“Side Effects” is a crime thriller that raises questions about ethics in psychiatry and the unforeseen complications that can happen from prescription medications. In the film, Martin Taylor and Emily Taylor (played by Channing Tatum and Rooney Mara) are a married couple in New York City. The Taylors are having marital difficulties as they adjust to their new lives after Martin is released from prison for insider trading. Emily can't quite shake a depression she has been suffering from for years. After an apparent suicide attempt, she is prescribed a new medication called Ablixa by Dr. Jonathan Banks, her newly appointed psychiatrist (played by Jude Law). A series of events happen after Emily begins taking the medication, and the movie takes some unexpected plot twists and turns.
Among the co-stars of "Side Effects" are Oscar winner Catherine Zeta-Jones as Dr. Victoria Siebert (Emily's previous psychiatrist) and Vinessa Shaw as Jonathan's wife, Deidre Banks. "Side Effects" is directed by Oscar winner Steven Soderbergh, who has previously worked with Tatum ("Haywire" and "Magic Mike"), Zeta-Jones ("Traffic" and "Ocean's Twelve") and Jude Law ("Contagion"). Soderbergh says that he is "retiring" from directing movies, but most people doubt that he will stay retired. Soderbergh, Mara, Law, Zeta-Jones, Tatum, Shaw, producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura, producer/screenwriter Scott Z. Burns and co-producer Dr. Sasha Bardey gathered for a "Side Effects" press conference in the Los Angeles area. This is what they said at the press conference:
Was there any pressure or influence from pharmaceutical companies about the subject matter of “Side Effects”?
Bardey: I know that everything we depict is spot-on. I think it’s very realistic. The issues that are raised are issues that should be raised, but we don’t take a side. The movie is very careful about raising issues for discussion without in any way presenting an opinion or leaning in any direction. When medications are mentioned and side effects are mentioned, those are legitimate side effects to those medications. When they’re described as being used, they’re described properly used. So I think we were very careful to keep this very realistic and very true to the science.
Channing, “Side Effects” seems to be yet another film in what’s been a charmed run for you in the past year or two. Can you tell us how you think that charmed run came to be and also something you’ve done wrong in the last year so we know you’re human?
Tatum: We’d be here all day, with the wrong stuff. Look, I’ve been lucky. I’ve said it before that we worked so hard on every single one and you don’t know which ones are going to work and which ones aren’t. You don’t try any less hard on the ones that don’t. I’ve gotten lucky to work with some really amazingly talented people and that have helped the ones that worked work. You’ve got to keep doing the stories you love and the characters you love and are drawn to.
Jude and Catherine, you both play psychiatrists in “Side Effects.” What did you discover in that field?
Zeta-Jones: This is probably the hardest movie to discuss to all you people because any given moment we could realize the wonderful plot and the twists and turns that occur throughout the movie. For me, playing a doctor, let’s just put it that I try to be as professional on the outset as one would think all good doctors are, but my character lies much deeper and the relationship that lie between Jude and myself and Rooney and myself run much deeper than your first impression of me as a doctor would be. I’m thrilled that Steven cast me as a doctor because I never went to college, and I always wanted an M.D. after my name. So I’m really quite flattered that you fulfilled my mother’s dream.
Law: I think I finished this job with a great respect for the profession. I was very interested by the belief in medicine. Obviously, a lot of the discussion around this film is around perhaps the abuse of medicine and perhaps using medicine of relying on medicine for the wrong reasons. Of course, medicine is also used for an awful lot of good reasons too. I left this job feeling very respectful of psychiatry as a profession.
Rooney, how did you feel about psychiatry as a profession after doing this movie?
Mara: I think I’ve always had a respect for psychiatry as a profession. Certainly, this movie furthered that because of all the doctors that I spoke to and Dr. Sasha to prepare for the film. I don’t know if the characters in the film left me with more faith in psychiatry, but I’m glad Jude feels that way.
