Total Film – March, 2002

DO YOU WANNA BE IN MY GANG? – by Matt Mueller

What do you get if you cast George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts, matt Damon and Andy Garcia in a caper movie directed by Steven Soderbergh? A heist all-mighty by the name of Ocean’s Eleven…

Steven Soderbergh is a laid-back guy. In fact, if you believe the back-slapping bonhomie of the all-star line-up he assembled for his latest suave caper, Ocean’s Eleven was the chummiest ever made. Huge ego clashes? Trailer tantrums? Scene-hogging one-upmanship? Never happened, not on this set, and that’s how the director wanted it. “We chose very carefully who we thought would add to that spirit,” he says “And we avoided the people we thought wouldn’t.”

Launched off the back of the equally fun-to-shoot Out Of Sight, George Clooney and Soderbergh’s search for another project ended with a script based loosely on 1960 Rat Pack heist flick Ocean’s Eleven. The original starred Frank Sinatra and was dreadful—the actor more interested in gambling than performing—but the outline of a crew taking down a Las Vegas casino was ripe for an all-star rehash.

Clooney set the ball rolling by cutting his asking price in half, and the spaces filled up in no time. Brad Pitt as Danny Ocean’s partner-in-crime, Julia Roberts as his ex. Matt Damon stepped in to play a pickpocket after Mark Wahlberg opted to do Planet of the Apes, while Carl Reiner, Bernie Mac, Casey Affleck, Scott Caan, Andy Garcia and Don Cheadle completed the enviable talent-list. “The script was really tight and it was Soderbergh directing;” says Damon. It wasn’t really rocket science for any of us to say yes…”

Taking A Pay Cut

Jerry Weintraub [producer]: This thing came together because of George Clooney. We sent the script to Clooney and Steven, and it didn’t even take 24 hours before they came back and said, “We’re going to do this.”

Steven Soderbergh: It was one of the few movies that you could really justify getting a lot of movie stars for. I miss those days where you used to get films like Murder on the Orient Express with, like, 12 movie stars.

Weintraub: George said, “Jerry, this has to be an ensemble piece. We gotta get all big stars. You’re never going to be able to afford everybody so I’ll take a cut.”

Soderbergh: There are still enough people in this business who would prefer to be part of something they think is going to be good.

Matt Damon: They’d rather have a small part in a big movie than a big part in a shitty movie. That’s why you knew that everybody was going to get along, because to agree to be in this movie, you’ve already sent a message: “I’m not here because of the pay check.”

Brad Pitt: Working with Soderbergh was the initial attraction… and George, as much as I hate to admit it. But once I heard it was Steven directing, the idea that I was going to get paid at all seemed like a bonus to me.

Andy Garcia: For us to take a pay cut to do Ocean’s Eleven is completely overblown. A pay cut for this is still an extraordinary amount of money and we’re blessed to get paid that kind of money. People don’t make that kind of money in an entire lifetime.

George Clooney: How much did they pay him?

Garcia: We deserve absolutely zero credit for taking any kind of pay cut. That’s the reality. We got overpaid.

Weintraub: You owe me some money.

Garcia: Jerry… nobody owes you money.

“Introducing” Julia Roberts

Soderbergh: She was the only person we had in mind. We thought it would be fun for her to be the only woman. We sent her the script with $20 enclosed and a note saying, “We hear you get 20 for a picture”.

Clooney: She kept the 20. We deducted it fro her wages. Actually, we deducted it from Andy’s salary.

Soderbergh: We thought it would be a scream to have the credits say, “Introducing Julia Roberts”. Her agent didn’t agree, but Julia thought it was hysterical. I think the only people who would be concerned with something like that are people who are insecure.

Following The Rat Pack

Clooney: The original film was horrible.

Weintraub: The first picture was a good idea, it just never really worked. So we didn’t remake the original, we got to make this film the right way. Steven said something that no director has ever said to me before. He said, “I wanna do this movie because I want to see it.” That was fantastic.

