The opening minutes of "The Knick" throw down a gauntlet.
We're introduced to Clive Owen's John Thackery and his distinctive mustache at a red filtered opium den in 1900 New York City. Accompanied by an anachronistic score from Cliff Martinez, Thackery heads off in a carriage, removing his white leather shoes to shoot up between his toes. In no time, Thackery has reached the Knickerbocker Hospital, where he's thrust into the middle of a placenta previa surgery, like all surgeries in the period, a harrowing and bloody prospect.
You're in or you're out. There are no in-betweens.
Steven Soderbergh, who directed (and shot and edited) the entirety of the first "Knick" season, wouldn't have it any other way.
"[T]he first seven minutes of the first episode contain the sort of DNA of the whole show. If you're not down with how those first seven minutes go you're going to have trouble, because I'm giving you the code for how we're going to do it," Soderbergh told me when we sat down at the Beverly Hilton during last month's Television Critics Association press tour.
Soderbergh, bless his heart, doesn't believe in short interviews and so, joined by Clive Owen, we discussed how a script by two veterans of "The Shaggy Dog" (Jack Amiel and Michael Begler) attracted an Oscar-winning director and an A-list film star and then how that project ended up at Cinemax.
The short answer? Soderbergh wanted it that way.
"Partly it's just probably a little self-serving in the sense that I knew that we'd be the big kid in a small school over there and I wanted that kind of personal attention," Soderbergh explained, simultaneously smiling and completely serious.
We didn't delve into Soderbergh's "retirement" because, let's be honest, the guy is just doing whatever he wants to do, wherever he wants to do it and it seems silly to quibble about whether he said (or somebody said on his behalf) that he was done with one medium or another. He's producing shows for Amazon and Starz. He directed the full season of "The Knick" and, as was announced within hours of this interview, he'll be directing a second full season as well. And "The Knick" looks and feels and moves like a Steven Soderbergh project.
In the interview, we talked about the show's treatment of its period setting and of the gory period surgeries, the value of the Cliff Martinez score and the pressures and panic moments associated with making five consecutive two-hour movies.
"The Knick" premieres on August 8. Check out the lengthy interview transcript below...