As IFC prepared to release Steven Soderbergh’s Che in a special roadshow edition – both films, back-to-back with an intermission – in ten cities (including Seattle), I had the opportunity to interview Soderbergh in a phone interview last week. An abbreviated set of highlights from the interview is running at the Seattle P-I. The full version is at Parallax View.
Benicio Del Toro had been trying to get this film made for some time before you got involved. What was it about the project that made you want to jump on board and do it?
Well, really him [Del Toro], because there was nothing other than his desire and [producer] Laura Bickford’s desire to see it made, but that was it. They were working off of John Lee’s book, but John Lee’s book covered his whole life and they didn’t really have a take on it yet. So I honestly said yes without really knowing what I was saying yes to.
Was there even a treatment?
So when you became a collaborator on the project, where did you begin?
Step one is research, going to Cuba, talking to people, reading everything that was available, and there is a lot, just trying to collect a lot of information and see what stuck. I guess I started gravitating toward… First, the movie was just going to be Bolivia and I think that’s mostly because that part of his life was the most unknown to all of us. So initially we were just going to do that but then we began to feel like, if you just see Bolivia, you’d just be sitting there saying to yourself “Why doesn’t he leave?” You don’t understand why he thought this was going to work, and that’s when we started thinking about Cuba. And it was about that time when I found out about the New York trip and suddenly I thought, you’ve to have that, that’s really good stuff. That’s the way to address that other part of Che that a lot of people have an issue with. And the thing just started to balloon at a certain point and then it got so distended that I decided we had to cut this thing in half. It’s not going to work as one piece, it needs to be… Like I said, to me it was still one movie, it just needed to be in two parts.
You focus directly on two distinct parts of his life. The film leaps over his entire life between the military triumph in Cuba and leaving for Bolivia: five years of his life.
That was a personal choice on my part. I just wasn’t that interested in his life as a bureaucrat, frankly, and like I said, the New York visit was a way to address his ideology, the criticisms that people had of him and of Cuba and the image of him. The more I heard about what he did on the trip and reading the transcripts of the speeches at the U.N., imagining that, thinking of it already in terms of black and white, I just felt that cutting back and forth to the jungle from the concrete is going to be very nice.