Tuning in to Steven Soderbergh’s new MAX series “Full Circle,” you may want to put your phone or tablet down and have the time to focus. This is not a show you can have on in the background.
Debuting Thursday, “Full Circle” features a large ensemble including Claire Danes, Dennis Quaid, Jharrel Jerome and Zazie Beetz. It’s a story about the fallout from a botched kidnapping — planned out of revenge — and the secrets that caused it.
“It makes one demand on the viewer, which is that you pay attention,” said Soderbergh. It’s a story with “a lot going on, especially in the first two episodes but it’s going to land you in a very different place than where you started.
“We were constantly working on the script up until we were shooting. We were working on the script as we were shooting. We worked on the script after we stopped shooting and then did some more shooting.”
The situation required the actors to adapt to changes and be fluid, which Soderbergh says the cast could handle, with clear communication.
“When you ask somebody to do a scene and then to come in and do the scene again and it’s different, you need to be very precise about why.”
The “Traffic” and “Sex, Lies, & Videotape” director spoke with The Associated Press on a variety of topics related to his career and Hollywood. Answers are edited for clarity and brevity.
AP: The Director’s Guild of America recently avoided a strike by reaching a deal with producers but the writers are striking and actors could be next. Are you happy with the DGA deal?
SODERBERGH: We have a good deal. I’ll say that, but this is the most complex situation either side has ever faced. I just want everybody back to work. That’s the goal. The goal is to get people back to work with deals that are fair. You’ve got a couple of players on the other side that are in a business in which they don’t really have to make money. And that’s a problem. For Apple and Amazon, the entertainment industry is not their day job so how much do they care?
AP: You’ve done some re-edits of your work and released those as limited-edition box sets. With content being removed from streamers, do you think DVDs might make a comeback?
SODERBERGH: I don’t know. It’s a cost issue. Even in the best case scenario of a film that is well-known, successful and comes out on DVD with extras, the numbers just aren’t great. You go onto iTunes and you look at a movie, they’ve got all the stuff that would be on the DVD. I very rarely buy discs now for that reason. I have a drawer hidden away where I have one physical copy of anything that I’ve done and it goes up to a certain point and then stops.
AP: You’re an early adopter of technology in your work like filming with an iPhone. Would you ever use AI?
SODERBERGH: As a tool? Sure. But ultimately, there’s an immutable limit to what it can do, because it literally has no experience. Its input is images and text. Nothing has ever happened to it. It doesn’t know what it means to wait — like I did yesterday — for 10 hours for your canceled flight to be rescheduled and rebook it. You know what I mean? Like, it doesn’t know what it means to pretend to like a meal that somebody made. It has severe limitations as an iterative tool. I think it’s fascinating. And I think the creative community will very quickly figure out what the best ways to use it are but I’m not afraid of it. It’s good for things like, ‘Show me a creature that’s a combination of an ant and a dolphin. Cool. Now combine it with a bison.’ ‘Show me a car that’s a combination of a turtle and a DeLorean.’ I did an experiment with it where I said, ‘Write something in the style of Harold Pinter. What it came back with made it clear to me, ‘Oh, you don’t really get Harold Pinter.’ It’s just another piece of tech. Arguably it might end up being less transformative than some other pieces of technology that we’re using now in the entertainment industry. It’s early but digital image capture technology is and was seismic. I’m curious to see if this will have that much of an impact on how people actually do their work. I don’t know, every time I say this, I get attacked for not taking it seriously enough but I’m not afraid of it.
AP: Have you been following the TCM developments with its layoffs?
SODERBERGH: I say this as somebody who doesn’t indulge in nostalgia, but I think that channel/platform really represents an important part of our visual culture and it would be a real loss for that to go away, obviously, or to be turned into something less thoughtful than it currently is. I hope this last round of engagement with David Zaslav and Spielberg and Scorsese and Paul Thomas Anderson is legitimately good news and means that TCM is going to continue to do what it’s been doing so well for so long. For all I know, this is creating more interest in TCM, just the fact that it’s being talked about. Maybe chaos is a good business scenario. I don’t know. I just hope it’s here for a long time..
AP: Speaking of nostalgia. “Out of Sight” was released 25 years ago. What does it feel like to have a piece of work that inspires think pieces on anniversaries?
SODERBERGH: I feel great when that happens. I used to wonder when I was younger and I would meet someone established who was older than myself, whether it was appropriate or smart to bring up some of their work from earlier, or whether or not they would feel like, ‘Well, why are you talking about the thing that I just did instead of that thing that I did 25 years ago?’ Being on the other end of it, I think it’s fantastic. It’s what you hope for. It’s what you aspire to, which is to make things that aren’t disposable.
AP: It reminds me of when an actor is still known for a particular role years later. At first they may not like the association but over time they usually come around.
SODERBERGH: I don’t know how that feels. If that’s a trap or it feels like a prison for people to just bring up this thing, this character you played a long time ago, that you’ve tried to transcend. You’d have to ask Pierce Brosnan if he feels that way about James Bond. If he feels, ‘Yeah, I’ve done some other stuff, too, you should check it out.’ He’s very nice by all accounts. I’m sure he’s probably very civil to people but playing James Bond — that’s like a tattoo.
AP: Do you plan to have any involvement in the “Ocean’s” prequel?
SODERBERGH: No, I let everybody know. ‘ Ocean’s Eight ‘, I was involved with because (director) Gary Ross, a friend of mine, came to me with an idea that I thought was smart and said, ‘I’m happy to help.’ But after that, I made it clear to Warner Bros., you know, ‘Go with God. I don’t have a problem with (another film).’ How could I have a problem with that when I was somebody who made a remake of something that had been made before? I just left it all on the field.
AP: In your opinion, is Danny Ocean alive or really dead?
SODERBERGH: In my universe, I think, he’s actually dead. At the end of the film, you were not going to pull the drawer out of that mausoleum and he’s laying in there and then he cracks a joke. But it’s the movies, you know, who knows? And he’s a very smart guy and he put away a lot of money. We didn’t see the body.
This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Warner Bros. Discovery CEO David Zaslav’s last name.