously met, Driver and Ta­tum took the fast track to broth­erly bond­ing: a bunch of drinks and a yarn about Star Wars. “The first night I met the guy, he came over and we ended up hang­ing out ’til 2am,” Ta­tum re­mem­bers. “We drank too many bot­tles of wine and just bull­shit­ted. It was an all-night con­ver­sa­tion about Kylo Ren.” He laughs at the mem­ory. “He only wanted to talk about Star Wars… no, I’m kid­ding. Though he will bring it up oc­ca­sion­ally and then say, ‘Oh, I thought you were ask­ing about Kylo Ren.’ He’s re­ally good at mak­ing fun of him­self.”

The brains of the op­er­a­tion — and likely cult hero in-the-mak­ing — is Daniel Craig’s Joe Bang. A leg­endary lo­cal crim­i­nal, he and his brother Sam (Brian Glee­son) are “even more coun­try than the Lo­gans”, ac­cord­ing to Soder­bergh. Craig was given free rein to cre­ate his hick con from scratch. “I told him, ‘There’s no wrong an­swer here,’” the di­rec­tor re­counts. “‘Joe Bang is a blank slate for you to draw on.’” Draw on him Craig did. He pitched up on set with the most ex­treme look sported by a 007 since Sean Con­nery’s Zar­doz in­tro­duced the world to la­tex mank­i­nis. “He did some re­search and found some tatts he was ex­cited about,” says Soder­bergh of the world’s most sur­pris­ing red­neck. “They’re… in­ter­est­ing. I think he en­joyed it.”

Tat­tooed, per­ox­ided and in stripes, Joe is banged up when the broth­ers tap him for help. All they need to do is spring him from prison — and they’ve got just the plan. “It’s prob­a­bly ill-ad­vised,” says Soder­bergh.


If you’ve seen The Hot Rock, Peter ‘Bul­litt’ Yates’ 1972 crime ca­per, you might guess at how this phase of the heist will play out. In the Wil­liam Gold­man-writ­ten movie, Robert Red­ford, Ge­orge Se­gal and a small band of half-com­pe­tent thieves break into a mu­seum to steal a price­less gem, only to find them­selves pur­su­ing the feck­less ob­ject in and out of pen­i­ten­tiaries, po­lice sta­tions and bank vaults. It’s a Soder­bergh favourite and a key in­flu­ence on Lo­gan Lucky (and not just as an­other of those rare films to fea­ture peo­ple break­ing into prisons). “It’s got a very three-cush­ion sense of hu­mour,” he ex­plains. “It’s funny be­cause the char­ac­ters are funny, the sit­u­a­tions are funny. The laughs come at you in a very in­di­rect way, and that’s what we’re try­ing to recre­ate. Hope­fully we can gen­er­ate the same kind of smile as that movie.”

In the best tra­di­tions of a Gold­man screen­play, Rebecca Blunt’s script takes its time in­tro­duc­ing its en­sem­ble (look out, too, for Seth Mac­far­lane’s ob­nox­ious Bri­tish en­ergy-drink mag­nate, Max Chilblain, and Hi­lary Swank as an up­tight Fed), be­fore crank­ing up the tempo — and the stakes — for the cli­mac­tic race-day heist. Nail­ing the char­ac­ters, stresses Soder­bergh, is the essence of any heist worth its vault. “It’s some­thing the Ocean’s films re­ally con­cen­trated on, and we’re do­ing that here,” he says. “Peo­ple get hung up on the tech­ni­cal as­pects of the job it­self, but I think it’s the char­ac­ters and their re­la­tion­ships that au­di­ences take away from the film.” Soder­bergh’s posse aren’t just Cle­tus-like red­necks on the make or dumbed-down Danny Oceans. They’re like­able, real and smart in their own way. “Danny Ocean will al­ways be a crim­i­nal,” says Ta­tum, “but I don’t think that’s Jimmy Lo­gan. He’s just seen an op­por­tu­nity and jumped on it.” It may not be Ocean-sized, but this score could make all the dif­fer­ence for the Lo­gan clan.


If any­thing, Soder­bergh’s small-screen so­journ has sharp­ened his moviemak­ing edge. He shot faster than ever, pack­ing a state-hop­ping shoot into 36 blis­ter­ing days. “It was only pos­si­ble be­cause I’d been through the mill on The Knick and Mo­saic,” he points out. “The first Ocean’s movie was 80 days. The scale was big­ger, but we were mov­ing very, very fast [on this].”

