Soderbergh’s Logan Lucky is the epitome of what he envisioned as the new model of digitally empowered indie filmmaking.
After directing nearly three decades of era-defining films, Oscar winner Steven Soderbergh surprised Hollywood four years ago when he announced his retirement from moviemaking. Switching gears, Soderbergh shifted his focus to television and earned two Emmy wins for HBO’s Behind the Candelabra and two Emmy nominations for directing the acclaimed series The Knick. The turbocharged heist comedy Logan Lucky by first-time screenwriter Rebecca Blunt marks the filmmaker’s return to the big screen, a decision he ascribes to “a convergence of a couple of things, one technological, and one creative.”
“On the technological front,” he says, “we’re reaching a point in the digital landscape where a small company can put a movie into wide release without involvement from major studios. I was having conversations about the future of feature film distribution when this script came over the transom.”
The screenplay, given to him by his wife, Jules Asner, was written by their friend Rebecca Blunt. “I was initially asked to help find a director for the script but I was very excited by what I read,” says Soderbergh.
“After a couple of weeks, I admitted that I really didn’t want anybody else to direct Logan Lucky because I saw the movie very clearly from what was on the page. It’s kind of a cousin to an Ocean’s film, but it’s also an inversion of those movies because these characters have no money and no technology. They live in very pressured economic circumstances, so a couple of garbage bags full of cash can turn their lives around.”
“I also like the fact that when the movie starts out, these characters are not criminals,” he adds. “Unlike the Ocean’s crew, Jimmy Logan and his team have to learn on the job, so I also liked that aspect of the script. The story felt close enough to the kind of film that makes me comfortable but different enough to make me excited.”
Financed completely independently of the major studios, and distributed in the United States by Soderbergh’s new company Fingerprint Releasing, in association with Bleecker Street (Captain Fantastic, Trumbo), Soderbergh’s Logan Lucky is the epitome of what he envisioned as the new model of digitally empowered indie filmmaking. “It’s a bit of an experiment,” he says.
“To test this distribution theory I needed a commercial movie with movie stars to justify a wide release in a situation that allows me absolute creative control over everything.”
In this turbocharged heist comedy from Academy Award®-winning director Steven Soderbergh, West Virginia family man Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) leads his one-armed brother Clyde (Adam Driver) and hairdresser sister Mellie (Riley Keough) in an elaborate scheme to rob North Carolina’s Charlotte Motor Speedway.
To help them break into the track’s underground cash-handling system, Jimmy recruits volatile demolition expert Joe Bang (Daniel Craig). Further complicating the already risky plan, a scheduling mix-up forces the thieves to execute the job during the Coca-Cola 600, the track’s most popular NASCAR event of the year.
As they attempt to pull off the ambitious robbery, the down-on-their-luck Logans face a final hurdle when a relentless FBI agent (Hilary Swank) begins investigating the case.
An Auspicious Screenwriting Debut
The Logan Lucky script represents a remarkable effort by first-time screenwriter Rebecca Blunt. Like the characters in her script, Blunt grew up in West Virginia. She briefly attended UCLA before moving to New York to hone her writing skills.
Blunt says Logan Lucky’s working-class anti-hero was inspired by the remarkable background of her friend Channing Tatum.
“I wrote Jimmy Logan with Channing in mind because I see Jimmy as an alternative version of Chan’s own story,” she says. “Chan’s from a small southern town, I believe he won a football scholarship to play in Florida but ended up blowing out his knee before the season started, so he became a stripper. I thought of Logan Lucky as, ‘What if Chan hadn’t become a male stripper and had gone back home?’ I ran into Chan and his partner Reid at a bowling alley and mentioned the the idea to them — at the time I called it Hillbilly Heist — and Chan said, ‘That sounds great!’ I don’t know if he even remembers saying that and I never imagined all of this would really happen.”
Blunt fleshed out the film’s central plot based on a combination of news reports and her own imagination. “I heard about sinkholes at the Charlotte Motor Speedway, which is built on landfill. They brought in out-of-work coal miners to make repairs. With my West Virginia roots, I have a lot of sympathy for coal miners. I also had a fascination with pneumatic tubes from when I was a little kid and my mom would go to the drive-thru at the bank. She’d always let me put the money in the tube and it would magically take the money away to the teller.” Blunt gave the finished script to Soderbergh, “I wanted to see if Steven had any suggestions about directors I should go to with the script, since he’s made so many great heist movies,” Blunt says. “I was thinking he’d sworn off feature films so I was very surprised when he came back and said he wanted to direct it himself.”
A Heist Movie with Heart
A different kind of heist film featuring the kind of blue-collar workers not often seen on the big screen, Logan Lucky succeeds as a wry, witty popcorn action comedy burnished by Soderbergh’s uniquely skewed directorial flourishes.
“I’m hoping audiences enjoy Logan Lucky as something that’s pure entertainment and fun, but at the same time is not disposable,” Soderbergh says.
“I think there’s enough percolating under the surface of this film to have it resonate beyond the two hours you spend watching it. A lot of times, you’ll see a Hollywood picture that’s like sheer gossamer; it disappears from your brain as soon as it’s over. I feel like Logan Lucky is rooted enough in the real world that it won’t just disappear.”
Soderbergh says he also looks forward to test-driving a wide-release business model uncompromised by interference from the major studios. “With Logan Lucky,” he says, “I feel like the planets have kind of lined up for me to put out a movie in the way I’ve always fantasized I could.”
Meet the Logans
Soderbergh, who had worked with Channing Tatum on Magic Mike and its sequel, saw the actor as a natural for the role. “Chan’s got this everyman quality that’s very genuine,” he says. “He seems like a guy who not only would be fun to hang out with but who would totally have your back if something went sideways.”
