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Golden Globe nominee, director of 'Traffic,' 'Erin Brockovich'

Steven Soderbergh is busy, happy, planning next film

Steven Soderbergh, director of "Erin Brockovich" and "Out of Sight," returns with "Traffic," interwoven stories from the world of the drug trade  

LOS ANGELES, California (CNN) -- Director Steven Soderbergh's star is rising fast in Hollywood. How fast? If he were a publicly traded company, Soderbergh probably would declare a stock split.

Soderbergh seems in two places at once these days. The filmmaker, who was born in Georgia and raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, just received separate Golden Globe nominations - one for "Traffic" with Michael Douglas and Catherine Zeta-Jones, and another for "Erin Brockovich" with Julia Roberts.

"Traffic" follows three separate tales of the drug trade in the United States and Mexico. "Erin Brockovich" traces the battle of a whistleblower who took on a huge company.

Several critics' groups also have named Soderbergh director of the year, and onetime whispers of a possible Academy Award nomination are becoming something louder.

Before the Golden Globe nominations, which were announced last week, Soderbergh sat down with CNN to talk about success, "Traffic" and that mysterious "Peter Andrews" guy listed on the credits.

CNN: How are you dealing with all the praise for "Erin Brockovich" and "Traffic"?

Steven Soderbergh: It seems very abstract to me. If we end up being very lucky (and receive Academy Award nominations) then I'll go anywhere that we're invited.

CNN: You might have to buy a tuxedo, or at least rent one.

Soderbergh: I'm happy to do that. I'll charge it to the studio.

Benicio Del Toro and Jacob Vargas portray Mexican policemen in "Traffic"  

CNN: You've developed a pretty good reputation for letting actors talk things through with you, and not being a dictator.

Soderbergh: I like to hire actors who have ideas, and I give them room to breathe. ... You can over-direct actors if you're not careful. So I tend to leave them alone, unless I sense they're having a problem; then I'll go over and talk to them.

CNN: "Traffic" very much had a news or documentary style. Why did you make that choice?

Soderbergh: The feeling that I wanted was, this is sort of happening in front of you. So to kind of (put a) patina or gloss on it would have been counter productive in trying to get people to think it was real.

CNN: The subject matter - the drug war - has lost of gray areas. Did you try to tell the stories that way in "Traffic"?

Soderbergh: To try and go into the (drug) story and pretend that there are sort of good guys and bad guys in the traditional sense would be a huge mistake. They're really aren't. ...We have characters who are basically good people with flaws, and we have characters who are basically not good people, but extremely intelligent and articulate. So it's fun to watch the movie. And you sort of go up and down about how you feel about everybody.

CNN: You'd like it if some of the people who see "Traffic" left the theaters angry.

Soderbergh: I was thinking of the people who are on both ends of this policy issue, and whose job it is to sort of render an opinion about what we should do about the drug war. As it turns out, we screened the movie for both those sides and they both think that the movie actually proposes their point of views. So I guess that didn't work out.

Dennis Quaid and Catherine Zeta-Jones in "Traffic"  

CNN: You did succeed in showing a myriad of views, didn't you?

Soderbergh: Oh, absolutely. I think it would have been silly for me to pretend that I know what the answer is to this problem, because it's just too complicated. There are no easy solutions. I think that there are things that we can be doing to make it better, like not locking up addicts.

CNN: You were your own director of photography. How were you listed on the credits?

Soderbergh: I used a pseudonym: Peter Andrews. It's my father's first two names.

CNN: What's it like to be the director and the director of photography?

Soderbergh: I tend not to look much further than the next day's shooting in order to keep from flipping out. So it didn't feel like a big movie. The crew was very small, actually. And when you've got the camera sort of on your shoulder and you're just running around, it (feels) like a huge student film.

CNN: Considering some of the hot-button topics of recent films, are you a big reader, or do you just scan the papers?

Soderbergh: I read the papers a lot, but it's sort of coincidence that that I ended up making two movies back-to-back that have sort of social issues at their core. The next movie I'm making ("Ocean's Eleven 2001," a remake of the 1960 Rat Pack action comedy) has no social value whatsoever. I'm looking forward to that.

CNN: With so much going on, what do you do to get away from it all?

Soderbergh: The good thing of having more than one thing going on at one time is that you don't get tired of each one, and it keeps each one from being too precious. We were prepping "Traffic" while we were finishing "Erin Brockovich" and I've been prepping "Ocean's Eleven" while we finish "Traffic."

It keeps you very objective about the piece. You don't agonize over stuff. You make very fast decisions based on instinct.

CNN: Are you a workaholic?

Soderbergh: I guess so. I like to work. It's fun. I have a great job. I really like my job, so that puts me ahead of 95 percent of the people who have jobs.

'Gladiator,' 'Traffic' lead Golden Globe nominees
December 21, 2000

'Traffic' official Web site

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