George Clooney is a big fat movie star with burnished matinee-idol good looks and rakish charm. Steven Soderbergh is one of those thoughtful, baseball-capped auteurs who wear thick black glasses and serious expressions. But get them together in a room to talk about their creative and business partnership, as we did on a mid-October afternoon at the Burbank offices of their Section Eight production company, and both men reveal themselves to be gabby cinephiles — whether they’re ardently debating Quentin Tarantino’s decision to take five years between films (Clooney: ”That’s a long time and puts a lot of pressure on Kill Bill to be something more than maybe it’s designed to be.” Soderbergh: ”I have no doubt Kill Bill will be great, but a gap like that does create these expectations that are really irrelevant, to my mind”) or divulging their must-see movies of the holiday season. ”About Schmidt,” says Soderbergh, eyebrows excitedly arching above those square frames. ”I want to see that 8 Mile,” says the 41-year-old Clooney, clad in a white T-shirt and jeans and perched on the edge of a leather chair. ”That first track off the album — [he mumble-raps a line of Eminem’s ”Lose Yourself”] — it’s just the best song. Of course, I think Far From Heaven is the best film I’ve seen this year. But I’m biased.” Soderbergh, 39, agrees. ”Yes,” he says with a smirk. ”We are biased.”
Humble, too. Or at least polite. For in choosing to plug their latest producing effort, Focus’ Far From Heaven — a revisionist homage to the 1950s melodramas of Douglas Sirk, directed by Todd Haynes (Safe, Velvet Goldmine) and starring Julianne Moore and Dennis Quaid — they are neglecting two other films: Fox’s Solaris, a $47 million sci-fi opus directed by Soderbergh and starring Clooney, opening Nov. 27; and Miramax’s Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, a loopy biopic about Gong Show creator Chuck Barris written by Charlie Kaufman (who also penned December’s equally loopy Adaptation) and directed by Clooney himself, opening Dec. 27.
The three fall releases cap a busy year for the Ocean’s Eleven director and star: Their Warner Bros.-based Section Eight fielded the summer hit Insomnia, directed by Memento’s Christopher Nolan, and the fall disappointment Welcome to Collinwood (a remake of a 1958 Italian heist comedy), directed by Joe and Anthony Russo. Separately, Soderbergh also found time to direct Miramax’s Full Frontal, an arty diversion that failed to connect with critics and audiences. ”We’re both as exhausted as can be,” says Clooney, who has just wrapped the Coen brothers’ Intolerable Cruelty (due next spring) and is now at leisure and looking for his next job. ”But it’s a good time to be busy. Everything’s in the wheelhouse for us right now.”
Soderbergh and Clooney met while working on 1998’s Out of Sight. They became fast friends. In 2000 they formed Section Eight to develop projects for themselves, and as a means to champion and protect the work of filmmakers they admire. Case in point: Far From Heaven.