Both Sides Now

Having Your Way With Hollywood, or the Further Adventures of Steven Soderbergh

On January 14, his 38th birthday, Soderbergh will be in town to collect his Best Director award from the New York Film Critics Circle (which also gave Traffic its Best Picture prize). "It kills me that my dad can't see this," he says. His father, who died three years ago, was a Louisiana State University professor who enrolled Steven in a film class while he was still in high school; Soderbergh took his father's first two names for his pseudonymous cinematography credit on Traffic: Peter Andrews. "He was raised in New York, and to him it was the epicenter, the arbiter of everything. He would have gone out of his mind. I try and remember that. My dad would be levitating right now."

Soderbergh says he's still figuring out how to process the accolades after years of being the underdog. "There's no question that I'm more comfortable as a disappointment and not having people watch me. I will always be more comfortable in that position. I also recognize that it's very self-limiting, personally and professionally, and I have to find a balance somehow between my ambitions and my desires to keep my life and my world manageable." For now, he's steeling himself for the publicity glare of what promises to be a very busy awards season. "The problem is it totally takes you out of yourself, and that's something I have trouble with anyway—I don't need more things to contribute to that. But it's so fucking nice and I don't want to be a sad sack. When sex, lies happened, I martyred myself out of enjoying it. And you know, it's disingenuous and borderline offensive not to enjoy it. I'm going to try to this time."

Soderbergh on Soderbergh

"This is the career I envisioned. I was very vocal early on that I intended to try a lot of different things and that I had no rules about who was writing the checks. It's an interesting group of films, some successful, some not, but there isn't a lot of repetition."

sex, lies and videotape (1989) "Almost by definition, anything that people respond to with that kind of intensity is dated. Something was in the air that people connected to, and I wouldn't even pretend to know or attempt to analyze it—you'd drive yourself crazy trying to duplicate it."

Kafka (1991) "I wish I were older when I'd made it. I didn't have the chops yet to pull it off. It's just not fun enough; it was never intended to be really serious but that doesn't come across."

King of the Hill (1993) "It was an attempt to make a classical, straightforward narrative, and also in trying to stretch as a director, I'd always heard kids were a real chore, and I thought, well, let's try it. I wish it were grittier, but it's a solid piece of American filmmaking. It's the least European of the first four and that was part of its appeal: Can I strip myself of my Antonioni obsession?"

The Underneath (1995) "It's the coldest of the films I've made. There's something somnambulant about it. I was sleepwalking in my life and my work, and it shows. It offered some challenges in terms of fractured narrative that I was interested in, just not interested enough. The star of that movie, to my mind, is the cinematographer, Elliot Davis."

Schizopolis/Gray's Anatomy(1996) "One was an exercise in verbal and narrative abstraction, the other in visual abstraction, and both of them defined the edges and gave me a shape to work within that I hadn't had before. They've both informed every film that I've made since."

Out of Sight (1998) "The stakes are higher when you're playing in an arena of that size. There's more pressure, more people watching. But I think this helped me get over any fear I might have had because I had such a great time making it and people seemed to like it a lot. I came away feeling it was a good thing to have done."

The Limey (1999) "You could, without risking offense, call it a minor work. But it was important for me because of the opportunity it provided to experiment with narrative and indulge some ideas left over from Out of Sight."

Erin Brockovich (2000) "Like most people, I don't like to be lectured, so I was going strictly on my own instincts about how I want to be spoken to by a movie. You know, it's a Rocky movie, but the point was to make a good one, and that means not having a raised-fist courtroom scene at the end but finding a more oblique way to pay homage to the history of the genre."

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