It’s hard to assemble eight movie stars for a single movie, let alone for a press conference. So getting six of Ocean’s 8 together again was a big deal. We’re only missing Rihanna and Helena Bonham-Carter as cast members Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Mindy Kaling, Sarah Paulson and Awkwafina were joined by writer/director Gary Ross.
Bullock plays Debbie Ocean, the sister of George Clooney’s character from Ocean’s 11. She has a plan to rob the Met Gala and assembles her team to pull off the heist. She only needs eight. Ocean’s 8 opens Friday, June 8.
Q: How did you come up with the idea for an all female Ocean’s film?
GR: It was like five, six years ago actually. It was right after Hunger Games. I think the thing that stuck with me about Hunger Games was the impact it had on girls, seeing a protagonist like that that they could relate to in the kind of movie that they’d never seen a protagonist like that in before. So I was with a friend one night and we were talking about this and I realized there had never been this kind of ensemble, there’d been a lot of male versions of this, there’d never been this kind of kickass ensemble of women coming together like this before. I thought that was easy and Soderbergh is a very good friend of mine. I never told you this, Sandy, but it was right around the time of Gravity and you and George were talking about the brother/sister relationship and I kind of took that seriously. I thought maybe she could be his sister. Anyway, I presented that to Soderbergh and then to Jerry Weintraub. Then we went to Sandy and Sandy said, “Well, if the script doesn’t suck and if you actually get these people that you hope to get, then I might be interested.” Which we took as an absolute yes. Then we went to Warner Brothers. It began a very long process of trying to get the movie made that really took three or four years and then fortunately culminated in this moment. The next thing I did, Olivia [Milch] and I were good friends and were collaborating on other projects together. I’m not stupid enough to think I could write this movie by myself for obvious reasons, so I reached out to Olivia and that began a really great partnership where we worked side by side.
Q: Do you remember first hearing about this idea, Sandra?
SB: Yes, I remember Jerry Weintraub, who I’ve known for years, he’s no longer with us, but he called and said, “I’ve got this idea I’ve got to present to you.” As it would be that Gary, Steven and Jerry were in the room, I honestly didn’t think it would work or get made. I thought it was a fun idea. I said, “But if you do it, let’s just get the Yen character back because we need a gymnast.” I didn’t think at that time that it would get made and it was like a year and a half-ish later that a script did appear.
Q: How many conversations did you have with George Clooney to delve into the brother/sister relationship?
SB: Many, many, many.
CB: Isn’t it interesting that you were saying two or three years ago, this seemed like an impossibility. Like how can you possibly get this made? And it’s so great that it’s being released now when you go, well, of course. A lot has shifted I think.
GR: There are more “of course”s now than there were then.
Q: Cate, what your first impression of the script with eight female characters?
CB: You don’t read the script cold. You read the script with the pedigree and the legacy of the movies which Gary knew absolutely inside out. Me having had a working relationship with Soderbergh and knowing that Sandy was going to be in it, I could already see the tone. Then of course the first question is, “Who are the other ladies going to be?” Gary lay forth his A-team which he got. In the end, the script is a malleable thing and there were a lot of changes that were being made. It happens every time, not just with this movie. In the end to me it’s about the ensemble. Once I knew who the other women were and knowing the franchise, that’s a terrible McDonald’s term to use in movies but it is, I just felt like it would be a great fun thing to do. It’s a risk and I thought it was a risk worth taking.
Q: What was most exciting about playing your character of a fictional celebrity, Anne?
AH: It was fun to know that the research was already done, that the muscle memory was in there about what her life was like. But, uh, to wonder like, um, what would have happened if at the beginning of my career, I thought of fame as something that was real, as opposed to the way I do think about it is that it’s very illusionary. So I had a blast and I was such a huge fan of the George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh version of it so I knew the energy of the movies.
Q: Mindy, what changed in Amita when you played her?
MK: I think that’s a question for the writers.
GR: I met with Mindy at a few bars in Studio City. I didn’t know this but in Jackson Heights, there’s a thriving Indian-American community that has a large jewelry industry. So it actually fit the character wonderfully. We leaned into that and of course Mindy is a font of ideas, so we just had a very electric breakfast.
