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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 16 July 2018

Sarah Paulson on Ocean's 8: 'It was like being at the greatest dinner gathering of all time'

The actress chats with us about the dynamics of working with other strong female leads on the film

Sarah Paulson plays Tammy, a mum who is lured back into the world of crime by Sandra Bullock's character. AFP
Sarah Paulson plays Tammy, a mum who is lured back into the world of crime by Sandra Bullock's character. AFP

In an increasingly cautious studio environment, the reboot seems to have become a safe way of wringing extra cash from an established brand while, ­ostensibly at least, delivering an entirely new film. Following Sony’s multiple versions of Spider-Man with different actors taking the lead, Antoine Fuqua’s reboot of a reboot with 2016’s The Magnificent Seven (itself initially a reboot of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai) and Gus van Sant’s debatably necessary, frame-by-frame, 1998 remake of Hitchcock’s classic Psycho, the gender-swap reboot is a relatively recent addition to the fold.

The trend began with Paul Feig’s 2016 all-female reboot of Ghostbusters, although this latest instalment of the Ocean’s heist movie franchise actually went into development first.

Feig’s film wasn’t well received – box offices were lukewarm at best, reviews even chillier, and even Feig himself didn’t seem entirely convinced, joking during pre-production that he hoped the project wouldn’t interfere with his “all chimp Robin and the Seven Hoods.”

Despite the indifference towards Feig’s initial gender swapping efforts, the trend continues, with gender swap remakes of Splash, Lord of the Flies and Oliver Twist already in various stages of development. The same indifference could, however, explain why the team behind Ocean’s 8 – from studio execs to cast members – have been so keen to emphasise that the film is not so much a reboot as an extension of the existing universe in which another member of the Ocean family plans a new heist – and the main characters happen to be women.

A script too good to pass up

For Sarah Paulson, one of the movie’s stars, it wasn’t the question of whether the film was a reboot, or even the strong female cast that was appealing, but ­simply a great script and a fascinating character: “What Gary [Ross, director and co-writer] and Olivia [Milch, co-writer] did with Tammy was really interesting,” she says. “Tammy has children and other responsibilities. She was once heavily into this game, and then opted out to raise a family. But when Sandy Bullock as Debbie Ocean approaches Tammy and asks if she’d like back in, the adrenaline rush is just too exciting for Tammy to pass up.”

She adds: “[Tammy] is the fence – a go-between for stolen goods – running a small side business in her garage, which her family doesn’t know about. It’s her way of keeping a toe in a world that she found incredibly thrilling, exciting and dangerous. And when Debbie whispers in her ear the amount of money she’d be netting after the heist, it’s just too good an offer to refuse.”

Paulson clearly felt a similar sense of “too good to refuse” when Ross sent her the movie’s script: “[Gary] sent the Ocean’s 8 script to me, then asked if I wanted to be a part of it – as if I could say no.” Once on set, Paulson admits the presence of so many strong female leads did create an interesting dynamic, though perhaps more in terms of other peoples’ reactions and preconceptions than the relationships between the stars themselves.

Click to watch the trailer for Ocean's 8:

'I made seven new friends'

“More than one person has asked me if we had any fights, which was shocking to me because I thought, why would that be the first thing people would assume would happen if you put eight women in a room together?” It didn’t stop there. “Some people were taking bets on who would be the last person out of the trailer and how long everyone was going to take to arrive on set,” she says. “Actually, we were always ready while they were still lighting on set.”

Everyday sexism aside, Paulson says she and her stars had a wonderful time on set: “We had a great time in the morning, getting ready together. It was like a real party, but a party with substantive people with great senses of humour. It was like being at the greatest dinner gathering of all time,” she says. “I [had done] a movie, Carol, with Cate Blanchett, and I knew Annie [­Hathaway] socially; we both grew up in New York and we’d see each other socially and at auditions. I didn’t know the others, but I made seven new friends, which was exciting.”

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The developing dynamic between eight relative strangers on set is reflected in the movie, which also sees eight strangers brought together by Sandra Bullock’s Debbie Ocean, sister of the original trilogy’s Danny (George Clooney) in order to pull off a daring heist.

“Debbie knows all of them, but the rest are strangers to one another,” Paulson explains. “They have a bit of trepidation, wondering how they’re all going to work together. But it becomes clear, very quickly, that each woman is the best in her field, and all they want to do is pull off this heist. Everyone has the same goal. They become an ­extraordinary team, and the heist would have been a disaster without each of their contributions. There’s an enormous sense of camaraderie and gratitude, mixed with surprise, that they did this together.”

Why a heist film?

The heist movie is, of course, a mainstay of modern cinema, from cooler-than-thou entries to the genre from Quentin Tarantino, to Guy Ritchie’s gritty Brit flicks, to the fifth, best instalment of The Fast and the Furious franchise, which despite the fast cars, essentially follows standard heist movie convention, right back to 1960s classics such as The Italian Job.

I ask Paulson what it is that gives the genre such longevity with audiences: “Ocean’s 8 is a fantasy,” she says. “Sometimes you just really need an opportunity to kick back and let yourself be taken on this journey, which makes you forget about your troubles for a while and immerses you in another world, where people are having a good time and doing something a little bit dangerous and a little bit naughty – but with a great deal of humour and heart. That’s the extraordinary thing about having a moviegoing experience like this: you can transport yourself somewhere glamorous and fun, and watch a bunch of people work well together.”

As for the Ocean franchise’s place within the genre, Paulson says she was a big fan of Steven Soderbergh’s original trilogy, and she hopes that Ocean’s 8 can replicate their success. “I had seen every one of them – and I had also seen the original 1960 Ocean’s 11 starring Frank Sinatra,” she says. “I found them all to be endlessly entertaining and incredibly fun. It just seemed like the actors were all having the best time, and so we as an audience were having the best time. I thought if Ocean’s 8 had that kind of magic, we would be in good shape.”

Ocean’s 8 is in UAE cinemas from June 21