Ocean’s Eleven Steams Ahead
Star-Studded Soderbergh Spectacle Sparks This Weekend
By Rebecca Redshaw
(Note: This unedited interview appeared on NotesFromHollywood.com. Edited versions appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and The Desert Sun.)
“Ocean’s Eleven,” the title of the upcoming Warner Bros. release indicates eleven characters but for all practical purposes and, more importantly, to avoid total chaos at the press conference, only four of the stars took center stage in one room at any given time.
The media blitz by the acting talent, joined by producer, Jerry Weintraub and director, Steven Soderbergh, was tackled not with one on one interviews for the press and media, but in a hotel suite on the nineteenth floor of the Century Plaza Hotel, located halfway between the Pacific Ocean and downtown Los Angeles.
Approximately fifty reporters placed handheld tape recorders on the coffee table in front of four upholstered chairs and waited for stars to appear.
With only a half hour delay waiting for all the principals to arrive, in a flurry of excitement George Clooney, Andy Garcia, Matt Damon, and Weintraub took their places in the chairs on a slightly elevated platform.
Across the hall, Julia Roberts entered an identical room where a second contingent of reporters was ready for on camera interviews. Roberts was joined by Brad Pitt, Don Cheadle, and Soderbergh
The following “interview” was delivered in the form of good-natured banter. After several long days of promoting “Ocean’s Eleven” and answering similar questions hundreds of times from all levels of interviewers from Barbara Walters on down, the talent entertained the press. Sometimes they talked about the movie, sometimes not.
George Clooney: [addressing reporters] Please be sensitive with Brad Pitt. He’s a bit touchy about losing [People Magazine’s] “Sexiest Man Alive” title. His crown was taken away from him and he had to give up his sash and tiara. I didn’t want to say this in front of him [looking at Matt Damon], but Matt really wanted it. Next year we’re going to have a write in ballot.
Matt Damon: George does these practical jokes and they’re really extravagant but one he tried and wasn’t allowed to do.
Clooney: We were foiled.
Damon: He was foiled. He was going to take an ad out in Variety.
Clooney: Steven Soderbergh and I went to take an ad out…
Damon: …like they do for the Oscars? “For your consideration,” only they wanted to say “Matt Damon – for your consideration for Sexiest Man Alive.” They wanted to make it look like I paid for it! But Variety said, “No.”
Clooney: I told them, “It’s funny. It’ll kill him.”
“Ocean’s Eleven” is the first production involving Section Eight, the Clooney and Soderbergh production company, however the project was spearheaded by longtime producer and entertainment mogul, Weintraub.
When a reporter from Canada asked Clooney if he thought this movie was “risky” as a first project, Weintraub couldn’t contain himself.
Clooney: This is risky? The biggest stars in the world are in this movie. It’s not risky.
Jerry Weintraub: You’re outta your mind because it’s over. [Meaning: It’s a sure hit.]
Clooney: Any film is risky but we read a great script and got the best director in town. There’s no risk involved. The minute everyone heard Steven was involved everyone said, “I’m in.”
Andy Garcia: Let’s be practical. We get the opportunity to work in a film that’s financed by Warner Bros., starring George, Brad, Julia, Matt, Carl Reiner and others and it’s produced by Jerry Weintraub OR we can go do a movie that’s shot independently, with no distribution anywhere in the world. They get some guardian angel with money…
Garcia: …to finance the movie. You make the movie for the love of the movie. Hopefully, people will react to it and buy it to distribute it. Now, that’s risky. To think this movie [Ocean’s Eleven] is risky is ludicrous for anyone to think.
Weintraub: [to reporter] You’re outta your fuckin’ mind. [Laughter] Sit in the back of the room and leave us alone. Next question.
Garcia: [to Weintraub] You’ve just guaranteed the worst review in Canada.
Weintraub: I don’t give a shit. You wanna talk risky? I got some movies for ya. You know what a homerun is? This is a homerun.
How did “Ocean’s Eleven” get made?
Clooney: It was pretty easy. Jerry sent the script to Steven and me on Friday night and we read it over the weekend. Steven’s a film snob. He doesn’t like very many things, so when he called and said, “I love it and I know how to do it,” well, that was a really good thing. We sent over the script to Julia [Roberts] with a twenty-dollar bill attached and said, “We hear you get twenty a picture….” Within the first week we had Julia, Brad [Pitt] and Steven attached. It came down to everyone wanting to work with Steven.
Weintraub: I was being facetious before. There is a risk in every film. This is a crazy business. It’s not really a business. We all take a blank canvas and start painting on it and we hope by the end of the day it will be hanging on the wall and people will wanna look at it. But when you go in with this kind of cast, great actors that all wanted to work together, you get the feeling immediately that something special will happen.
Garcia: Jerry was able to solidify the crew at the Bellagio [in Las Vegas]. It’s the most important casino in the world and we got free access for the shoot. That was an extraordinary feat of producing.
Damon: Brad Pitt named Jerry the “Pope of Las Vegas.”
Clooney: That’s just ’cause he wears that hat.
There are no sex scenes in “Ocean’s Eleven.” Were you thrilled or disappointed?
Damon: George and I shot a couple just for old times sake. [Laughter]
Clooney: We worked on it. And we rehearsed for weeks. I tell ya’, I’ve never been so sore.
The original “Ocean’s Eleven” starred the Rat Pack with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr., all friends of Weintraub. Before he could respond to the question about what the original group would think of this production, Clooney jumped it.
Clooney: [imitating Weintraub] Ah, Jesus, Frank would love it. He would love this film.
Weintraub: There it is.
Clooney: Actually, I want to hear this answer and Jerry would know.
Weintraub: If Frank and Dean and Sammy were alive today, and I wish the were ’cause I miss them all, if they were alive …they would have said to me, “You guys, you gotta write something in for us, ’cause these guys are great.”
What are your thoughts on the original “Ocean’s Eleven” movie?
Clooney: I’ve seen the movie a lot and I’m a huge fan of the Rat Pack. I idolized them when I was younger so, I’d watch the film no matter what.
Garcia: But they deserved a better film.
Clooney: They did. “Robin and the Seven Hoods” is a fantastic film, but I never thought of this [Ocean’s Eleven] as a classic. We’re never gonna be as cool as those guys but we have a better film. We’ve got a better script and a better director.
What’s the security like in the casino?
Garcia: It’s enhanced for our movie. I haven’t seen the actual casino system.
Weintraub: Ours is more high tech and elaborate. They have a small area. We made our set more beautiful with a lot more movie magic. But they have the same “eyes in the sky” cameras and tunnels. They know everything that is going on at every minute, at every table.
Clooney: …and in Jerry’s bedroom.
Weintraub: Seriously, they have a count on every dealer and how much money is on every table, every five minutes. If anybody sees this movie and thinks they’re going to Vegas and rob them, he’s nuts. You’re better off at Fort Knox.
Garcia: It’s [the movie] a great calling card for Las Vegas.
Clooney: We were going to entertain the press there but, you know, September 11th changed a lot of that. There’s a fine line – we’re going to sell a film that is going to do the right thing entertaining people. Accidentally, it’s a good film to come out at this period in time. And we’re going to do our jobs. The truth is that you have to be careful being to celebratory. It doesn’t seem proper to do big things in Las Vegas right now. We’re still going to do a premiere but everything is toned down considerably. We’re going to Turkey to do the international premiere.
Weintraub: Which is top secret.
Clooney: Oh, yeah, for the soldiers. Don’t tell anybody.