NASCAR and the heist film genre come together in director Steven Soderbergh’s latest project, “Logan Lucky,” set to hit theaters Aug. 18. The movie revolves around three siblings (Channing Tatum, Adam Driver and Riley Keough) trying to reverse a family curse by executing an elaborate robbery during the NASCAR Coca-Cola 600 weekend. The movie was made in collaboration with NASCAR and features several drivers in roles throughout the film.
An Oscar-winning director for “Traffic,” Soderbergh also is known for his work as the director of “sex, lies and videotape,” “Out of Sight,” “Erin Brockovich,” “Magic Mike” and the “Ocean’s” trilogy. Ahead of the film’s release, NASCAR.com’s RJ Kraft sat down with Soderbergh for a wide-ranging interview about “Logan Lucky,” his love of the heist genre, which driver may have a future as an actor and more.
Q: What would be your quick description of “Logan Lucky?”
A: A small group of people under pressurized circumstances decide on a rather risky idea of advancing themselves. In the film, there’s a sort of family code word, which is “cauliflower.” Whenever that word is mentioned out loud, it means that something crazy is about to take place and if you decide to participate, you don’t get to complain later if you end up in jail for instance.
Channing’s character (Jimmy Logan), because of a set of external circumstances, decides it’s time to try and do something crazy to reverse the well-known bad luck that has followed this family around for generations. That’s the real log line. In an attempt to reverse this sort of publicly known family curse, Channing and his brother and sister decide to try and pull this heist off.
Q: What was it about this film that brought you out of a hiatus from feature-film making?
A: It’s a kind of a movie that I like to see. Even as a kid, I really liked caper films and this seemed to me a cousin to an “Ocean’s” film, but different enough in terms of its approach to the characters and to the universe those characters occupy to keep it fresh for me. I didn’t have a desire to make another “Ocean’s” movie, if only because while this was all going on, an actual “Ocean’s” movie (the female-ensemble “Ocean’s 8” led by Sandra Bullock and Anne Hathaway, coming out in 2018) was being prepared — which I am a producer on.
If it weren’t different enough, then I don’t think it would have appealed to me. It fit in this place where I was excited by the inversion (of “Ocean’s”) that was necessary. They have no technology, no money. They are not criminals. One of the biggest differences between “Logan Lucky” and an “Ocean’s” film is in the “Ocean’s” films they’re already criminals. They’re already con men. This is their world. They’re multi-generational recidivists. And here you have to watch a group of people kind of learn … how to put a job together. There are a lot of trust issues involved because some of these people know each other and some of them don’t.
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Q: Did you always have an interest in making a film with NASCAR involvement?
A: I was aware of the sport but it wasn’t really on my cinematic or cultural radar until this script came in. I tried to learn as much as I could very quickly about the sport. Obviously, a lot of that was facilitated by NASCAR once they came on as partners. Then I got access to everything, which is one of the better parts of having this job. When you work on a project you get to meet everybody that you need to meet to learn what you need to about that specific subject.
It’s fun learning a new thing. … I got to tour the Hendrick (Motorsports) facility and see how the cars are made. There is no other sport which has this kind of scale and this many layers of technology which are at play in the sport. It’s not even close. The layers of the onion that are involved here technologically are infinite. I love that kind of stuff because now it becomes about proficiency, optimization of process, innovation. Given the specs for the cars to be the same are so narrow, what is your advantage? How do you find that incremental thing that’s legal to put you a couple of seconds, if not less, ahead of somebody? I love that stuff. I love talking to people about it, so for me it’s been fun.
After I met some drivers, I realized your way into the sport is what driver you root for. In this case, there were six drivers (Ryan Blaney, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Larson and Joey Logano) in the movie. So now I watch the races because I want to see how our friends are doing.
Q: Of the six drivers in the film, who was the best actor?
A: They were all surprisingly relaxed. More relaxed than I would be. That’s a tough call. They were all really good. I’d say Blaney’s got something going on. Very subtle. He was very natural, very low-key. I think he’s got potential. … None of them had any problem with the task at hand but I remember thinking Ryan had a very kind of sly delivery that could serve him well.
Q: How did filming in the middle of a race weekend last year at the Coca-Cola 600 go?
A: We had to really plan. We had five units – the period of time in which our characters are at the race is from 1 or 2 o’clock until about 7 o’clock. Within in that period, we had broken down all the shots that I needed to get, which units needed to be on the move at one point to get those shots. The only tricky thing about it, was for me having not been to a race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, to plan for something you’d never witnessed before was a little strange. As it turned out, we got lucky with the weather, got lucky with the race. We got all the material we needed. I think it all cuts seamlessly into the film, At 7 o’clock, we pulled the plug and we all felt we got it.
It just required a lot of prep between us and NASCAR. Describing to them where we were going to be and when and making sure everybody was safe. Before all the cameras scattered to go take their first positions, I said to everybody, ‘be bold and be safe.’
Q: Atlanta Motor Speedway was also used for this film as well?
A: We used Atlanta as a double for some racing stuff and a few behind-the-scenes shots. We did a serious amount of painting of the wall at AMS and then the rest of it we had to fill in with VFX to make that match.
The problem when we were in Atlanta was we had a weather issue. It was kind of overcast the day that we shot the Coca-Cola 600 last year. When we were in Atlanta getting ready to shoot this car-to-car stuff, it was blazing sunlight. I had to sit there for like three-and-a-half hours not able to shoot anything until it became like 6 o’clock and then I had to get all the footage we needed in an hour-and-a-half and it was a real scramble.
We had this specially designed camera car and we were doing about 110 (mph) and we’re inches away from all the cars and moving in and out. We have a spin out in which cars are supposed to barely miss this car that’s spinning out. This isn’t stuff you want to be doing in a hurry. You want to make sure everybody understands what’s going on. We literally got the last shot that I needed of this car going into a spin and the sky opened up and it was a downpour. We made it by like 30 seconds.