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Why Steven Soderbergh Turned Down Directing ‘Death Becomes Her’: ‘This Is So Far Beyond My Capability’

“Presence,” a twisty haunted house thriller, marks the second collaboration between Steven Soderbergh and screenwriter David Koepp. The duo, who are longtime friends, also partnered on 2022’s “Kimi,” which featured Zoë Kravitz as an agoraphobic tech wiz.

But Soderergh and Koepp entered each other’s orbit long before “Kimi” debuted. Koepp wrote the screenplay for the 1992 black comedy “Death Becomes Her,” a cult favorite that was also a pioneer in its use of computer graphics.

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“I want to preface this by saying I hate it when people talk about things that they passed on,” Soderbergh told Variety in an interview for a recent profile. “For whatever reason, I just feel like I am not convinced it’s good form to do that.”

But Soderbergh did acknowledge that he was offered a chance to direct “Death Becomes Her,” which would have happened shortly after he scored a breakout hit with 1989’s “Sex, Lies, and Videotape.”

“I do remember reading it and immediately thinking it was very funny. And also immediately recognizing that this is so far beyond my capability,” he said. “The technology they were using was intimidating. There was no universe in which I could do it. I knew you needed somebody with a Zemeckis-like technical facility to execute it.”

“It was a hard ‘you got the wrong guy’ is what it was,” added Soderbergh.

Enter Robert Zemeckis, who had a reputation for making movies like “Who’s Afraid of Roger Rabbit” that pushed the boundaries of movie magic. He’d keep advancing the form with “Forest Gump’s” groundbreaking use of CGI, which allowed Tom Hanks to meets presidents and historical figures, as well as deploy performance-capture technology with movies like “The Polar Express” and “Beowulf.” “Death Becomes Her’s” all-star cast included Meryl Streep, Bruce Willis and Goldie Hawn. The film would gross nearly $150 million on a $55 million budget.

Soderbergh ultimately decided to make smaller movies like “Kafka,” his black-and-white examination of surrealist writer Franz Kafka, and “King of the Hill,” a coming-of-age drama. Koepp would write “Jurassic Park,” which came out in 1993, a year after “Death Becomes Her” was released.

“I really wanted him to direct it, but he felt like it was a tough leap,” Koepp says of Soderbergh. “I’m stealing a line from Steven, but he really feels like he doesn’t want to do something if it’s not a ‘hell yes.'”

There were other projects that the duo considered teaming up for, including a remake of the supernatural horror film “The Uninvited,” which didn’t come to fruition. “We kept getting hung up on the third act,” Soderbergh said.

But Soderbergh and Koepp aren’t done working together. The pair just sold a spy thriller, “Black Bag,” starring Michael Fassbender and Cate Blanchett, to Focus Features. When Soderbergh spoke to Variety, he didn’t reveal his follow-up to “Presence,” but he did offer that he had a project he’d discovered that “is a really great idea that gets me excited.”

“I just hope I have enough juice to get it made,” he said.

“Presence” debuted at Sundance and nabbed a distribution deal from Neon, the indie studio behind “Parasite” and “Triangle of Sadness.”

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