SOLARIS - Q&A with GEORGE CLOONEY, STEVEN SODERBERGH & NATASCHA McELHONE
Movie Interview by S Felce
We meet the two stars and the director in 'The Drawing Room' of Claridge's Hotel, London. With around fifty journalists from all over UK there are a lot of things that the press wants to discuss, from the poor reception of SOLARIS in the USA, the famous naked scene, OCEAN'S 12 and, of course, being Valentine's Day, any rumour about a possible Valentine date.
Mr. Clooney seems to be in a very good mood, despise a bandage on his ankle and the fact that he has flu. He also shows he is a true gentlemen, as he makes way to a five months pregnant Natascha McElhone to sit between him and Steven Soderbergh at the centre of the table.
(To Steven Soderbergh) You have been quoted saying that you are not really a fan of science fiction movies. What did attract you then to the original movie?
STEVEN: Well, obviously I was misquoted. I think what I was saying when I had this initial, very casual conversation with a friend of mine back in 1999 when I was asked if would you be interested in making a science fiction film. I said that I didn't know, because it feels that since STAR WARS they have gone pretty far into the action genre and I was not really interested in technologies or gadgets. Then my friend asked me to give her an example of what kind of science fiction movie I like and I said SOLARIS. This was the end of that conversation. Three months later she called back to tell me that she had done a little rights search and she had discovered that James Cameron had just, after five years of negotiations, secured the rights for SOLARIS. She then asked if I would you be interested in going to talk to him and so I did. I went to talk to him, and luckily he hadn't started to make any serious work on the project, so I had just arrived there at the right time!
(To Natascha McElhone) How did you persuade Mr Soderbergh that you should be his leading lady?
NATASCHA: I said I'll do anything, and it worked!
GEORGE: And how long does it last for?
GEORGE: Good deal!
NATASCHA: I just went through the normal routine, really. George was shooting CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND in Canada and Steven was there as well and I went there to meet them both. George very kindly got his assistant to call me and he invited me to go to the set. So the next day I went to the set, and we had a chat and it was very relaxing. Then we did a couple of scenes. Then George left and Steven made me say things to Cameron...which are unrepeatable and. ...That was it!
(To George Clooney) Mr Clooney, you have become one of the most famous letter writers. In a magazine interview you said that you wrote a letter to Steven to get the part.
GEORGE: Steven and I are partners, and if you want to ask for something to your partner, but you don't want him to smile at you and say "you are not the right guy for the job". I just wrote him a letter saying, " I don't know if you are thinking of me or if you think I am up for the job, but I want to officially say, no hard feelings if it is not, but if you think I can do it, I'll do for free!" I think letters are good things, they last a little bit longer, and they also give everybody time to react instead of just looking at you in the eyes and going (making a funny voice) " I don't think you are the right person."
What is SOLARIS to you?
STEVEN: I viewed it as a very convenient and wonderful metaphor for anything you don't understand, including ...adverts
NATASCHA: The same!
GEORGE: SOLARIS is... not your ANUS! I don't know! (He starts laughing) I am sure this is going to come back to me! I don't mind me when they tag me!! SOLARIS is ... it's was all about questioning pretty much all the major issues about beliefs, systems, about memories, God, love and all those things, providing absolutely no answers except that, every single one of your conclusions would be right as long you don't force that conclusion on anyone else.
(To George and Steven) Considering the number of times you and Steven have been working together, how would you describe your relationship, and how it has developed? Would you Mr Clooney be willing to do a nude scene with somebody else you won't trust so well?
GEORGE: I just wanted to be nude in front of Steven... I just wanted to get any opportunity to be naked! Our relationship? We have arrived at the point in which we are just having lots of fun. We are getting to play with all these toys in the toys' box (Natascha starts laughing) and they are going to take all these away pretty soon, they always do that, but we are having fun pushing the envelopes, trying to get things made, within the structure studio system.
(While talking George almost drops the glass of water in front of him. Laughing, he starts telling us that the day before he was very sick, so he took an English aspirin which was so strong that it made him feel dizzy. He then asks us to forgive him if he starts waffling and blame it all to the aspirin!)
(Talking to Steven) You talk about the relationship; it is Valentine's Day, say something nice!
