Soderbergh ends movie career to focus on painting

  • @robbiesharp

The American film director Steven Soderbergh's career has had more twists and drama than the kind of Rat Pack remake that made his name.

First he was going to retire, then he denied all knowledge. Now the Ocean's Eleven director is set to give up filmmaking for good, turning to his second love: painting.

The news follows years of speculation over Soderbergh's future in movies, and repeated reports that his departure from the cinema industry is imminent, which until now, have always failed to materialise.

"I'm interested in exploring another art form while I have the time and ability to do so," Soderbergh told The New York Times. "I'll be the first person to say, if I can't be any good at it and run out of money, I'll be back making another Ocean's movie."

A source close to Soderbergh told The Independent that the director "wanted to take time off".

Soderbergh, 48, was speaking from his Manhattan painting studio, where recent works include an abstract work in red and grey and a portrait of his fellow artist, Agnes Martin. The news could not come at a worse time for Warner Bros, the studio backing Contagion, Soderbergh's latest film, which is released in the US next month and in Britain in October.

The director first hinted at retirement in the US glossy Esquire in 2009. "I'm 45 now," he said. "When I turn 51, that'll be 25 years. And that's a lot of time to do one thing."

Soderbergh's friend Matt Damon appeared to confirm the news in January, when he told The Los Angeles Times that the filmmaker was "exhausted with everything that interested him". Even though the director himself recently tried to pour scorn on Damon's proclamations, it seems as though these latest reports hold water, with a Warner Bros spokeswoman and the director's Los Angeles-based publicist refusing to publicly deny the story.

Soderbergh still has films in the pipeline, including Magic Mike, the story of a male stripper, a Liberace biopic starring Damon alongside Michael Douglas, and a film adaptation of the 1960s television show The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

The latter film suffered an additional setback this week when it emerged that the project's leading man, George Clooney, has withdrawn his involvement. The film was due to start shooting next year.

Closing credits on a career?

January 2009 US Esquire: "I'm 45 now. When I turn 51, that'll be 25 years. And that's a lot of time to do one thing."

January 2011 Matt Damon speaking to The Los Angeles Times: "He wants to paint and he says he's still young enough to have another career."

March 2011 On radio station Studio 360: "You're not going to have Steven Soderbergh to kick around anymore."

July 2011 Part of interview panel at US Comic-con convention: "Matt Damon is apparently as discreet as a 14-year-old girl. I had this drunk conversation... That kind of got blown out of proportion."