Let’s just say Steven Soderbergh’s idea of retirement doesn’t include a lot of shuffleboard. The Oscar winning director, who has said that the Liberace biopic Behind the Candelabra (airing May 26 on HBO) will be his last conventional feature film for the time being, tells EW that he is now at work developing a 12-hour miniseries based on John Barth’s 1960 novel The Sot-Weed Factor.
“I’ve had this on my shelf for a while,” says Soderbergh. “I was going to do it as a movie, but I couldn’t figure it out. So now I’ve had it adapted as 12 one-hour episodes.” Set in the late 1600s, the satirical story follows an English poet who moves to Maryland to take over his father’s tobacco farm. A 1960 New York Times review of the book called it “a bare-knuckled satire of humanity at large” that is “so monstrously long that reading it seemed nearly as laborious as writing it.” In other words, this isn’t exactly The Da Vinci Code.
According to Soderbergh, the real challenge on this project is figuring out a way to bring the epic period piece to the screen without an oversize budget. He says he’s found a daring, outside-the-box solution — don’t forget, this is the same guy who has shot movies with no script, no linear structure, and a porn star in the lead role — but he’s not quite ready to reveal it yet. “I think I’ve come up with a solve to do it cheaply. It’s bold. If it works, it’ll be super cool. And if it doesn’t, you won’t be able to watch ten minutes of it,” he says. “I don’t want to make a f—ing $85 million, 12-hour comedy set in the [1600s]. That’s why I started thinking this way.”
Whether that means the movie will air on TV or become a web-distributed series, the director doesn’t know — though he was a fan of his pal David Fincher’s House of Cards, which broke ground this year as Netflix’s first foray into flashy, high-profile scripted content. Either way, Soderbergh says he’s interested in pursuing a distribution contract that’s every bit as unusual as his top-secret concept for the project. “I’ll be interested to see what kind of deal I can make that’s good: Not getting paid up front, but participating and owning it in some meaningful way if it works. If I agree that I’m going to make this thing as lean and mean as possible, what do I get for that? Everything is changing so fast, there may be some new way of skinning the cat that I don’t even know about,” he says.
Sot-Weed isn’t the only title on the director’s docket: He’s also adapting last summer’s hit Magic Mike into a stage show (“It’s definitely happening. We’ve had meetings about it and it’s moving forward,” he confirms), developing his long-rumored Cleopatra rock musical (“I may at least start workshopping that next year”), and getting ready to direct a play written by Contagion and Side Effects screenwriter Scott Z. Burns. But don’t call him the Boy Who Cried Retirement. “I’ve been very specific that this applies to movies,” he says. “I didn’t say I would stop working. I’m too restless to sit around.”