Director James Mangold talks The Wolverine, in theaters this weekend
James Mangold has a long established career as one of Hollywood's finest directors and writers. He may not be a household name, but cinema fans know his work. Walk the Line, Identity, 3:10 to Yuma, and Girl, Interrupted, are all Mangold films.
Marvel and Fox decided to bring in a seasoned veteran to right the ship for The Wolverine. Many fans were not happy with the previous film. James Mangold brings a darker, more serious edge with The Wolverine. Based on the classic Chris Claremont and Frank Miller storyline of Logan in Japan, The Wolverine puts the character in a wounded state, mentally and physically. Hugh Jackman is at his best here, giving new emotional weight to a character he's played five times. I had the chance to interview James Mangold at The Wolverine press event in New York a few weeks ago. A nice guy, Mangold is very loquacious, eager to share his vision for the character.
Wolverine has an established comic and film background, as a director coming in, what was your new vision for this character?
James Mangold: I was actually going for the old vision. I wanted a darker, more intense Logan back in the picture. Yes, I'm working with the same actor and the same studio that made the franchise that existed before, so it's a fine balance. How can we retool this thing? It's like the new mustang, the new camaro. How can we do it and still be a camaro? We change the lines a little bit. There were several obvious surface changes we made. I lost the big hair. I lost the cigar chomping quips. I felt like you can't have the intensity and make jokes all the time. In The Outlaw Josey Wales, Josey Wales doesn't have a smart remark every three seconds, sometimes it's just violence. The reality for me is that you can't have everything, so you trade it off and figure it out. You also get underneath it. You get inside him. Allow the move to not exist in a continuous crescendo. You have big action pieces, but allow the movie to pull back, then sink or swim on its own dramatic value.
We see vulnerability, weakness in Wolverine for the first time. In previous films he was pretty much indestructible. Did you want to show him feeling pain or having the ability to be hurt?
James Mangold: Even Superman has kryptonite. The thing with Logan is that if he can heal from anything, then it makes it really hard to actually have stakes in a fight at all. Then there's literally nothing you can do that he can't spring back from. That was an issue. The only thing you can do is put someone he cares about in jeopardy. When I came on this movie, one of the things I explored was taking away his healing. It also marries to this idea I used in the Chris Claremont and Frank Miller storyline, this theme of immortality and its downside. The fact is when you live forever, you say goodbye to everyone you've ever known and loved. You're going to outlast them all. The loneliness he exists in, the sense of doom you have...if he's there for the bombing of Nagasaki; he's seeing all of history's mistakes. He's seeing all of history's cruelties and he's going to live through all the ones to come. He'll say goodbye to every woman he's loved, every mentor he's had, every team or fraternity he's been a part of, including the X-Men. That's all going to come and go. I thought it was important to examine. I wrote it on the back of the first material I read. In fact, I called Hugh and these were the five words I said that I wrote down, "anyone I love will die." In the beginning of the film, when he's hiding out in the Yukon, he's trying to keep himself out of the world so he won't hurt anyone else. He's already killed the woman he loved. He's lost everyone else. It feels to him, that if you touch him, like him, or become intimate with him, you're cursed. There's this enforced isolation he puts himself in. Even the bear in the beginning, it's the only creature he has a relationship with, and it ends up impaled. He's definitely bad luck. (laughs)
I was surprised by how much screen time Famke Janssen has in this film. Jean Grey is a very important part of this story. Was that directly from the script or did you emphasize that more in editing?
James Mangold: It was a big part of the script. When Scott Frank, Mark Bomback, and I developed the story, the idea was that you have a character like Logan that doesn't talk much. How are you going to find out what's going on inside him if he doesn't have any friends or lovers anymore? It's our conceit that instead of talking or muttering to himself, he's actually having an ongoing dialogue with the woman he loved most in the world, who he actually killed.
Let's talk about working with Hugh Jackman. He's such a versatile, committed actor, that's taken this character to whole new level here. As a director, how many notes did you have for him, or is he just kicking ass from day one on the set?
James Mangold: You're always tweaking the performance as he goes. But it's not like you're correcting something wrong that he's doing. Sometimes it's about making the shots work. It's not always about being out of character. I need you to turn here, and look exactly in the lens here when this happens. Stuff like that. It's about the technical blocking of how to work in with the other characters. Sometimes I'm literally playing his 'Wolvy' buzzer. (laughs) Bzzz, you're too nice, Bzzz, you're too soft. Hugh is so versatile. It's easy for him to portray many faces of Logan. I was trying to eliminate the sitcom Logan. We do use the word 'bub', but there's also a jokey quality that seems too campy to me. I enjoyed that, in the other films, but if we were going to succeed in getting deeper, then you cannot do that at the same time. In reality, you can't have your cake and eat it too. Those movies exist, that's great. What this movie was setting out to do was to get a little darker.
What was the hardest day filming this movie?
James Mangold: There was one day that I shot for almost twenty-four hours. We're shooting in Japan, in a pachinko parlor, part of a chase sequence. Pachinko parlors makes so much money, we couldn't afford to build a fake one, so we used a real one. They literally make over a hundred thousand dollars a day. People sit around just dumping coins in them. Money, money, nonstop, the only way we could get in one, even though the scene takes place during the day, was to shoot at night. So we shot from 3 AM to 6 AM, shooting the interior pachinko parlor, then did 7 AM to 9PM shooting outside. I got two hours of sleep at my hotel, then was back at 11 PM getting to shoot to 6 AM again in the pachinko parlor. Then got three hours sleep and shot the whole next day. Red Bull does come in handy. But by the time that second day ends, we're shooting that train sequence with Mariko and Logan. I was ready to drop, air mattress, hay, anything.
Conversely, what was your favorite day filming?
James Mangold: The best day was early on when I realized just how good the cast was in general, not just Hugh. We were early on, shooting at the Yashido estate, there was a moment when it just snapped. And I felt that Tao Okamoto and Rila Fukushima and Hiroko Sonoda, it was so wonderful seeing this cast work. For western audiences, many of these actors will be brand new. They are all so wonderful in their roles and so different.
What was it like filming in Japan? The Wolverine shows many different facets and places in Japan.
James Mangold: When you do a travelogue like type film, the danger is you cut to Japan and get, dinga dinga dong dinga dong ding dong! (laughs) Cue the Japanese music and its terrible, not right. There's a level where you don't want to become bad travelogue or cliché. Even in a pop movie like this, how do we put him in a place that feels completely real? Now there is a lot of fantasy elements to this movie. And it can be like a fever dream. But what I love is that we got our of Tokyo, went to southern Japan. There was a little town called Tomanura, and then Omishima. These beautiful little towns surrounded by volcanic islands. You see them in the movie, they're stunning. You see another side of Japanese life. I only learned about urban Japanese films. Oh, they have small apartments, and work in very small spaces, and they travel in crowded subway cars. A lot of that stuff couldn't be further what you experience. There trains aren't always packed. They're beautiful. They run exceptionally on time. You can imagine this blockbuster western movie landing in this tiny fishing village. No one had ever shot a movie there. You have these fisherman, simply, bucholic, beautiful lives, I think I'd take their job for a week or two. It was also moving seeing how the cast and the local children related to The Wolverine coming to town.
Could you see yourself making another Wolverine film? Or doing another film in the comic genre?
James Mangold: I would never say I'd never do anything. I like to travel around in different genres. I had a great time making this movie. I'm very proud of it. I have no idea how it's going to play. It'll be very hard for me to ever turn down working with Hugh. I know we'll definitely make another film together. It was definitely one of the great partnerships I've had working with someone in my life.