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Logan - James Mangold DVD interview


Compiled by Jack Foley

JAMES Mangold is an American film and television director, screenwriter and producer. His films include Walk the Line; The Wolverine; Cop Land; Girl, Interrupted; Knight and Day and the 2007 remake 3:10 to Yuma.

He also produced and directed pilots for the television series Men in Trees (2006-2008), NYC 22 (2011-2012) and Vegas (2012-2013). In Logan he reunites with Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart to tell a story of Wolverine, the tough but reluctant member of the X-Men…

Q. Was it difficult getting the studio to agree to an R-rated superhero movie?
James Mangold: It would be sexier to tell you that it was a battle but I think studios are aware that something’s got to change, and there is interest in experimentation. You can spend a quarter of a billion dollars on a movie and find that audiences aren’t always as big as they were five or ten years ago. Also, there was the fact that both Hugh and I were pretty solid on the fact that we didn’t want to do it if it wasn’t different. It was really that simple. So the studio was faced with a choice of making the movie as R-rated and along the lines we wanted, thematically, or they could make a movie with other people. Obviously, that was more persuasive coming from Hugh than me [laughs]. Nonetheless, our own sense of partnership was strong with them. And I didn’t find a lot of people saying: “We just want to make a film that’s like the last couple.” There was a desire to see something done differently.

Q. How did you feel after you had shot the last scene on this movie knowing that it was the end for these characters?
James Mangold: It was very moving and we all felt the reality of what had happened. Though for me as director I’m shooting in the middle of the woods on the Colorado-New Mexico border. Daylight is diminishing and I am shooting very significant scenes. I am on my last day of production. As the sun sets I know that this is all I’ve got to catch the end the film. So my mind is not on sentimental things. I experienced the emotions your’re referring to in Berlin when the three of us, Patrick, Hugh and I were sitting side by side in a theatre and we kept grabbing each other’s hands. We felt very proud and I think those two felt more of a finality of their own journeys in these roles in that moment in the theatre than they might have felt scrambling for shots knee-deep in blood and dried leaves on location!

Q. What were the most violent scenes like to shoot?
James Mangold: They were a bit less intense than how they appear in the movie. It is a little bit more of what it is like to shoot a dance number, however out of control they feel. We do have laughs along the way. We didn’t exist in a 74-day Bergman film (laughs). We are a family and part of the way you sustain your energy making a movie, even if it is dark, is by having some laughs and enjoying each other.

Q. What made you choose Dafne Keen for the role of X-23?
James Mangold: There have been three times in my life, including with Dafne, where you just get a glimpse of this person you know is right for the role. I could not put a finger on why other than it is what I wrote. My writing partners and I had written a demanding role for Hugh Jackman and a demanding role for Patrick Stewart. There was no one else in the world who could do those roles but there is also a tremendous confidence in each of those actors, their desire and the ability to do what we’d written. I have to say that they both exceeded my expectations, particularly in Patrick’s case. I think for a man who is such a stout, elderly gentleman, it showed great courage to let it go. There are a lot of actors who spend a great amount of time in their later years trying to convince people that they are not old! And a role like this might be a threat to them. So Patrick was really brave. I think he knew what the movie needed and he went there.

Q. Aside from Dafne, what were the other two times you knew you were watching the right person for a role?
James Mangold: One was Angelina Jolie in Girl, Interrupted. She came in to read with me in a room in Culver City. When actresses do readings for movie auditions there are just a couple of scenes but Angie had gotten the whole script from her agent and she read the two requisite scenes she was supposed to read and then she looked up and said, ‘Want to keep going?’ And she read every scene her character had in the script right up to the end. It just blew me away to read with Angie. And, similarly, when Ben Foster came in and read for 3:10 to Yuma. His take on the character, his connection, it was amazing.

Q. And that’s what you felt with Dafne?
James Mangold: I saw the tape of Dafne, which was sent from Madrid, a little iPhone film that her dad who is a British actor [Will Keen] had made with her. First of all, she was charming, she was climbing around their home on bookshelves and leaping to the ground and doing somersaults and jumping about. But what really struck me most was the grounded nature with which she was speaking the words and doing the scenes. I immediately felt a tremendous relief because it was the greatest question mark — who was going to come in and do what was required of that character at just 11 years old? The other immediate anxiety I had upon seeing her was how was I going to convince the studio to hire this girl and not look at anyone else or even consider anyone else and just get it locked down. That immediately became my entire focus.

Q. What sort of conversations did you have with her parents about what you would put her through in terms of action and violence?
James Mangold: We spoke in great detail. They are very good parents. I am a parent as well. I think the fact that I am a dad of similar-aged kids may have been some relief to them. But the dominant thing I said and tried to maintain — and Hugh and Patrick were very helpful with this — was that there was a feeling of family as we made the movie. The mood and tone of the film isn’t what it was like shooting the film. I think from a child’s point of view making a film like this is like a never-ending Halloween celebration. It is hanging out with a lot of friendly people you know, who love you wearing odd make up, and there’s a guy with a blood bucket and sponge. And it’s all kind of funny and hilarious and not nearly as sombre an affair as it is on screen!