MK: This was one of the more challenging roles, which I didn’t anticipate because I had this idea that the Ocean’s movies were just a breezy hangout where George Clooney plays pranks on everyone. This was very challenging for me because I had to learn Hindi for a scene I had. I had to have a fight with my mother in Hindi. So I had to meet a coach and be coached in Hindi. I think everyone maybe thinks that because I’m Indian, I’d been raised speaking an Indian language but I wasn’t. That part was challenging. It’s fun because I always play delusionally overconfident characters, so this character was just like, “I get to be involved?” So that was very nice to play someone who’s more shy and gets to come out of her shell. No one has ever accused me of being shy before so this was a nice role to play.
Q: Sarah, was it fun to play a twist on a suburban character?
SP: Oh yeah. I myself am not a mother so it was a stretch in and of itself. I sort of thought it was interesting that she had all those microwaves and blenders in her garage. She used to very much be immersed in this way of living and she got out. Godfather over here comes back and pulls her back in because private school is expensive. Those kids gotta go to school.
Q: Was there room to improvise?
SP: We played around a little bit. Gary’s like, “You played around a lot.”
GR: Enthusiastically so.
Q: Awkwafina, did you ever think that acting in an independent film like Dude would lead to a role in a film like Ocean’s 8?
Awk: No, not at all. That was pretty cool. Thanks, Gary. I think Gary, you saw Dude, right? Olivia was like, “This might be a thing.” I was like, “No, it’s not. It’s not a thing.” Then we got on Facetime one night. They were writing and Gary was like, “Hey, you got the role.” And I was like oh, I’m just going to go die in the corner now.
Q: How did the cast bond?
SB: We were able to bond and connect in the way that we could in that we were working crazy long days. We were draped all over each other on a couch at 12 o’clock at night. Once we let our guard down and realized we’re in the company of safe people, I think we all sort of began the vomit fest. Well, I did. I threw up first. I went in hoping. You don’t always get what you hope for. By the end, now continuously and long past this film is out, I think we managed to connect on a level that we never ever would have been given a chance because we don’t get to work [together]. Women, there’s five roles and we’re all just looking for them. They’re all lone little islands and here we were, Hawaii and all the smaller islands. I’m sorry, I’m just trying to say something really clever. I feel really lucky. I feel really lucky because there’s no more stones I need to turn over. On this one, I really feel that I came out with so much more than I imagined.
AH: One of the things I remember was the moment when I realized I didn’t have to put a filter on. What you said about feeling like an island on a set, I was used to that. I’ve been really lucky. I’ve worked with a lot of great women but there’s usually just one or two of us. The idea that we could all bring all the experiences we’ve ever had and put it into this shared pool and all then collectively become better because we were all just together and able to share it. That was one of the first things I remembered was feeling safe and feeling like I was with people that I felt so proud to be amongst, while having the best time of my life learning, enjoying the view. It was incredible.
Q: Do you hope little girls can be inspired by seeing women have strong roles in this movie?
MK: I thought what was nice about this movie is you guys all know about the Bechdel test. This passes it with flying colors. The fact that we’re orchestrating a crime as opposed to fighting over a man. Our conversations are not about that and I think that’s really exciting, but we also got to be very glamorous in the movie as well which was just so unusual and a lot of fun.
CB: And we had a director who was really sympathetic to that, who wanted to make a story about women. I think there’s a thing where all of us, every single person on this table wants to see more female directors and that absolutely has to happen. I just came from Cannes where there were 21 films and only three female directors. It puts an inordinate pressure on them. But here we have a director who really loves women and wanted to make a story where women could do their stuff. That’s also fantastic.
AH: And you can’t underestimate the power of visual representation. So to an eight-year-old girl, maybe we’re not trying to say go have a life of crime, but we’re saying go do what you want. Go do what you want and there’s space for you, and there’s space for you to do it with your friends and there’s room for all of you. I think that films that have an everybody in mentality and message for people who have historically been excluded, I think that’s a really good thing.
Q: What was the most important thing to convey in an Ocean’s movie?
GR: I think one of the things we’re celebrating is not just their commonality but their differences. That these are eight distinct women from eight distinct backgrounds and that hopefully looks like what the world looks like. Not just what Hollywood has made the world look like. That diversity was intentional and important to us, that it looked like the world. This group of people needed to be very, very representative.