Scott, "Side Effects" is more than a pharmacology film. You've got medical ethics and legal ethics intertwined in the film. How did you come up with the structure of this story involving all these different aspects of life?
Burns: A long time ago, I met Dr. Bardey. I met him on another project, and I met him at Bellevue in New York. And I had the privilege of following him around and seeing the intersection of the law and mental illness and psychopharmacology. And it was an amazing confluence of things to be at the nexus of. And I just started imagining stories because of the things that you talk about.
There are people who want to get better. There are companies that want to sell products. There are advertising agencies that need them to help them sell those products. There are doctors who want to help their patients. You certainly run a more profitable practice if you see four patients an hour and just give them prescriptions than you might if you sat with them and do psychotherapy.
And some people don't want to do psychotherapy. They see an ad on TV, and they want to feel better. And they don't want to get involved in a therapeutic program that might take years. And so it was all of those things that create a world in which a story could exist. And what Steven and I really wanted to do was make a thrill ride. And I think the best thrill rides are thrill rides through landscape that you thought you knew.
For the actors, how much did you know about the story before you read the script?
Law: Reading a script for us, it only struck me when I saw the finished film that I was missing out on the opportunity of the impact of the twist and the turns, but that for me was when I read it. It’s a great read.
Zeta-Jones: It’s a real page turner.
Tatum: Reading it, I kind of thought I knew where it was going and then it took a hard right turn, and I had no idea where it was going to go after that. Like Rooney said yesterday, I thought it was going to be the "Contagion" of pharmaceutical movies which would have been amazing. Steven, you should have done that one. But it kind of gives you that and another meal as well. Pleasantly surprising.
Mara: Yeah, I didn’t know anything about it when I read it. I really didn’t know anything about it when I read it, and I couldn’t have seen it coming. It was definitely a page-turner.
Shaw: I definitely didn't know what was to come at all. And what I really appreciate about what Scott wrote about with each character, I thought each character was fleshed-out, so that you didn't know who was truly good and who was truly evil, who had a leg up in everything, and who was really under-handed in whatever they were committed to doing.
I think everyone has an agenda in this movie, and everyone is fiercely protecting themselves, trying to save face in any way possible, even if it's for what some may deem as plausible and honorable. And for others, you may think that is the most eveil of acts. In the end, everyone has their reasons. And that's why I think, for me, it's such a page-turner because who do I trust and even who do I believe in, in each and every moment of the script?
Jude, can you talk about the situation of this character in terms of both his professional versus his personal life. He's a man who wants to help everyone else in the world but seems to be struggling in his personal life. Can you talk about playing the character that way?
Law: I suppose it was important for me to make it very clear that this guy was good at what he did and something I learned quite quickly with the help of Scott and Scott’s script and with some of the work I discussed with Sasha was the sense of boundaries and when and how a situation may arise for a psychiatrist where it will impact his private life. Also, we’re telling a story, so as some point as an actor, you have to work out where the drama is best played out, because as the story dictates, his lifestyles do implode.
It was important for me to have a sense of this guy crumbling, if you like. And at the same time there was a beautiful subtly to the story itself where you’re not sure whether he’s got the upper hand or indeed I’ve been asked quite a lot whether there’s a time where you think that he’s going mad. All of that, if I’m really honest ... really is in the writing. Sometimes you’re very lucky as an actor, you just join the dots.
Do you think the story in "Side Effects" could happen with Great Britain's National Health Service or do you think it's a uniquely American story?
Zeta-Jones: For many years, it's getting different now, but from the experiences I've seen and been part of, there was this British stiff upper lip where psychotherapy and depression and your emotions were squashed. It became this British stiff upper lip. "Don't put your dirty laundry out. Who cares about how you feel? Get your saddle back up. You'll be fine tomorrow." But now, it's starting to become more out in the open. People are starting to talk much more on television about issues, but I think in America, people feel much easier speaking about it, which I think is all good. I think speaking about these issues is a good thing.