NATASCHA: (Keeps laughing) I love the way you were talking about the toys you both play with!
STEVEN: This is our last day of press... and this is how it ends...we are just loosing it! Anyway, when you are in this business and you find somebody that you feel has similar ideas about what they want to accomplish and how they want to accomplish it, you make sure that you work with them again. When George and I met to talk about directing OUT OF SIGHT, I talked about the kind of films I liked and what kind of film that I though OUT OF SIGHT should be and we got on very well immediately. We just went into a very fluent way of working and when that happens you hope that it will continue. There are lots of forces in the business pulling you one way or another, if you allow them and so I feel lucky to be able to surround myself with people that are in it for the right reasons.
(To Natascha): What was it like working these two guys?
GEORGE: And playing with the toys...
NATASCHA: Oh yes, because Steven was naked as well in those scenes. That was the deal! It was the three of us, so we felt really comfortable. It was actually great to work with them. The prediction would be that, because they have a production company together it would be their team and then everybody else. But it is not like that at all. They are very generous and really, inclusive. I have never felt like the...outsider. Last night for example we went to the Guardian Q&A and I was in the audience, so I was able to watch them and they just compliment one another's story. They are completely different people. There was this very relaxing atmosphere that Steven was able to create, however nervous he said he was and George kind of contributes to that, as he doesn't take anything serious and he is always falling around and making everybody laugh.
(To George and Natascha): The chemistry between your characters is very strong. Did you have any chance to know each other very well before starting and did you have time to socialise?
GEORGE: (giggling) If you want you can call that socialising, if you want, sure! Actually Steven's process is very interesting. You don't sit down and go through lines, you actually sit around and sort of talk about life and just hang out. Part of Steven's process is about understanding how he is going to talk to the actors when we start working. So we got to know each other just spending time sitting around on a couch and talking about everything that was going on. And I think that's it. And of course the drinking!
(To Natasha): Do you want to add something to that?
NATASCHA: No, I think we'd better stop now!
What are your views on life after death and do you believe in God?
STEVEN: I would describe myself as an optimist atheist. I would like to think that this isn't it, that what we are experiencing is not the beginning and the end of everything we experience. Obviously I don't have any concrete evidence that is concrete enough for me that there is something else, but the reading I have done about what we know of how the universe works, I certainly think that the idea of this form of consciousness that we experience is actually pretty limited and a small idea. There are ideas that we can be in the preamble to something completely different that we won't know about until we get there... but I don't know what 's going on!!
NATASCHA: What was the question again? I got completely lost in his answer! I am not religious, I was as a child but as I grew up I have become disillusioned about the whole thing, and I think that organised religions have caused more problems that the ones it has solved. In terms of SOLARIS, I really didn't think about the religious aspect a lot. There is one scene in the movie, when they are at a dinner party and they are discussing it, but it wasn't an overwhelming thing for me in the movie.
GEORGE: Also because the answer to that question, just by design, is alienating, because for anything that you said, people have immediately to form opinions based on their own belief system and they become defensive. I believe that whatever people believe in, is real, and I believe that it works, as long as you don't force that opinion on anyone else. It is a difficult kind of question/answer, because I know what I think, but at the same time I don't really know, and I am still trying to figure it out. It is an interesting thing, finding a way to answer that question without alienating everybody else's belief systems by putting that down. My parents are very hardcore Catholic, I was raised Catholic, I am not a Catholic now, because I don't believe in it anymore, but not because I know it doesn't work, but because I know it doesn't for me. I think it is more about the individual, and I believe in the individual's opinions.
STEVEN: Also, I should say, the moral of film for me was the line that Gibarian says in the dream " there are no answers, only choices". At the end of the day I don't know if it is relevant what we believe or what's true, but it comes down on what do you do? What choice do you make? And the whole film for me was about a character surrendering to something he doesn't understand, that it is a total mystery to him, but at that moment he makes a decision based on what he feels and he lets go of the past and the logic and he is just surrendering. I liked that idea and we constructed the entire film on that. I thought it was hopeful.
Did you ever experience a strong kind of love like the one in the movie? And George, last time you came to London for A PERFECT STORM you had flu, and now you are sick again, is it the weather?
