Steven Soderbergh considers his 2012 action thriller Haywire a barometer for box office failure. "Nobody saw it," the director said at a Q&A following a screening at Brooklyn's Nitehawk Cinema, co-presented by Soderbergh's brandy company Singani 63. "I sort of use it as a metric now when a movie opens. I compare it to Haywire, like it wasn’t that bad or if it was less, then it's horrible." The film, which stars MMA fighter Gina Carano in her debut role alongside Ewan McGregor, Antonio Banderas, Michael Fassbender, and Channing Tatum, earned an embarrassing $9 million its opening weekend, about a third of what Underworld: Awakening made. The film was rocky from its inception, created from the ashes of another failed movie: Moneyball. Soderbergh got fired from directing the Brad Pitt baseball film due to creative differences with Sony (eventually landing in the hands of Bennett Miller) and quickly needed another project for the people he had hired. What resulted was Haywire.
Despite its monetary failure, Haywire is weirdly a monumental moment in Soderbergh's career. "If Moneyball doesn’t fall apart then I don’t make Haywire and I don’t meet [Channing Tatum] and I’m really glad I met Channing," he said. "Life’s been a lot better." Haywire marks the first collaboration between the auteur and his muse, preceding 2012's Magic Mike and 2013's Side Effects. For his post-"retirement" project Logan Lucky (still in the works), Soderbergh cast Tatum once again.
The pairing makes sense. Tatum understands his characters with the nuance of Soderbergh understanding his frames. Soderbergh recognized that quality in him from day one, and has since been a huge factor in Tatum's transformation from basic hunk to acclaimed acteur. "He didn’t make me feel like he was fronting about who he was," he said. "The first day of shooting with Channing was the opening scene of [Haywire] and he goes, 'Here’s what I’m thinking. I’m going to play it like I’ve been up all night and I get this call. I’m hungover and don’t want to be here.' That’s not how it was written at all. Here’s somebody who’s been thinking about it but not in a way that makes you go ‘Oh my God we’re never going to get through this scene.’ I was like, 'I like this kid.'"
It wasn't until filming one of Haywire's later scenes that the two realized there were more collaborations to be done. Soderbergh asked about projects in development at Tatum's production company and that's when he brought up Magic Mike, still in its fetal stages, loosely based on Tatum's career in Tampa as a 19-year-old stripper. "I went, 'Dude, that’s gold. That’s Saturday Night Fever. If this doesn’t move forward, call me because that’s a massive fucking giant idea,'" Soderbergh said. "A year later he calls me and goes, 'My director dropped off the project.'"
Soon after, they met with screenwriter Reid Carolin and then self-financed the film on a $7 million budget. The payoff? An impressive $167 million. "We shot Channing Tatum shaving his legs to a Kiss song," Soderbergh told the audience about a behind-the-scenes moment. "That’s how we raised the money. It was fun. My producer’s 14-year-old son was very disturbed by all of this because we did it in his bathroom but it worked."
Thinking of all it's led to, it's impossible to look back at Haywire's flop with any sort of resentment. Soderbergh wouldn't have agreed to screen a movie that isn't important to him, anyhow. Haywire was unquestionably a huge gift to both Soderbergh and Tatum, and he made a point to remind us of that once again: "All of that came out of one terrible work moment, which, you know, is being fired."