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Soderbergh can't throw off the movie bug

When it comes to the end of the world, Hollywood has thrown just about everything at us, from aliens to monsters, from mad dictators to the devil himself.

For this week's Contagion, the prolific filmmaker Steven Soderbergh (Out Of Sight, Erin Brockovich, Sex, Lies & Videotape, the Ocean's franchise, Traffic and Che among many, many others) tackles our unseen enemy: the virus. As his characters try to avoid coughing and common surfaces, Soderbergh tries to avoid the cliches of a global pandemic story.

"For me, the key was to take this very seriously," says the 48-year-old director. "We wanted to create an experience where the viewer could never really distance themselves from what they were watching. When you step into a cliche, that pretty much lets the viewer off the hook -- you can just laugh the whole thing off in a second. So, realism was the key . . ."

And that meant sitting down with screenwriter Scott Burns and making a list of all the plot ingredients that wouldn't be allowed into their end-of-the-world stew.

"We weren't going to have someone call the President," nods Soderbergh. "Moscow and Sydney were out too. We wanted to stick with the people that we introduced into the story, and keep them connected. It's important to make the audience actually care about the people you've got foaming at the mouth."

And they're pretty much all famous faces. Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishburne, Marion Cotillard, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Bryan Cranston, John Hawke . . . It pays to have friends in high places.

"The attraction for a lot of these guys is the fact that they don't have to be on set for six months. As with many ensemble pieces, you can be on screen for a total of six minutes, and still have a major impact on the story. Of course, the main reason for all of them to sign on was Scott's magnificent script. And getting to work with an amazing director." Soderbergh chuckles.

I ask Soderbergh how his recent Ireland shoot went for the spy thriller Haywire. Mixed martial arts champ Gina Carano takes the lead role, alongside Irish heavyweight Michael Fassbender and Scottish lightweight Ewan McGregor. The film's due out next January.

"Shooting in Ireland definitely gave our film a different kind of kick," says Soderbergh. "It has its own tempo, its own particular feel, and it was a joy to shoot there." >Paul Byrne

Contagion is out now