The Knick - Dr Everett Gallinger (Eric Johnson), Lucy Elkins (Eve Hewson), Dr John Thackery (Clive Owen) ©2014 HBO, photos by Mary Cybulski

In 2013, director Steven Soderbergh declared he was retiring from filmmaking. He is now the Executive Producer and director of Cinemax’s new series The Knick, which starts Clive Owen.

Set in 1900, the drama spotlights the Knickerbocker Hospital in New York City, the home to groundbreaking surgeons who push the boundaries of medicine in a time of zero antibiotics. Joining the staff as head of surgery is John Thackery (Owen), an arrogant, yet brilliant doctor whose addiction to cocaine and opium is overshadowed only by his ambition.

Steven Soderbergh and Clive Owen came to the TV Critics tour to speak about their unique new series.

How did you get involved with this project?

The Knick – Dr John Thackery (Clive Owen) ©2014 HBO

Clive: Steven called me up when he had the first script, and he told me he was thinking about a ten-part television series. I’ve known Steven for a number of years, and I’m a huge fan of his.

Were you worried about the commitment of a TV series?

Clive: To be honest with you, before I started reading the script, I wasn’t sure I wanted to commit to ten hours of television playing the same part.

I started to read the script to get a taste of what it might be like, and 40 minutes later there was no way I was not going to do it, because it was such a beautifully written script and such an amazingly original part.

Last year you announced that you were retiring. What happened?

The Knick – Director Steven Sodergergh on set ©2014 HBO

Steven: Yeah. Eleven months ago I didn’t think I would be sitting here talking about ten hours of material that is behind us, and ten hours in front of us, but I had a very similar reaction to the one Clive had when I read the first script.

I knew that as the first person who got to take a look at it, if I didn’t say yes that the second person who was going to see it would say yes.

My whole life I’ve moved in any direction that I felt was going to excite and engage me. It’s unfortunate that people have to keep listening to me explain why I went back to work, but I’m glad I did.

The commitment went from ten to twenty episodes.  Will you be able to do everything you want to do on the big screen?

The Knick – Dr John Thackery (Clive Owen), a brilliant doctor whose addiction to cocaine and opium is overshadowed only by his ambition ©2014 HBO

Clive: Yeah. We shot it pretty quickly, but I don’t really look at it like that. The reality is that the project is so exciting with [Jack Amiel and Michael Begler] writing and Steven directing it. I’m not looking at this as a project to squeeze in amongst other projects.

It’s just a privilege to be working on this, and we had such a fantastic time.

The idea of going and doing another ten and exploring this character further and more deeply is hugely exciting. I’m lucky enough to be involved in something that I’m very passionate about.

You directed the first ten episodes. Will you be directing the next ten? Isn’t that rare?

The Knick – Director Steven Sodergergh ©2014 HBO
The Knick – Dr Algernon Edwards (André Holland) and Dr John Thackery (Clive Owen) ©2014 HBO, photos by Mary Cybulski

Steven: Yeah, I’m going to do all of them. I think you’re seeing a trend now, a sense that there’s a positive aspect to having a visual language that is very specific and very unified throughout a show.

In this case, it’s not only creatively satisfying, but it’s also, practically speaking, a much better way to work in terms of the economics, because we basically scheduled the whole season like a film, and shot it, budgeted and boarded it like a film, which is a very efficient way to work.

Clive was asked about how he saw his character and how he created the right tone for him. Click here to listen to his answer
The Knick – Dr Bertram “Bertie” Chickering, Jr. (Michael Angarano), Dr Algernon Edwards (André Holland), Dr John Thackery (Clive Owen) and Dr Everett Gallinger (Eric Johnson) ©2014 HBO, photo by Mary Cybulski

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.