At times, even the ac­tors were breath­less. “Steven shoots so fast, you only get one or two tries,” says Driver. “It’s very com­pli­cated stuff.” Soder­bergh mixed up his tool­kit too, dis­pens­ing with the zoom lens so in­te­gral to Ocean’s style. “It’s a glossy piece of equip­ment that didn’t ap­ply here,” he ex­plains.

Cap­tur­ing the heist’s NASCAR back­drop tested his in­ge­nu­ity fur­ther. To do it, he set up five cam­eras around the race­track as 2016’s Coca-cola 600 un­folded, film­ing for five hours. “I’d mapped out where each cam­era would be at a given time,” he ex­plains, “and peo­ple would send me im­ages of what they were shoot­ing via iphone.” Un­der a sky smudged by the dis­tant trop­i­cal storm Bon­nie, he filled Lo­gan Lucky with 320km/h blurs, 89,000 fa­nat­i­cal fans, and all the deaf­en­ing buzz of Amer­i­can stock-car rac­ing. No-one even knew they had an Os­car-win­ning film­maker in their midst. “The event is so mas­sive, we were like an ant on an anthill,” he says.

Much to Soder­bergh’s re­lief, the script only re­quired him to keep the race in the back­ground. “I was thank­ful [for that],” he con­fesses. “I watched Days Of Thun­der and I didn’t want to go head-to-head with Tony Scott. That guy was a real shooter.” Ea­gle-eyed petrol­heads will have to con­tent them­selves with cameos from rac­ing he­roes like Kyle Busch, Carl Ed­wards and Kyle Lar­son, though none are ac­tual NASCAR drivers. Ryan Blaney, a 23-yearold ris­ing star of the sport, pops up as a birth­day-cake de­liv­ery­man. “When I watch a race now, I’m pulling for Ryan,” says Soder­bergh.


Re­leased via Soder­bergh’s new in­die dis­tri­bu­tion com­pany, Fin­ger­print Re­leas­ing, Lo­gan Lucky is the spear­head of his new ef­fort to wrest some cre­ative con­trol back from the cur­rent stu­dio sys­tem and re­turn it to film­mak­ers (for ex­am­ple, in May a two-year deal was struck with Ama­zon that will see the e-com­merce gi­ant sup­port the the­atri­cal mar­ket­ing of Fin­ger­print projects in re­turn for stream­ing rights).

Bud­gets have re­mained in check, too. The film was made quickly, rel­a­tively cheaply and with a cast work­ing for a share of its tak­ings. “By any def­i­ni­tion, Lo­gan Lucky is a stu­dio movie with movie stars and a very com­mer­cial sub­ject,” he stresses of this self-made an­ti­dote to his pre­vi­ous tra­vails. “It was the right thing at the right time. We’ll soon see if it works.” His stars may have worked for scale this time, but in truth they might have done it for free. “I usu­ally equate [mak­ing] films with tor­ture, self-doubt and anx­i­ety,” con­fesses Driver, “but we had such a good time.”

Ta­tum, mean­while, found him­self in a T-shirt and Carhartt over­alls daily, hang­ing out with new friends and hav­ing a “glo­ri­ous” time. “I ate pizza and drank beer and was pretty much as com­fort­able as I could pos­si­bly be,” he laughs. “I’ve al­ways said I needed to be­come a bet­ter ac­tor so I don’t have to work out so much.”

As he gears up to un­leash his mav­er­ick heist movie on the world, only a few ques­tions re­main. Will Jimmy and Clyde get away with the loot? Will Soder­bergh score big? Is this his one last job or the pre­lude to a ful­lyfledged come­back? Time will tell. One thing we can pre­dict: the Lo­gan boys are go­ing to leave you smil­ing.


Clock­wise from far left: Daniel Craig’s Joe Bang is col­lared by Dwight Yoakam’s War­den Burns; Soder­bergh and Craig get down and dirty; Ri­ley Keough as Mel­lie Lo­gan; Katie Holmes as Bob­bie Jo Lo­gan Chapman; Close up on Chan­ning Ta­tum (Jimmy Lo­gan) and...

Above: Bang broth­ers Fish (Jack Quaid) and Sam (Brian Glee­son). Left: On the cir­cuit with David Den­man (Moody) and Se­bas­tian Stan (Day­ton White) Right: Clyde and Mel­lie bust out with vault-blaster Joe.

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