Interview with the Spirited Steven Soderbergh

Interview with the Spirited Steven Soderbergh
Photo by Mary Cybulski

A prolific motion picture producer and director whose credits include Sex, Lies, and Videotape, the Ocean’s Eleven franchise and Magic Mike, Steven Soderbergh is now adding spirits importer to his resume.

While shooting Che (2008) in Bolivia, Soderbergh was introduced to singani, a clear, Pisco-like spirit made from white Muscat grapes grown at high altitudes in the Bolivian Andes. Soderbergh’s new Singani 63 label (a nod to his birth in 1963) is now available in the United States.

When did you decide to enter the liquor biz?

I was given a bottle of singani at a startup party for the Che shoot. I had an aha moment after I had my second glass of it, and I went back over to the person who gave it to me, our Bolivian casting director [Rodrigo Bellott], and started peppering him with questions about what it was exactly.

Why this obscure Bolivian spirit?

My reaction was: This is all I want to drink. I was a mostly a vodka person prior to that. This is, for my palate, smoother, and as it turns out, more versatile for making other things out of it. And it makes you invisible.

Invisible? Did I hear correctly?

That’s what I said to my friend Rodrigo. I said, “I just had my second glass, and I’m invisible. What is this?” You just have to get it. I think that’s a pretty good superpower to have. I’d use it for public good, by the way.

Will Singani 63 appear in any films?

Product placement has been unusual. We appeared in a musical called The Last Five Years and in Gone Girl. We’re in Magic Mike [XXL]. I have a friend that called me for a Showtime show called Billions that’s coming up. It’s in the opening of one of the episodes, a really hilarious, crazy scene. The character gets really drunk and shoots stuff—trees, whatever. And they want him to have a bottle of something in his hand while he’s just stumping about.

Typically, when you’re a filmmaker and trying to get real products in your movie, [spirits] producers are very sensitive to how their usage is portrayed or what characters are drinking their product. The thing about us is, I don’t care what you do with it, I don’t care what your character’s like, or if they’re likeable. I’m hoping part of our niche is gonna be showing up in movies where no legit brand wants to be because they’re worried. Because it’s just a movie. People know it’s just a movie.

I heard actor and screenwriter Dan Aykroyd, whose career also spans film and liquor, has offered you advice.

Yeah, he was really helpful and really sweet. What he said was absolutely true and I’ve taken it to heart: If you’re not going to put in the hours, don’t do it. He said, “You have to show up. People can tell if you’re not sincere.” I don’t spend time on things that I don’t care about, or don’t like. That’s always been my mantra. I would never make a movie that I wouldn’t stand in line to see. Some people do, because they’re chasing something. If this wasn’t my desert island spirit, I wouldn’t be doing this. Now I have access to enough of it, I could end up on a desert island and be perfectly fine.

Are there many parallels between the booze and film industries?

Some. They’re both very competitive. The differences are bigger. If you have enough marketing muscle, you can convince someone to watch [a film] or think that it’s good. Putting something in your mouth is a whole different thing. There’s no telling someone if they say, “I don’t like the way this tastes,” to convince them, “No! You do!” It’s primal. It’s a very different playing field.

Published on December 8, 2015
Topics: Q&ASpirits Trends