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Steven Soderbergh talks "Contagion" and retirement

Sep 5, 2011, 10:23 a.m.
Director Steven Soderbergh (R) poses with actors (L-R) Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Laurence Fishburne during a photocall of their film "Contagion" at the 68th Venice Film Festival September 3, 2011. REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo

By Zorianna Kit

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Academy Award-winning director Steven Soderbergh explores how a lethal virus is transmitted from one person to another, until the entire world is affected in "Contagion."

The film, which debuted over the weekend at the Venice film festival and hits U.S. theaters on Friday, features an all star cast that includes Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishburne and Jude Law among others.

Soderbergh, known for directing such movies as the "Ocean's" trilogy, "Erin Brockovich" and "Traffic," sat down with Reuters to talk about the film, what he learned about viruses and why he's decided to "retire" from moviemaking.

Q: "Contagion" is about a virus that kills people with no cure in sight. With real-life scares like SARS, N1H1 and the bird flu, this is a fear anyone can relate to.

A: "Yes (the virus) doesn't speak and it doesn't have a brain, but it is alive and it wants to stay alive and propagate itself. I really felt like this was great movie material because you cannot construct a life for yourself in which you're not around germs."

Q: Once someone gets the virus, death is imminent so it's like a zombie movie without the zombies.

A: "Matt (Damon) wanted a zombie. He kept asking for one. He kept saying we'd make a lot more money if we had zombies. I said, 'Call Gwyneth! Let's see if she's up for it.'"

Q: This is your sixth film with Matt. What is it about him that made you want him form "Contagion?"

A: "He's one of the few people that can play both ends of the spectrum -- he can be everyman, and he can be Jason Bourne. In 'Contagion' his character needed to be resolutely middle class. Matt's great at that because he's not one of those actors that comes in like, 'I wanna win this scene.' He's so completely lacking in vanity. He'll submit to the larger story and not worry about how he is coming across moment to moment."

Q: You worked with a lot of consultants to get the scientific aspect of film correct. Most audiences wouldn't know the difference. Why was that important to you?

A: "As a moviegoer, the more detailed and convincing the world of the film is, the happier I am. You go to the movies to be transported, to go on a ride, and this happens to be a ride you can't just forget the minute the lights come up because you have to touch the armrest in order to stand."

Q: Working with those consultants, what did you personally learn about protecting yourself against viruses?

A: "I'm washing my hands a little more. The hand sanitizer, according to the consultants we worked with, lasts about three minutes. The touching of the face is really bad. They said during flu season if you can manage not to touch yourself above the neck, you've got a better chance of not getting sick."

Q: You've got some scenes with monkeys in a lab that are being used as test subjects for the virus cure. Do you think that might cause an uproar within the animal rights community?

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