Tatum says he jumped at the chance to reunite with the man who directed him in his breakthrough 2012 hit the minute he heard Soderbergh’s pitch. “We were doing Magic Mike XXL with Gregory Jacobs directing when Soderbergh told me he had a script about hillbillies 6 robbing NASCAR,” Tatum recalls. “I laughed because the idea of non-professional thieves robbing anything, much less a giant organization like NASCAR, sounded like fun. I love an underdog story. And this band of characters is amazing. They’re just enough outside of reality to make it fun.”
Beyond being intrigued by the storyline, Tatum says he simply wanted to collaborate with Soderbergh again. “I love the guy,” he says. “That’s the bottom line. But it’s a huge plus that he’s also a master filmmaker. His films are always so different from everything else out there.”
At screenwriter Blunt’s recommendation, Tatum prepared for the role by immersing himself in Appalachian subculture, including watching the jaw-dropping 2009 documentary The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia. “I also drank a lot of beers and ate a lot of pizza, just because I could,” jokes Tatum, who bulked up considerably for the part. “It’s a ‘character choice.’”
With Tatum on board, Soderbergh turned his attention to the role of Jimmy Logan’s younger brother Clyde. Numerous A-list actors expressed interest in the role but Soderbergh says he always pictured Adam Driver as the lugubrious West Virginia bartender with a prosthetic limb. “Like most people, I first saw Adam on ‘Girls,’” Soderbergh says. “I immediately watched everything else he did and realized, ‘This kid’s really good.’”
Driver describes Clyde as “the thinker in the family. He’s slow to act until he’s analyzed all the angles. He’s always idolized his brother Jimmy, but I think he sees himself as the caretaker of the family.”
When the director sat down with Driver to discuss the part, he recalls the actor was particularly focused on perfecting Clyde’s speaking style. “We didn’t really talk about the role other than that he wanted to dive in and chase that West Virginia accent,” Soderbergh says.
Driver says he kept two people in mind as he developed his portrayal. “Clyde was a cross between [the actor] Sam Elliott and my Uncle Kenny. Mostly my Uncle Kenny. But if he had a kid with Sam Elliott, it’d be Clyde.”
After working with dialect coach Diego Daniel Pardo, the three-time Emmy nominee showed up on set and performed his first scene in character. “We had people in the crew who grew up in West Virginia and when they heard Adam talk they were stunned,” Soderbergh recalls. Even screenwriter Blunt was taken aback by Driver’s mastery of the regional accent. “Adam sounded exactly like my grandfather,” she says.
In addition to nailing his character’s patois, Driver had to acquire another impressive skill for his first major scene in the film. “I learned how to make a martini with one arm,” he says.
Jimmy and Clyde’s sister Mellie is played with steely charisma by Riley Keough. She wowed Soderbergh when they worked together on the 2016 Starz cable series “The Girlfriend Experience,” which earned her a Golden Globe nomination. “Mellie’s a very striking looking young lady with a beauty salon who’s also a gearhead,” Soderbergh explains. “She doesn’t have a lot of friends and keeps her own counsel, so the actress who played her needed to have a lot going on behind the eyes. That’s something Riley’s really good at. Riley as Mellie was the perfect accelerant to add into this mix of boys.”
Keough responded to the gritty characters and unique setting described in the Logan Lucky script. “I like the idea of regular people winning in life,” she says. “And being Southern myself, I thought doing a heist movie in the South was pretty cool. Plus, its got everything: it’s comedy, and it’s action, and it’s about family. Of course, Steven’s amazing so I wanted to work with him again.”
To get into character as a back roads speed demon, Keough took lessons from stunt coordinator Steve Kelso to master a new skill set: driving a car with manual transmission. “I didn’t know how to drive stick so he taught me,” she says. “We drove around in California first and then when I got to Atlanta we drove around in the Mustang you see in the movie. I don’t really drive that often, so it was really fun to go racing around in this sports car shifting gears.”
Gals with Gumption
In a story filled with unexpected twists, one of the most surprising revelations occurs in the third act, when two-time Oscar winner Hilary Swank shows up as FBI Agent Sarah Grayson. Soderbergh, who produced the 2002 Christopher Nolan movie Insomnia, in which Swank stars as a young detective, enlisted the actress to deliver a jolt of eccentricity once the guys pull off their caper. “Hilary’s obviously great and I needed the movie to get a new weird energy at that point in the story,” Soderbergh says. “The FBI Agent needed to be as off-center as everybody else in the film, so I just told Hilary, ‘She needs to be odd.’”
Swank developed her own take on the dogged federal agent. “She’s no-nonsense, gets to the point and will not give up until she’s figured out the case — and will be happy to kick your ass along the way,” she says. “I like that Grayson thinks she’s smarter than everyone else. She basically thinks everyone else is an idiot.”
The needs of Jimmy Logan’s fractured nuclear family are what prompt him to embark on the ingenious scheme in the first place. Soderbergh cast Katie Holmes to play Jimmy Logan’s embittered ex-wife Bobbie Jo. “Katie embraced the idea that she couldn’t soften the character, because if she backs off from putting pressure on Jimmy then it dilutes the film,” Soderbergh explains. “When we met about the role, I told Katie, ‘You don’t get that mad at somebody who you are over. That’s all I’m going to say.’ And she said, ‘I know what you mean.’”
Holmes understood the dramatic underpinnings of her role. “I was excited to take on Bobbie Jo because I felt like she’s a survivor,” Holmes says. “There’s still love between her and Jimmy, but she also experienced a lot of disappointment and heartbreak. I just went for it.”