Exclusive: Steven Soderbergh on Knockout

“Ultra-realistic” femme fatale actioner

We’ve come to expect the unexpected from Steven Soderbergh, but even Empire was surprised by the recent news he is to direct a spy thriller called Knockout starring mixed martial arts fighter Gina Carano. So, we had a chat with him about it.

“My feeling was, If I don’t do this, somebody else will,” says the Oscar-winning director. “I felt, somebody is going to look at her and go, ‘She should be in a movie!’ And I felt like, Why shouldn’t I be the person saying that?”

Carano is an experienced fighter – trained in Muay Thai, the martial art form used by Tony Jaa in Ong-Bak – and while she has limited screen experience, she certainly lives up to the title Knockout.

“If you start following the female mma fighters, Gina pops out pretty noticeably,” says Soderbergh. “I thought it was a fascinating combination of appearance and activity... I’d been wanting to make a spy action film for a while, but hadn’t really determined what I was going to bring to it that would distinguish it from the traditional approach. Then I thought, ‘Why don’t I just build it around her? She can actually break people in half.’ I was interested in doing something ultra-realistic.”

Carano – who appeared as Crush in TV’s American Gladiators and has a role in upcoming Michael Jai White actioner Blood And Bone – will play someone who is ‘outsourced’ by the government to perform tasks the state can’t be seen to undertake. “My desire is for it to be a very realistic portrayal of somebody who gets hired, as these people do, by the government, to go and perform certain duties that it would be inappropriate to give to the military,” says Soderbergh. “That could be anything from a hostage-grab to surveillance to an actual killing...”

Plot details are light, because the script is currently being written, but Soderbergh describes Knockout as “a combination of a Bond movie and Point Blank”, though, “more on the scale of From Russian With Love than, you know, Quantum Of Solace... Something where the characters and the story are as prominent as the action stuff.”

Lem Dobbs, whose scripts for Kafka and The Limey were previously directed by Soderbergh, is writing the screenplay, with cameras expected to roll in February. The question is whether connoisseurs of Soderbergh’s excellent DVD commentaries can expect a repeat of his pairing with Dobbs on The Limey, in which the screenwriter was relentlessly outspoken in his criticism of the finished film.

“Oh, you can fuckin’ bet the farm on that!” says Soderbergh, laughing. “He’s absolutely gonna give me a hard time. I’ve already thought about that, like, Oh boy, you know, this is going to be round two. There’s no question. This is absolutely the rematch that people have been waiting for.”

For a more extensive chat with Soderbergh, in which he discusses new releases The Girlfriend Experience and The Informant!, plus everything from the state of Hollywood to prostitution, pick up (and preferably pay for) the latest issue of Empire, on sale tomorrow.