Soderbergh: The problem with the original movie was that it ran solely on the charm of those guys.

Clooney: We don’t have any charm, so we needed a plot. What it has in common with the original is that it’s called Ocean’s Eleven, and that Danny Ocean gets 11 people to knock over a few casinos. That’s kind of it. If you enjoyed the original it’s because it was fun knowing they had a fun time making it. The story is that sometimes they didn’t even show up on set, so Henry Silva got their lines.

Weintraub: These guys are not the Rat Pack. They’re just a bunch of nice guys who happen to be big movie stars. You can’t compare the two casts. Apples and oranges.


Soderbergh: Believe me, there are actors I won’t work with by reputation. People talk and directors know not to lie to each other because if you do, you’ve screwed somebody for a year and a half. I pick my casts very carefully. And I think there’s a genuine camaraderie on screen in Ocean’s Eleven. The best testament is that whoever was on set that day would stay right there. Often I’d have to break up the bullshit session so that we could get going.

Clooney: The funniest thing is that there are all these stars around. There’s Julia and Brad and Matt and Andy. Big, big stars. But everybody was circled around Carl Reiner the whole time.

Damon: For me the group of people you’re with determines the value of the experience you’re going to have. Julia said the best time she ever had on a movie was Erin Brockovich. That speaks to the atmosphere that Steven creates.

Julia Roberts: It was nice to be the only girl. I thought it would be a kind of queenly experience. But it wasn’t like that. It was more like high school. I just knew that come what may, I would forever be “the girl”.

Damon: Sometimes you get these ensembles of American actors who are shamelessly trying to grab the limelight from one another. In this, you can see everybody kinda give each scene away. Nobody’s grandstanding.

Pitt: The leading man thing has been done really well a million times by great actors, and it’s just fun to go the other way. The great thing about my “baggage” is, as limiting as it may seem, it also sets me up for that kind of surprise when you do good in a smaller role. It takes the focus off yourself.

Working With Soderbergh

There are two kinds of directors: those who enjoy the idea of people working for them and those who like the idea of people working with them, and I’m the latter. The thought of having an atmosphere in which somebody can’t pipe up would drive me crazy.

Clooney: I’ve seen it backfire where you’ve left it open and the craft services guy is going. “I don’t think Don is emoting enough in that scene.”

Damon: Steven knows when he has it. He’s not looking around going, “I need your help because I don’t know.” It’s somebody going, “If you have an idea, I’m open to hearing it.” There’s a huge difference. At the end of the day, it’s not a jazz combo.

Shooting In Vegas

Garcia: Vegas is geared for children now. It’s like Disneyland with a casino.

Weintraub: It’s a $100 million set you couldn’t recreate anywhere in the world. You have all these magnificent hotels and the whole strip—we had everything you could want right there.

Soderbergh: Honestly, we couldn’t have made this film on the scale we made it without Jerry Weintraub. He got us all of the Vegas stuff literally for free, which was amazing. He was Elvis’ manager and he was Frank Sinatra’s manager so having him in Vegas was mind-boggling. We were allowed to shoot the town and hotels as though it were a backdrop, and we’re the only movie to do that as far as I can think of.

Weintraub: They were very helpful to us at the hotels because they figured out early on that if we pulled this off, with Steven and this cast, it would look magnificent. I don’t think you’ll ever go to Las Vegas again and not associate Ocean’s Eleven with the Bellagio Hotel. People will go there and say, “I wanna stay where George Clooney stayed.”

Clooney: Julia doesn’t need a whole lot of pampering, I think she was having a pretty good time having 12 guys around. The thing with this movie is that everyone just hung out on the set and the set was a hotel. It wasn’t nearly as fun in the trailers.

Damon: The good thing about doing a movie with 11 people is there’s always somebody not working the next day, someone to get in trouble with. There was a bit of a stir caused…

Playing Games

Clooney: Pranks? A few wake-up calls, buckets of water. Nothing major, just something little every day.