Law: I think also if you look at the theme of the general reliance on prescription pills, I think that is quite universal, actually. Whether it's something that's discussed or not discussed, there's a definite common theme to the story, which in the modern age most people would recognize.
Zeta-Jones: And I think culturally, the role of victim is a quick fix. You want a movie, you press a button, it's on. I think culturally, we want everything instantaeously. And I think with prescription medicine, it's the same thing.
If there's one thing you can take that can make all of this go away, I'll try it. If that doesn't work, you see a commercial on TV, "Oh, I'll try that. That seems like a good one." And so it's just become like a cumulative, I think, but it comes from a culture of quick fixes.
Shaw: But I think Americans are the ones who lead the way, in that respect. I think we always, as Americans, want better, faster, more. And I think we are falling more victim to that or are more susceptible to that in the modern day more than any other country in the world, because of our absolute need to have what's better, faster and more.
And I think that makes us feel insecure as Americans, it makes us feel like we have to reach for something outside of ourselves to be happier. Because what is happiness in the media and surroundng us? It's what monetarily makes us happy and not really are about who we are as human beings. I think that this brings it all to light too, in a roundabout way.
Rooney, did you feel like you were the new kid on the block working with Steven for the first time next to all these actors? For the rest of the cast, what keeps bringing you back to do Steven Soderbergh movies?
Mara: Yeah, I did feel like that. My first day, I was definitely kind of nervous, but they were all pretty nice so they made it pretty easy.
Tatum: I just keep coming back because Steven’s so pretty and beautiful, and he gives great massages on set. That’s really it. I don’t really love anything else about him. I wish he would just keep making movies so I can keep getting those massages.
Zeta-Jones: He rubbed my feet when I was pregnant in "Traffic," and that’s the only reason why I keep coming back. He looked after a pregnant woman so well, I just knew I’d be in good hands.
Law: I didn't get any massages.
Zeta-Jones: You weren't pregnant.
Tatum: I was pregnant.
Law: I don't think Channing was either.
Tatum: I'm that good, Jude. I'm always pregnant.
Steven, what is it you do besides the massages then?
Soderbergh: I’m a big screamer because you get things done when you yell at people. Scott [Burns] had a great phrase. He thought the movie was about the fact that we’ve declared war on sadness. And I thought that was a great way at looking at the movie and that’s the way I was thinking about it, because I think we sort of do that here. Somehow the idea that we have peaks and valleys has become an issue and there's got to be an equilibrium that’s common to everyone, which seems strange.
Why did you want to be in “Side Effects”? Why did you want to tell this particular story? And how did it change your mind about one or maybe two things?
Shaw: I think, for me, it was a no-brainer with this cast and Steven and Scott's script. I was very fortunate. I think I was the last person to be cast. I'm not sure, because I kind of flew in and had to work right away. But I think what really changed me was to remember, because I did work with Steven when I was very young, how much he trusts actors. And for me to be able to go a step deeper than that, in terms of my acting and realize, "Yeah, he trusts me. I need to trust myself. I don't need to have my hand held and told what to do every five seconds." So that really changed me, I think.
But with regards to the story, Scott's writing, like I mentioned before, every character is so multi-dimensional. And you can easily rationalize, you can easily relate to every person's desperation. And I think that really brought to mind how no one's really good or no one's really evil. We all have both parts to us. And each of us, in a desperate moment, can act in accordance to any way to be able to save your marriage, save your family, save your face. So I think that was illuminating to me in doing this project.
Zeta-Jones: I would second what Vinessa said. Career wise, and I love my job, but it takes me a lot to leave my kids and leave my husband and leave my dogs. So this had all the elements that got me straight on a plane the moment that Steven asked me to do it. With Scott's script, all the elements just fell into place. A fantastic script, it’s a roller coaster ride. And to work with Steven a third time was an absolute treat. And then to work with the caliber of actors that he cast so beautifully was a slam-dunk for me, really.
Law: It’s unfortunately a rarity to be involved in something intelligent nowadays. And this was smart and it felt very timely. I just found out it took 10 years to get [made]. But it’s incredibly kind of relevant and now. I like what you said about the trust, it’s very on board something and you feel like you’re there because you’re the right person for the job and trust gives you confidence. I like working in New York. New York’s a great town and I got to go home at about 3 o’clock most days. It was fantastic.
Mara: I really wanted to work with Steven for a while. I can’t remember why I wanted to now that I have. And then I read the script, and I just loved it. I thought it was really smart and interesting. And like Jude said, that really doesn’t happen that often. The cast that he had attached to it, like they all said, it was kind of a no-brainer.
I think every job that you do changes or effects you in some way. I certainly went into it thinking I knew a lot about depression. And when I started researching it, I realized I really didn’t know a lot about depression. Certainly, that part of it changed me. I feel like I have a lot more compassion now for depression. I really didn’t understand it before. And the time that we spent at Ward’s Island, all of that. There’s a lot of things that we were able to do that were really eye-opening.
Tatum: [He says jokingly] Do you have more compassion for husbands that are just trying to make their wives happy? Apparently not, because I don’t remember you learning that lesson. [He says seriously] Obviously, Steven and I have worked together a couple of times together before this and he can call me for anything and I’d play waiter number one or two even. I’m not going to play three but number two. Then I read it and it was really refreshingly intelligent and I wanted to see it in his hands and be a part of it.
Everybody sitting up here I have a huge amount of admiration for. I wanted to be a part of it and I’ve definitely had a connection with people that really needed help, whether it be from a pill or just having a conversation with them. Trying to help them with depression.
The abuse of pills and prescription pills is a real thing. And I understand that there are people who really need them and I understand that there are people who abuse them and its an unfortunate gray line that unfortunately has to exist, but I thought the movie really handles it well. [He says jokingly] I learned from the movie: Don’t trust redheads. They’ll get you every single time.
Channing, you’ve had a very busy year and now you and your wife have a baby on the way. Are there any signs of slowing down? How excited are you for your next role as a dad?
Tatum: That’ll be the biggest role of my life, I hope I don’t screw that one up. Yeah, I’m really, really excited and I hope to slow down a little bit once the little person comes into the world.
For the actors, would you like to share possible side effects you may have had from drugs?
Mara: I never take drugs ever. I’ve never taken drugs.
Tatum: Good answer.
Mara: I don’t take drugs anymore. I can't even remember what it’s like.
Tatum: I’m on drugs right now and the side effects are amazing. All of you look like little lollipops.
Bardey: I medicated everybody before this conference.
Burns: Probably within the last eight or nine years, we were working on a different movie, but I was in New York, and I had to go to a meeting at Steven's house. I think we were probably working on "The Informant!" at the time. If I would go to his house, I would get really, really sick because I'm allergic to cats. And then I realized that I just get really nervous, or I did at that point.
And so I would sometimes take a beta blocker, which is one of the stars of the film. And they're little and they're blue and the kind of look like those great big Ambiens. And I got up in the morning and shoveld some blue round thing into my mouth. And I went to go meet a friend of mine for breakfast. And fortunately, her husband was a doctor.
And we were in Brooklyn, and I was just in a complete fog. And she said, "I don't think you're going to remember very much of today." I don't remember betting into the car. I don't remember meeting with Steven, although I did ask later, "Did I seem OK?"
Burns: And then I don't remember getting to JFK [Airport]. I don't remember any of that entire day, but I did sleep well on the flight home. Ambien does not seem to help cat allergies.
Steven, you seem to have such a specialty with all the people here. Do you have any slogans you go by when things get rough? And why are you so intent on no rehearsals? And why did you allow Jude to have a British accent in "Side Effects"?
Law: I don’t have an accent.
Soderbergh: What’s my slogan? My slogan is “If you’re on time, you’re late.” There’s that. I'll digress for a second. What was fun for me about this was there were several different sort of layers on top of it that needed to be coordinated, because it starts as Movie A and then it sort of becomes Movie B, and then it becomes Movie C. And I had to make sure stylistically that when these shifts happened, the story was taking a turn but the directorial choices were consistent.
Also, it does another unusual thing in that it starts off being from Rooney’s point of view, and then about halfway through you shift to Jude’s point of view. And making sure that was happening in a way that wasn’t too obvious was something we talked about a lot. For me, there were lots of things to think about both on a micro level and a macro level, so it was fun. We rehearse, sort of. I just like to save it for when we’re rolling.
Tatum: You block when you rehearse, to figure out where the camera goes.
Soderbergh: Yeah, but it happens pretty quickly.
Lorenzo, are you always on the set?
di Bonaventura: With Steven, there's no reason to be on the set. It's a different job on every movie. When we set out to make this script, the idea was to come up with this entertainment vehicle that was going to be a wild ride but also make you think. And when Steven signed on, he had such a clear sense of what it was, that there really wasn't a lot to do, I have to say.
And I think the other thing with Steven (I worked with him at Warner Bros. too), I've known him for a long time. There are thing you can do, but they're not set-oriented. He's running the set.
Burns: And, in fairness, I first pitched this movie to Lorenzo ... about nine, 10 years ago. And what he did do was sort of stick with it and with me through a whole bunch of bullsh*t. So there's a few thousand days where he wasn't on set but was very much there.
Dr. Bardey, when people try to commit suicide, what goes into the decision to commit them to a psychiatric institution or let them go home?
Bardey: It's a very tough line that you need to ride to make that assessment. On the one hand, you're about to deprive someone of their freedom. On the other hand, you might be letting someone back into the community who may be a danger to themselves or others. And the skill and the art of the psychiatrist is to figure out where that line is, to assess the various factors, to apply that to their knowledge and experience, and then to make a decision that will be best for the individual and the community at large.
Rooney, we always see you in such heavy fare. Why do you gravitate towards these types of roles? Is there a romantic comedy in your future?
Mara: Me? Gosh, everyone keeps asking me that. I don’t see a rom-com in my future, but maybe. Never say never.
Soderbergh: She’s not funny.
Mara: I’m just not funny. I think you’d be really mad and disappointed.
Tatum: She'll be in "21 Jump Street 2."
Soderbergh: You do dram-coms.
Catherine, what do you think about your husband Michael Douglas kissing Matt Damon for the Liberace movie they did together, which was also directed by Steven Soderbergh?
Zeta-Jones: I’ve seen Liberace, "Behind the Candelabra,” and if anyone’s going to kiss another one else in the world, I’m so happy it’s Matt Damon and not Rooney Mara ... When Matt Damon was kissing Michael, which was very flattering for me, he closed his eyes and pretend he was kissing me. He said that to Michael.
Matt was closing his eyes and kissing Michael and pretending he was kissing me, and I thought that was one of the biggest compliments I’ve ever had. That's so screwed up. [She laughs.] This is why Steven employs us because we can be screwed up as much as we want but just happy to be there on that day.
Scott, you've done a thriller about the dangers of a lethal virus spreading ("Contagion), and now you've done a thriller about prescription drugs ("Side Effects"). What are you working on next that will scare people?
Burns: There are a couple of things that I'm working on. There's a play that I wrote about Columbine that is in development at the Public Theatre in New York. And Steven [Soderbergh] is going to direct that. That's kind of scary. And a couple of other movies.
Scott, what does your "Z" middle initial in your name stand for?
Burns: Zeta. No, there's another Scott Burns in the Writers' Guild, so I had to do something different. My middle name is Zachary.
Since we don’t really want to give anything away, how do we talk about “Side Effects”? What really can we say other than the pill can change your life?
Soderbergh: There’s an issue, fortunately, that’s pretty fascinating and complex. You can talk about that. You can talk about the genre. We talked about "Fatal Attraction." We talked about “Jagged Edge,” “Basic Instinct.”
There was a kind of thriller that used to be made that was really fun to watch and they kind of stopped being made. I don’t know why. I was watching "Double Indemnity" last night. And I thought, "It’s like that. It’s one of those movies that just keep turning and they’re really fun."
Burns: Yeah, I loved "Body Heat" and "The Usual Suspects." As a writer, I wanted to try something that put people on that ride, because I think sometimes people like going to movies for that. They want the rollercoaster. They want to not know what's coming. I think that was what our goal was in doing that. I feel like we stopped making those but society kept going.
If we continued, I don't think this movie would have seemed quite as unusual to all of you, because this would have been a real natural progression if we kept making those movies. "Double Indemnity" set in the world of insurance. So this movie ["Side Effects"] was sort of inevitable in that way.
Steven, if “Side Effects” and “Behind the Candelabra” are your last films, how do you feel the Steven Soderbergh box set from “Sex, Lies and Videotape" to now would reflect your work?
Soderbergh: I felt very fortunate that “Candelabra” ended up falling where it did because not only because I’ve worked with Michael and Matt before, but it seemed to exist in a continuum for the first film. At the end of the day, it was a relationship movie. And the core of it was two people in a room. The difference in this case was they were in a hot tub. So I look at that at quite a progression.
Channing, how's your restaurant in New Orleans?
Tatum: I just opened a bar/restaurant on Bourbon Street. Go and get drunk, everyone ... Thanks for asking. Saints and Sinners is alive and well so far. Steven and I want to open a hotel in New Orleans. He's got time on his hands. He's not doing anything anymore. Apparently, he needs to jump on it.
Soderbergh: Let's go!
Can you briefly mention what you’re working on next?
Soderbergh: I'll go first. Nothing.
Tatum: I just finished a movie called “Foxcatcher” with Bennett Miller. I'm going to do “Jupiter Ascending” with the Wachowskis, And that’s it so far.
di Bonaventura: I just finished a sequel to "Red" with Catherine.
Zeta-Jones: That was going to be my answer too.
di Bonaventura: And I'm starting up "Transformers 4."
Shaw: I just finished a movie called "Electric Slide" with Jim Sturgess. And I'm unemployed too.
Law: I’m doing a play at the end of the year . I’m doing “Henry V” in London, but I’m here and available for work. Another sequel, yeah. This time he’s really angry.
Bardey: I'm working on a TV show for A&E called "The Killer Speaks," where we profile a different murderer and try to get to the bottom as to why he did what he did. So look for it in March . Real killers. People I've evaluated and [we] come to the bottom of what happened.
Catherine, do you feel like you’re making a comeback? Secondly, the Academy announced they’re going to do a tribute to musicals from over the past 10 years, including “Chicago.” Are you going to appear at the Academy Awards this year in some capacity related to that?
Zeta-Jones: They released that? Well yeah. I’ll speak to you after because I’m absolutely terrified about that. We can chat about that That would be great. I don’t know exactly in what capacity I will be ... I’ll be there, put it that way. I don’t quite know exactly what I’m doing. That’ll be fun.
Regarding the other question, like I said earlier, I find it really hard to leave my children. I think I’ll never get these beautiful, formative, delicious years back. And it takes me great thought, and like I said, what is it I want to leave my kids and my husband for? And this obviously was a must for me to work with Steven for the third time. I’d pretty much do the phone book with him if he asked me. Just read it. In three different languages. In French, Welsh and English.
And then to work with Lorenzo, he’s an old dear friend, not that old, but a dear friend. I saw “Red,” and thought it was a blast with an ensemble cast of [John] Malkovich and Helen Mirren and Sir Anthony Hopkins and Bruce [Willis] and Mary-Louise [Parker]. That made sense to me, that sounded like fun. On a completely different level to what what this movie is. It’s completely different. I look for those movies that surround myself with great people, and I know I’d love turning up to work every day.
Steven, do you have any last words, since "Side Effects" might be your last film released in theaters?
Soderbergh: I want to say. "Thank you to Scott for letting me do it."
Burns: You're welcome.
For more info: "Side Effects" website