A Grand Guy

How Steven Soderbergh kept the Terry Southern tale from turning tragic

Soderbergh's interest in the archives extends well beyond the potential that lies in the stack of screenplays--which is enormous, as Nile estimates that of the 44 bankers boxes moved to the New York Public Library, "80 percent of that is unmade scripts." He is lobbying Warner Bros. to release on DVD the 1970 film End of the Road, a supremely bizarre film Terry co-wrote in which James Earl Jones plays a gonzo psychiatrist with at least one patient who screws chickens. He talks about publishing a scrapbook of Southern's work, which he would annotate, and says he's gotten a very notable writer-director, whom he wishes to remain nameless, interested in filming Blue Movie.

When asked if, somewhere down the road, he envisions himself making a film based on one of Terry's works, Soderbergh answers quickly and enthusiastically: "Oh, yeah, absolutely. Yeah. Yeah."

Yet Soderbergh scoffs at the suggestion that what he's done, by rescuing Terry's archives (and, by extension, Nile himself), is "noble." Actually, he treats the word as some kind of insult. To him, this ain't about being righteous, but doing the right thing for Terry and Nile--"putting back in," he likes to say, since he can afford to do so. Besides, somewhere down the road people will forget he had anything to do with this, which is the way he wants it.

Terry Southern and four other guys: Among those Nile Southern reached out to, and never heard from, was Ringo Starr.
Terry Southern and four other guys: Among those Nile Southern reached out to, and never heard from, was Ringo Starr.
Steven Soderbergh on making a Terry Southern film: "Oh, yeah. Absolutely."
Steven Soderbergh on making a Terry Southern film: "Oh, yeah. Absolutely."

"I so much wanted to be a part of the Terry world," Soderbergh says. "Part of me just wanted to glom onto the shine and just be connected to it somehow. If somebody was in a magazine saying, 'Yeah, I've got the rights to some of this early Beatles stuff, but, like, I can't seem to find anyone to help me with it,' it felt to me like the same thing."

Yet, even with the burden now lifted, Nile continues to work on projects devoted to his dad's work, including several books. But he can now do this without taking odd jobs to support his family, without wondering who will show up demanding money from a dead man's pockets. Soderbergh, like Terry, proved to be a generous man, and Nile is a deeply grateful one.

"When I first met my wife, she knew me as a creative downtown filmmaker and writer," Nile says. "But even on our wedding day in 1992, I was at Kinko's doing a proposal for the next seven Terry books. I mean, my wife and I are in Boulder walking up this mountain with a box from Kinko's--and I am in my wedding suit." He laughs. "My dedication is a bit too much, so I need to do a radical shift. I can get creatively jazzed from Terry's stuff, but it's great to have Steven now. It's up to him to take the ball, and I can now kick back. I look forward to that."

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