Awk: When it comes to representation and diversity, there’s a difference between throwing in people of color, women and then actually representing them accurately and authentically. I think the important thing about the characters in this movie is that we’re not, especially the people of color in this movie, that’s not defining our characters. In the movie, I’m a New Yorker from Queens. Asianness has nothing to do with it and I think that’s representation. That’s where we’re going and I think this movie is going to be a step towards a right direction in that case.
SB: Women taking care of each other. Women being good to each other. Women stepping back and letting the more gifted step forward in the heist. Recognizing talent and saying go out and shine, I’ve got your back. Sure, we can fight but we’re fighting for the greater good which is a lot of money. To me, the most important thing was, I didn’t care the heist as much as I cared about how they treated each other and how they lifted each other up. To me, that’s the world. It’s not the world that’s represented in media a lot but really what’s happening is there’s so much love and support, we now need to show it and I think that’ll help equalize a lotta things.
Q: What do you think of remaking movies with female ensembles versus creating new female ensembles?
CB: I think it’s both. What was great about this is yes, you’ve got the history of the Ocean’s franchise behind it. That’s what I mean about the script being malleable. We wanted to make it its own standalone thing. It’s got an echo of what came before. I think remakes are great but if it was only remakes and there were no original stories, it’s like any sense of homogeneity in the film industry produces boring results. Whether that’s homogeneity of cast or story, I think it’s not saying yes, you must do it this or that way. It’s a bit of both.
MK: One of the most exciting things is a new voice doing completely different material or launching a whole brand new franchise or something that’s not based on a comic book. Then every time you think that way, you see a movie like Black Panther which has completely revitalized that entire genre. So people can work within genres, or Lando Calrissian is being played by Donald Glover. Every time you want to make a rule about reboots, remakes and then it’s a launching pad for great new characters, great new dialogue and new relationships. I just think it’s a shrewd way to sneak in diverse voices, so I’m all for it as long as they’re being reinvented and reimagined.
Q: Tell us about the style and glamour in the movie.
GR: First of all, these women all have a tremendous sense of fashion. They were tremendously collaborative with their designers, especially around the Met Ball in terms of what they wore. No one would dream of telling Cate Blanchett what to wear. I think that being able to shoot in hear was a tremendous advantage. Being able to have the advantage of working with so many great designers was a tremendous advantage. We had Dolce build us 100 footman costumes out of silk that wind the stairs going up to the top of the stairs. That’s kind of a remarkable thing. It is those details. You’re promising a pretty sumptuous experience. Some of it just comes down to detail. Cartier loaned us a bunch of jewels. There were a lot of people who were willing to do cameos for us, because all the extras at the Met Gala are famous. It came down to a lot of that detail.
CB: It’s a huge shoutout to Sarah Edwards, the costume designer. Another costume designer fell out at the 11th hour and she had to costume all of us distinctively. She literally worked 50 hours a day.
SP: It was that thing where every single morning when anyone walked out of the trailer, it was kind of like, “Oh my God!” I personally wanted to wear everything Cate was wearing. So did everybody else.
CB: My spanx included.
SP: Your spanx. Sandy had a great coat that I wanted.
GR: Cate’s right. Sara did this with three weeks of prep. I don’t think any of us have ever seen someone do the job better. I’ve never seen anyone do the job better.
SB: She worked very closely with the designers as well. The designers were really for the most part generous with Sarah. We all had opinions, and the designers were incredibly collaborative. My dress was Alberta Ferretti. I literally thought I wanted a sleeve a certain length because I was going to palm a jewel but I wanted it to be black because my character needs to disappear. Once I got the dress and I saw the ornamentation on the bottom, there was a nautical theme, there were sand dollars and starfish and waves. And I went, “Oh, Debbie Ocean. I get it.” I didn’t ask for that but the handiwork and the craftsmanship that went into these outfits harkened back to a time that I don’t think we’ve been around in a long time. We value and revel in the character of a costume. The nights when we shot the Met Ball, to see everyone who attended, all the people that volunteered their time. No one was getting paid. It was stunning and you don’t get to see that anymore. You see it at the Oscars maybe but not on the level that we saw it that night. People went all out.