Q. Do you think the success of Deadpool helped convince the studio to make Logan R-rated?
James Mangold: The short answer would be yes. The longer answer is that we had written Logan and told them we were making ours before Deadpool came out. But I do think that they knew what they had in the can with Deadpool. And I think they had a tremendous sense that there was a lot of interest. And even executives have to trust their own eyes and ears sometimes and I think they had seen Deadpool and knew it was a lot more fun. We were not promising the same sense of fun. This is a whole other thing.

Q. Do you think Logan’s success might spark more adult superhero movies?
James Mangold: I don’t have aspirations to have that kind of effect on people. Where Deadpool did help is that other people make movies in their own voices, whatever that means. When I look at Logan I try to look at it objectively, and I am proud of it. The reason I was hesitant to make another superhero film was that I really wanted to make a personal film after The Wolverine, a smaller film. I needed to use the same voice I used making Girl, Interrupted or Walk the Line or Cop Land or Heavy. I needed to construct something that felt like a reflection of what I was feeling about myself, the world, these characters, and that was most important to me. I would love it if other directors and writers were given the opportunity to do that, even with fantastical characters, because it can be done. Fans are sometimes at a contradictory place. They want the movies to be able to be cut almost together like a seamless miniseries. That doesn’t promote being creative. That actually promotes making the world’s most expensive television show!

Q. Was it hard to mix the superhero genre with a Western?
James Mangold: No. No, it wasn’t. It is a very natural fit. I don’t think superhero films are a genre. I think they are just movies; there are many kinds of superhero films. There are as many kinds of comic books as there are novels. There are war comic books, noir comic books, romantic comic books, intellectual comic books. Comic books as a genre is a non descriptor and it is kind of a pejorative because it’s a way of saying stupid or childish. I reject it because there is no genre called childish. Or it is a way of saying movies that are built to sell other movies and Happy Meals and action figures, which is still not a movie, not a genre; it is just a sort of corporate enterprise. I think that you can learn as much following a Lee Marvin movie or a Peckinpah film or a George Stevens movie or a Clint Eastwood film. The only aspect that is different is these characters [superheroes] have some kind of talent — but that is usually true of a Dirty Harry or a Popeye Doyle. They usually have some magical thing that makes then more successful at nailing the bad guy or the adversary than all the other cops or cowboys. So superhero films and Westerns are not really that disparate.

Q. When did the reference to Shane, by George Stevens, come into your mind?
James Mangold: Right after I made the last Wolverine film. I have always loved Shane. I watched it with my dad when I was a child on television and there was a restored version of Shane presented at the Academy in Beverley Hills, a beautiful new print of the film, and George Stevens’ family asked me to deliver some opening remarks and introduce this restored copy. And probably the act of doing that reawakened things for me and had a huge psychological effect.

Q. Have you thought about working on anything specific with Hugh in the future?
James Mangold: We haven’t gotten anything specific in mind but it would be a huge and calamitous failure of friendship and artistic endeavour if we don’t work together again!

Q. How much of a kick did you get out of the humour you put into Charles’s dialogue in Logan?
James Mangold: We just had fun with these characters. I loved that. I think the humour is a lot less bawdy, or large. It is more about a smile in the brain than a laugh out loud, but you definitely need it. You need rest between action and you need moments of levity. For me, the goal was not doing jokes or smart repartee. When I first pitched the film to Fox, I said I wanted to make a very bloody version of Little Miss Sunshine. The humour I wanted was more ‘slice of life’.

There aren’t many X-Men films where you hear Charles tell Wolverine that he has to pee, or where they are stopping at a convenience store to get a phone charger. That mundaneness of life is something I have never seen in these types of film. What happens if life as a superhero isn’t about existing in a billion dollar cave with millions of dollars of computer equipment and a copyrighted vehicle and a jet plane on a landing strip? What if things are a little more humble in reality?

Q. Was it difficult to kill these two main characters?
James Mangold: I have to say that it was difficult. But it was the story. What we were doing was telling a story and in Logan’s case the story is about a character. It is not that dissimilar to Christian Bale dying in 3:10 to Yuma. Both characters have lost good reasons for living. In fact, even the audience might be hoping that Logan gets a rest.

The burden of the violence that has come before, the burden of Logan’s disappointment with mankind, the disappointment that he can never have intimacy in his life without some curse obliterating whatever he has affection for, the fact that he has lived a lifetime which is three or four times longer than you and I have lived — these are all good reasons to be looking for an out. But it wasn’t easy. I wasn’t flippant about it. I love all my characters in all of my movies and if any of them die I want the audience to feel the loss like I do. I love Logan. I think he is an incredibly powerful extension of male frustrations, in the sense of both power and weakness. I love that he doesn’t like being a superhero. It’s a burden. The celebrity of it is abhorrent to him and it makes him different from other characters that might be more eager to brand themselves with costumes and cars and to make sure that everyone knows what they did.

Read our review of Logan

Logan is available on Digital Download on 24th June and on Blu-ray™ and DVD on July 10, 2017, from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment.