Steven Soderbergh on Magic Mike

The director of Traffic admits that watching the unedited male stripping footage made him 'really uncomfortable.'

Fred Topelby Fred Topel


If anyone has a sense of humor about a male stripper movie, it’s the director of Traffic  and Erin Brockovich. Really, he takes it quite likely, yet still offers a profound auteur’s perspective on filmmaking. At the press conference for Magic Mike he embraced the camp of his beefcake porn and also kept it real.


We ask if there are full, unedited routines of the dances in the montage.

We have edited together the full-length versions of all the routines. They're pretty disturbing. Honestly, we sent them all to Sue Kroll at Warner Brothers and she said, 'I really like these a lot.' I think it's not for men, these things. It made me really uncomfortable to watch them. We did ten or twelve. To watch them all back to back was really disturbing. So, I don't know.


It hits Soderbergh where he is.

I just can't believe we're having a press conference for a stripper movie. It's really hard to be serious.


The difference between a male stripper movie and a female stripper movie.

Look, now that people are starting to see the film, I think there might've been a concern for men who were having to see the film, that really the movie was so driven towards the female audience, that there would be nothing in it for them to sort of latch onto. Of course I knew that wasn't what I wanted to do, that in point of fact some of the issues that the male characters are going through are issues that all men confront about what they want. Men tend to define themselves by what they do, and so if you're dealing with a character who's trying to figure that out, or multiple characters, then there's something there for guys, too. When we tested the film the female scores were not significantly bigger than the male scores. I mean, guys liked it. The trick is, I think, getting them to come, but we'll see what happens.


Directing dudes in thongs.

Channing had a great phrase about all of that because I felt, one of the appeals of it to me was if everybody is dressed like that every conversation is funny. There's no wrong answer. Anybody who starts having a serious conversation while they're wearing a thong, it's going to be funny. But he said also, when he first got into it, the mantra was, “It's only weird if you make it weird.” So, that was the attitude that everybody took, which is it doesn't have to be weird if you don't want it to be weird.


The cinematic mise-en-scene of striptease.

Well, one of the things that people forget, I think, even a lot of people that make movies forget is that, in my mind, a movie should work with the sound off. You should be able to watch a movie without the sound and understand what's going on. That's your job, to build a series of chronological images that tell the story. I'm frustrated when I see movies in which I feel like the plot is being told to me instead of shown to me. I also like to stage scenes in which you see a lot of people in the frame at once. So, physicality becomes a really important part of that aesthetic. I need actors who understand how to use their bodies because the shot is going to be up there for a while. You're going to see them, if not full length, probably down to the thigh. So, all of that stuff becomes really important. Sometimes I'm choreographing moves with the camera with moves that they're doing. So, they're sense of having to dance a little bit with the camera needs to be pretty pronounced. In this case, everybody, I think, fell into that very quickly and understood what I was trying to do.


Matthew McConaughey diets more than Julia Roberts.

I can only tell you that these guys were so disciplined. They ate like rabbits. It was lettuce with, like, lemon juice on it. It was nothing. Really, honestly, I've worked on movies with a lot of women who look great and take care of themselves. I've never seen this kind of diligence. Look, maybe it was just fear, but also, I didn't sense any competition because I think the fear of doing it bonded you guys really quickly. They're all sort of jumping out of the plane together. As soon as I saw the routines for the first time I knew we were going to be fine, because they were funny. They weren't dirty. They were fun.


The extras got a little carried away with McConaughey.

You can see that someone tore the string of the thong, and what happened is Matthew, to sort of get out of that situation, did a tuck and roll because of that. Come on, he was daring them to do something. I think it was the song that warmed them up. “Ladies of Tampa,” [which McConaughey sings], the intro.


Art vs. Commerce in Magic Mike.

I wanted to make sure that there were a lot of conversations in the movie about money and work because I feel like for most people these are issues that dominate their lives, especially lately. So, we were always looking for ways to sort of bring that conversation into the film. The most obvious example, obviously, is when Chan goes to the bank to try and get a loan, but I think this issue of what you're willing to do to be paid is interesting. At a certain point, when Mike starts to feel that what he's doing is undervalued and he has to make a decision about whether he can accept that, I think everyone in this room has been in a situation where they have felt a certain point undervalued and has to make a decision about how they’re going to express that or whether they're going to express it. So, I think it's a very relatable issue.


The key directorial decision: choosing the thongs.

Well, as you can imagine it was a very personal process. I know what I like and it didn't take long at all. Honestly, when shooting in the thong shop, when you go in there, you do have to make decisions about which ones they're going to pick. It's pretty easy to eliminate ninety nine percent of what's hanging on these racks because they're just either silly or ugly, like the elephant. Who's going to wear that? Again, I think we were trying to find a balance. As Chan was saying, there's a very dark version of that movie to be made, but at the end of the day we wanted it to be fun, whether it was the costumes or the routines or just the way that people were acting with each other. We wanted to find this line where you were smiling as opposed to being disgusted. We were constantly surfing that.

Photo Credit: Claudette Barius