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AT LACMA Fri 10.2.2015

The Cast and Crew of The Knick on Working with Steven Soderbergh

The Emmy Award-winning drama The Knick returns to Cinemax for its second season on October 16. Recently, members of the show’s cast and creative team sat down with Elvis Mitchell at a Film Independent at LACMA screening of the season’s first two episodes.

On hand for the conversation were creator Michael Begler, executive producer Gregory Jacobs, costume designer Ellen Mirojnik and actors David Fierro and Michael Angarano. Not present for the event was the series’ director Steven Soderbergh, but his absence gave his collaborators free reign to discuss the virtues and peculiarities of working with the Academy Award-winning director. Here are eight things we learned:

Soderbergh does it all on set
“He’s unlike any other director that I’ve ever worked with,” said Angarano. “He’s doing four jobs at once.” The jobs Angarano refers to are director, producer, director of photography, and editor.

Soderbergh has shot and edited his own films for years, but the credits go to his pseudonyms Peter Andrews (director of photography) and Mary Ann Bernard (editor). On The Knick, he’s taking the DP credit under his own name, but Bernard is still his editor.

He doesn’t over-prepare
Angarano said that often Soderbergh doesn’t know exactly how he’ll shoot the scene when he walks onto set. “He knows what we’re going to shoot, but there’s not a specific way he knows he’s going to shoot it until he watches the first rehearsal with the actors.”

But he knows what he wants
Jacobs was careful to point out that while Soderbergh is open to discovering a scene with his actors, he has a good sense of what he’s after. “What he’s looking for is how it’s appropriately covered,” said Jacobs. “Sometimes it’s in one shot.”

He’s very fast
And all those one-takes can make for very short days. Everyone on stage admitted they’re often surprised by how quickly he works. “It could be a five-page scene and we’ll be done filming in an hour,” said Angarano.

Fierro said Soderbergh’s pace has spoiled him for working on other projects. “I just did show a couple weeks ago and I had two scenes,” said the actor, who said two scenes on The Knick can take as little as three hours to shoot. “I was talking to my agent because he wanted me to go and audition for something. And he said, ‘Do you think you’ll be free at some point today?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I only got two scenes.’” Six hours later Fierro was eating his words.

He leaves a lot unsaid with his actors
Angarano recalled his first meeting with Soderbergh: “Steven’s funny because we talked about [the character] for about five minutes and then we didn’t talk about it,” said Angarano. He said he and Soderbergh briefly discussed the love triangle between his character, Dr. Bertie Chickering Jr., Clive Owen’s Dr. John Thackery and Eve Hewson’s Lucy Elkins. “My main thing was, ‘I want to make him a viable option. I want him to be the right choice.’ And [Soderbergh] said, ‘Yeah. He is the right choice.’ And then after that, Clive came in and we talked about soccer for like an hour.”

Sometimes, he “Soderberghs” them
Angarano takes credit for coming up with the phrase “You got Soderberghed.”

“It’s when you think you have a very important scene and you really prepare for it and you can’t wait to shoot it and you shoot it and the camera was never on you once.”

“Or only on the back of your head,” Jacobs chipped in. Angarano nodded. “That’s getting Soderberghed.”

He gives his crew a lot of freedom
Mirojnik said Soderbergh wasn’t completely sold on Thackery’s white boots when she first showed them to him. But after Clive Owen took a liking to them, he came around to the idea. “When you work with Steven, you talk about the story a bit, show him a few pictures and you go to work,” said Mirojnik. “Nobody sits over you and watches every single thing.”

He makes every decision with the goal of bringing the audience into the story
Jacobs described a scene from the second episode of season two of Elkins watching her father give a sermon. “When he walked in there and was watching the blocking, I think he was thinking of how to traditionally cover it. And then as we started to block it, he must have thought, ‘How am I going to absorb the viewer into this?’” The answer was a haunting single-shot scene. “You’ll see in season two,” said Jacobs. “There are a lot of these really interestingly designed oners.”

Tom Sveen / Film Independent Blogger

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