Damon: Except on April Fool’s, which George refers to as Amateur Day—he takes that day off.

Pitt: He has such a reputation for running pranks that we were waiting for the ultimate prank. Paranoia ensued and the threat of the imminent prank actually became a prank itself.

Clooney: I felt like an amateur in Vegas. I was outdone by younger fellas who stayed out longer than me. I was beat down by about the second week in Vegas.

Damon: I probably gambled the most but I didn’t lose any money, I broke even. That’s winning, as far as I’m concerned.

Clooney: Casey Affleck lost. They wouldn’t let him back into the casino for a while.

Garcia: I never gambled. I like to play Blackjack but I never sat down a table. I guess I was delusional enough to think that it was my casino. Why would I sit down at my own table?

Clooney: Guys know me well enough to know that I’m a method actor. I spent years training for the drinking and carousing that I had to do in this film.

Sexiest Man Alive

Clooney: For a long time you try and fix the strange things which are said about you and then after a while you go, “Okay, you don’t have to correct everything about you that isn’t accurate.” Like the story that Julia and I are madly in love. You just have to let things go after a while.”

Pitt: I’ve given up on being taken seriously. Seriously.

Clooney: I like work. I like being an actor, it’s a great job. I like all the aspects of film-making. But I’m still Hollywood’s most eligible bachelor, apparently—let’s not take that away from me!

Damon: But you lost your “Sexiest Man Alive” title to one of your co-stars.

Clooney: Pretty boy Brad Pitt took my title. I’ll get it back.

Pitt: I was more worried for George because he was really rooting for it this year. Me winning twice and him once… there was a little bit of a problem there.

Clooney: There was a lot of tension that day. When People magazine named him the “Sexiest Man Alive” for the second time, it cut to the quick. He’s the only repeater, but I’ll get it back. We’re lobbying now to vote in matt Damon as the Sexiest Man Alive. We wanted to take out an ad in People magazine for Matt next year. We wanted to do a “For Your Consideration…”

Traffic Oscar Party

Damon: We had a party when Steven came back with the Oscar.

Clooney: We had a couple of parties. This crew would have a party no matter what happened. If he’d lost, we would have had a bash too. In fact, he did lose if you think about it. You lost for Erin Brockovich, didn’t you?

Soderbergh: That’s true.

Damon: Loser!

Clooney: He flew in to LA that day, got himself an Oscar, and came back that night. He was back in Vegas at midnight and we all came down and had a drink with him and then went to work the next morning at six am.

Damon: And then Julia showed up the next day with hers.

Roberts: The only change in my life is that shortly after the Oscars I had to go work with these mooks.

Pressure To Perform

Clooney: There was a period in 1998, after batman & Robin, when I felt my luck was running thin. I think you can create the opportunity for a lucky break but you still need breaks along the way. And you have to be ready when the luck hits.\\Soderbergh: Failure is cyclical. I’m hoping to have a long career and there’ll be ups and downs. I’ve just been fortunate lately.

Clooney: Our biggest commercial flop was Out Of Sight.

Soderbergh: It’s impossible for me to worry about, “Are they going to see this? Will it be liked?” I’m just looking for the next job.

Garcia: If you let the pressure unfluence your life, you live by their barometer and you forget that it’s your barometer.

Damon: Yeah, you empower the people that you disagree with. The most miserable actresses you’ll ever see are the ones who say, “I did this movie because I though it was going to be big.” And then the movie isn’t big and they have nothing to show for the experience.

Soderbergh: I’m not result-oriented. I’m process-oriented. The result to me is interesting and it’s good parlor conversation but I can’t control it. I try not to worry about stuff I can’t control.

Clooney: Remember, you got a review for Schizopolis in some magazine and it gave you an A or an F. It said, “It’s either the worst film I’ve ever seen or the best film I’ve ever seen, I can’t tell.”

Soderbergh: I’d rather get that than a C.