GEORGE: I was in Germany - don't forget that. They have a kind of strange flu going around! No, I think it's just bad luck. Or probably it's because we were shooting three movies in a row! And I have also hurt my ankle... I am falling apart. What was the first question? Have I ever experienced love so strong? Hmm, yes. Yes, probably. I think I have. (He pauses for a few seconds) Do you want me to elaborate?
Yes! Was it long time ago? Recently?
GEORGE: It was last night! In fact I got married last time, I have everything done, right away!
(To Natascha): Ms McElhone, (referring to the fact that she is pregnant) probably the question is redundant in your case?
NATASCHA: Yes, I am pregnant, so I have experienced love. But I thought the question was about that kind of love, quite distrusting, for the woman in the movie. She looses her identity; she falls apart because she can have the love of this man. No, I haven't experienced that kind of love; this is why it was interesting to play Rheya.
STEVEN: Do cats count? Because I really like cats! Well, as Natascha said, talking about a kind of love that would leave me that kind of self destructed...no, I don't think so. I guess I define it by meaning when you feel you play somebody in front of your self, when you play somebody else's feelings in front of your own. I have been quite fortunate to have that happened. I hope everybody has that.
(To Steven): What was that made the first film so popular with you?
STEVEN: I am a big fan of Tarkovsky and I think he is a poet, who is very rare in cinema. Also, the fact that he had such an impact with only seven features is a testimony of his genius. I also loved the film. For those who have seen both films, I didn't think that his film needed to be improved, I wasn't trying to take what he did and build on it. I just had a very different interpretation of the book, which has a lot of ideas enough to generate a couple of more films. What I did try to take from him was the intense sense of isolation that he created with Kelvin and also with all the characters - this kind of claustrophobia, this psychological claustrophobia, which I though it was really compelling. You can see that there aren't any establishing shots, the camera always stays very close to the characters I was really trying to imitate that sense of proximity, to the characters and to the issues of the films.
(To Steven): Do you think that science fiction, is usually connected to action movies, and for that it is viewed as negative Do you think it doesn't get the respect it deserves?
STEVEN: There was a time in which science fiction was viewed as a way to explore serious ideas. I have to say, as active as a film like THE MATRIX is, one of the things that made it most successful and has given it such a big following, it is that there are some actual ideas that play in it. I hope, although I guess we'll see when SOLARIS plays out around the world, but I hope that it is viewed by filmmakers as a viable way to explore characters and human issues. This is a beautiful premise that went right to the heart of some issues that we experience every day about projections, memory, guilt and what it means to be human. People will stop looking at science fiction films as westerns....
(To George): James Cameron said that SOLARIS is not an action movie, but people didn't realise it until they saw it. Was the wrong market or the wrong trailer or it was because of the Clooney and Soderbergh together, that it was presented as OCEAN'S 11 in space? And can you confirm or deny the rumours about OCEAN'S 12?
GEORGE: We are going to do it. We are doing OCEAN'S 12 this time next year. The truth about SOLARIS is that, it was a brave thing for [Twentieth Century] Fox to do it, to make this film. We put our money into it, because we knew it is not a film designed to be a blockbuster. The problem was that we were forcing the going very quickly with the press and so we weren't able to do what we are doing overseas, like talking about it and selling it as it is, so that people that go to see it know that they are not going to see a big action movie with naked people, as it was sold in the States. This was the problem. People went to see the movie and they saw something completely different. I can understand that, I can understand why it happened. It is unfortunate because, what it really does, it forces me to do three days of junkets. It trivialized everything Steven tried to do or I was trying to do. And that is too bad. The problem was that it was rushed out, the studio being confused with marketing and that made them panic a bit. I can understand that but it is bad because in the end it work against us.
The Press Conference ends and it is time for McElhone and Soderbergh to go, while Clooney stays in the room for his second press conference which you can read about here on PHASE9, this time with Sam Rockwell, the star of CONFESSIONS OF A DANGEROUS MIND, Clooney's directorial debut.
From our chat with Clooney and Soderbergh we get the feeling of how much they love their jobs. As the two talk passionately about SOLARIS, we can see that they really wanted to make this movie because they truly loved it and believed in the story. At the moment Clooney is one of the few stars that uses his 'star power' to make and promote films which don't belong to the mainstream. Hopefully SOLARIS will be understood and appreciated better in the UK than it was in the US.