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'It Takes A Lot Of Energy To Be An A**hole': Steven Soderbergh Talks Bullies In Hollywood

By Tori Preston | Industry | November 8, 2017 |

By Tori Preston | Industry | November 8, 2017 |

Ostensibly, Steven Soderbergh’s lengthy interview with Vulture was to promote his latest project, Mosaic. And explaining Mosaic would take up quite a lot of space all on its own. At heart, it’s the story of a writer (Sharon Stone) who is murdered. The whodunit is told in two ways, however: as an interactive app, available for download now, and as an upcoming half hour HBO series due to premiere in January.

And Soderbergh does speak quite a bit about making Mosaic: the appeal of exploring different methods for storytelling, the influence of his experience on The Knick, and more. He also talks about the basic problem-solving nature of storytelling, and how that might connect to his frequent return to heist stories. Hell, he even addresses his long-forgotten retirement, and what happened to his aspirations of becoming a painter. But within all that fascinating creative talk is a very pointed tangent about bullying and assault in Hollywood. And if you’re anything like me, you might find some comfort in his words — a simple reminder that not every power player takes joy in abusing that power.

His advice to students:

What I say to students is, “You can view it as just being self-serving, and I don’t even care if it’s sincere, but I am telling you, if you treat people poorly, that will come back to haunt you. There will be a day where you lose a job to somebody else because of it. I’ve seen it happen.” The reverse is also true. Out of Sight is a watershed movie for me. My career changed dramastically, as they say in Logan Lucky. I got that film because [then-Universal exec] Casey Silver liked me personally and knew that I had a good reputation working with people.

The Harvey Impact:

Part of what’s fascinating about the conversation that’s going on, particularly around Harvey, is the extremes of the behavior, and then the impact that he’s had on the movie industry in the last 25 to 30 years. As I was saying to a friend the other day, there aren’t many people who significantly alter the landscape of the movie business twice. Harvey is one of them. The second time, it was not for the reasons that he anticipated! It’s been a real clinic in the duality of human beings, and a very stark example of how certain kinds of impulses, in two different directions, can be intertwined.

On unacceptable behavior:

Any form of physical or sexual assault is a very serious matter, potentially a legal matter. But I’m also wondering, what about having some kind of “extreme asshole” clause? I know lots of people who have been abused verbally and psychologically. That’s traumatizing, too. What do we do with that?

But most importantly there’s this exchange, on why it just isn’t worth it to be a bully or an asshole:

Do you believe that in order to make memorable art, you have to be disturbed in some way? Not at all.

That’s what’s often raised as a defense of Roman Polanski, Mel Gibson, and others.
No, I don’t believe that at all. It takes a lot of energy to be an asshole. The people I admire most just aren’t interested in things that take away from their ability to make stuff. The people I really respect, and that I’ve met who fit this definition, have a sense of grace about them, because they know that there is no evolving and there is no wisdom without humility.

You can’t get better if you behave in a way that shuts people off. You can’t! You don’t have all the ideas necessary to solve something. You don’t! I’m sure if you spoke to Harvey in his heyday and said to him what I just said to you, he would believe that he accomplished all that he had because of the way he behaved.

Meaning, like a bully.
Yes, and I would argue instead, “You’re 50 percent of what you could have been, because of the way you behave.” Ultimately, there is a large group of people who are talented, who you want to be in business with, but who won’t be in business with you. I don’t know how you view that as being your best self, or the best version of your business, but I’m really curious to see going forward what changes.

This is the strongest argument I’ve seen in a long time for why it pays to be nice. Or maybe it just pays to not be a giant abusive asshole. Thanks, Mr. Soderbergh!

Tori Preston is the managing editor of Pajiba. She tweets here. You can also listen to her weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.

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