'Ocean's 8' Director Gary Ross On Putting Together That Perfect Cast [Interview]

Gary Ross, director of Pleasantville and The Hunger Games, assembled a killer cast of kickass women to relaunch the Ocean's 11 franchise. The result is Ocean's 8, a new heist movie that doesn't reboot the series, but rather branches off from it to create a whole new story. Ross and co-writer Olivia Milch took the world created by Steven Soderbergh in his Ocean's films, and rebranded it with a new perspective.

Below, Ross talks about the origin of Ocean's 8, and how the impressive cast helped sell the studio on the concept.

I was wondering if you could just talk a little about the origin of this film. Was it as simple as someone saying, "Let's do Ocean's 11 with a female cast", or...?

Well, that actually was me, that person [who came up with the idea]. I mean, I wasn't really a director for hire on this. It's just something that I originated and created, brought to the studio, and worked for five years to get made, so... it really was a personal movie in that respect, even though it's derived from another franchise. Steven Soderbergh's a good friend of mine, and we've collaborated informally over the years on many things. He was a producer on Pleasantville. I helped him on Che at times. He shot a day of second unit for me on Hunger Games. I had helped him on the previous Ocean's movies. So we've had this kind of an ongoing conversation for like 20 years.

After Hunger Games, the thing that sort of stayed with me after I left the franchise, that resonated me the most, was how girls were taken with and moved by the fact that there was a protagonist in a movie that they could relate to that they hadn't seen in a movie like that before, and that that was so resonant to them and that it made a difference to them. So I think that sort of stayed with me, and then I was a friend one night and I was just kicking ideas around, and this idea sort of jumped in my head, and then when I thought about it, I thought, well, it's weird but there's just never been a female ensemble like this. There hasn't. Not where there's sort of these kickass women going to do something like this. It just hasn't existed.

So it shouldn't be groundbreaking, but it is. And, because of that, it's like all the more reason to do it, I feel. You know? I kind of felt like, well, god, what is it? It's just a heist movie. It's not, you know–it shouldn't be that earth shattering. And yet I looked through film history and I couldn't find the antecedent to this. So that kind of really made me want to do it.

Then I went to Soderbergh and I said, what do you think of this idea? And I pitched it to him. And Sandy [Sandra Bullock], I think, was doing a lot of Gravity press, and she and [Ocean's 11 star] George [Clooney] were talking about the nature of their brother-sister relationship, and of course I believe everything that I read, so I said, what about that, Steven? What if she plays his sister? And they're like, that's interesting. So we brought it to [producer Jerry Weintraub], who was alive at the time, and he was interested in it, and then we – you know, Soderbergh and I obviously have trust and friendship – and then we brought it to Sandy and Sandy said, well, if the script is good and you get these people I'm interested. So I took that as a yes even though it wasn't. Then we went to the studio, and that began a long process of trying to get the movie made that really took a lot of time and effort to get done, in collaboration with Steven.

Then I reached out to Olivia Milch, because...this is about eight women and I'm not arrogant enough, and hopefully not stupid enough, to think that I can write that by myself, and this was somebody with whom I'd had a collaboration on a couple other things before. And I love Olivia, and I hadn't really written with anybody since Big, with Anne Spielberg. Ever since Big...I'd written everything by myself, and suddenly I was just in this really cool world where I had a collaborator again. I had conversations going on, you know? I had somebody next to me at the keyboard and we really wrote side by side. And that was just a blast, I think especially at my age — I'm free from kind of the lonely drudgery of needing to pull the rock uphill myself. So that was just fun, the spontaneity of that, and in a room with her, and stuff like that.

So that was a long process, and still I don't think we ever got this movie officially greenlit until two months before we were shooting. I mean, they wanted to see the whole cast come together before they officially greenlit. So I really only had two months to prep it. I mean, it was incredibly tight. But, anyway, that was the process of sort of breathing this into being.

So was it that cast that really put it over the edge to get the film made?

Yeah, but it took a lot of that cast to put it over the edge. I mean, you know, like a chunk of it.

Even if I didn't want to see this movie based on the plot (which I do), the cast alone is would draw me in.

Yeah, what you're saying, kind of, is the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

How did the casting went about. Was this exactly the cast you wanted all across the board?

One hundred percent. I mean, I did each one of those meetings and calls myself and approached them all individually. Cate [Blanchett] we wrote – Sandy was already attached...Cate we wrote for Cate, to the point where we actually used her name in the screenplay, and then Cate gently let us know one day that maybe we should not name the character for her – like it should not be an eponymous situation, and we [said] okay, we'll call it something else. But then it's like casting a living organism, right?

I mean, I have to – every time I add someone, it changes what that subtle dynamic is. And so when you pick one person, first you've got to pick the right person next, 'cause that's going to change it – you know, your dinner party – and then...who's the next person? And it slowly began to evolve that way. Then we tailored some of these – some of these characters changed immediately. I mean, I met Mindy Kaling. We hung out in L.A., and I didn't know there was an Indian-American community in Jackson Heights that had a thriving jewelry industry, and when I found that out, I was like, okay, well this is cool, and then Mindy and I talked and that character began to take shape. Similarly with Rihanna, that it would be Rastafarian, and that we'd kind of lean in to the Bob Marley vibe, right down to the green army coat, you know? So these things then sort of started to take shape. But you're casting individual parts and you're casting one living organism.

So you mentioned Steven Soderbergh, and I'm just wondering – did he have any specific input on this, or was it just, you took the idea to him and brought it to his attention? Because how this film connects directly to his trilogy, without giving away spoilers or anything like that, but was that just always part of the plan or...?

One hundred percent...I mean, we're very close friends, very very good friends. We were in close contact all the way through. I showed him my whole shot list, literally, you know? We talked about dailies every single morning. He'd watch dailies the night before I'd be on set. Like at 11 I'd get a phone call, we'd talk through the dailies. I mean, you know, he came in the editing room. We were very – because I'm taking something he's created and I'm not imitating it. I'm departing from it, but that departure needs to be really specific and, you know, when somebody hands the baton, the person handing you the baton is as important as the person receiving the baton. And so we had to have a good dialogue together in order to make sure that we were honoring the things that needed to be honored and we were moving on from the things that ought to be moved on from. And a lot of those decisions were made editorially later, and they started to skew move toward the current film and less toward preserving a lot of antecedents that were there. But I think, as you've seen in the movie, there are certain nods.

[We write] differently. Start there. And then also we shot the thing differently, and we're also not in Vegas. You know? So there's a lot of things in the way we shot this movie, like I'm shooting on a technocrane a lot. I'm in New York; it's different than the way sort of Steven shot that film, you know? Yeah, I think it was a departure in the ways it needed to be a departure. I hope so, anyway.

Was the whole movie shot in New York?

Yeah. I think we shot two days in LA just for scheduling purposes, but very little of that's in the movie. But everything else is shot in New York — and in all five boroughs.

Obviously, whenever a film like this comes out, there's always the talk of franchise potential. And I know that that depends on a lot of factors – like box office, all that stuff – but are you thinking in terms of franchise, and if so, where does this go from here?

Well, look — honestly, not yet. You know. I mean, it's... I don't it's superstition — it would just be premature and inappropriate. I mean, of course you're aware that this could happen again, but that really depends on the confluence of a lot of things, and everybody's schedules working out, everybody wanting to come back together again.

Well, I certainly hope they will.


Ocean's 8 opens on June 8, 2018.