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THN Talks To ‘The Wolverine’ Director James Mangold: Part One

The Wolverine Image

With THE WOLVERINE soon to be slashing his way back into cinemas, THN met up with director James Mangold. A native New Yorker, he doesn’t mince his words and his candid approach to interviews evokes his manner of filmmaking. Bold, refreshing and always interesting, he has covered everything from crime drama (COP LAND, 1997) and character study (GIRL, INTERRUPTED, 1999) to biopic (WALK THE LINE, 2005) and Western (3:10 TO YUMA, 2007). THE WOLVERINE is his largest project to date and comes with a whole lot of expectations after X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE. Which, we gather, he wasn’t too keen on as a name…

wolverine, hugh jackman, james mangold

James Mangold: Well that title’s just a sad clusterfuck from Hell. It’s an attempt to be everything to everybody. But to my good fortune, if they had called it ‘The Wolverine,’ I wouldn’t have been able to do this.

How did you come to be involved in the project?

James Mangold: I’ve always loved the Claremont/Miller series, the X-Men and Wolverine. When I got involved I was in New York shooting a pilot for Robert De Niro’s company and that’s when Darren (Aronofsky) fell off it, and he had only come on a few months earlier. When they approached me about it, I was really skeptical about several things – about just what these comic book movies had become, and whether there was a natural way for me to do what I do in the face of it. On a cynical side I feel that comic book movies are a way of shifting lunch-boxes and action figures and I feel like these people aren’t so much making a movie as much as a part of a global campaign for profits. There are exceptions to that but I do feel the pressure. I haven’t done what Christopher Nolan’s done so I don’t get the space that he gets. So the anxiety you have entering a film like this is what kind of pocket of freedom you have to the movie you want, so I was very careful, from the top, to make sure I had space to manoeuvre.

How involved were you in changing Christopher McQuarrie’s original script?

James MangoldIt’s kind of awkward, because I think Chris is a brilliant writer and I’m not out to piss on anyone or say, “I threw away what they did,” but at the same time, we did a lot. So the whole concept of Logan’s inability to heal is entirely new based on my arrival and the work that we did. There was a mention of the bombing (Nagasaki) in McQuarrie’s script, and one of the things I felt, on the heels of the tsunami, was that I wanted to address what had happened in that country without being tasteless, but I felt that there was something tasteless about pretending that nothing had happened, so we focus the audience’s attention on another catastrophe. When you think about it, this geographically small county has endured three out of the four major nuclear events in global history, which is insane. But the fact that they keep coming back, have persevered all on this small landmass is incredible. And with Logan’s two hundred years of suffering and how he heals, both physically and emotionally, I felt there was an analogy between him and Japan that I wanted to make in this movie.

The Wolverine Still Poster 2

Regarding Japan, their name for the movie is WOLVERINE: SAMURAI. What are your thoughts on that?

James Mangold: The way movies get titled around the world is extraordinary, but I loved the concept of him being a Ronin (a samurai with no master) which made me think that it would take place after the X-Men were gone. This idea of a Samurai after the battle, when he no longer has a kingdom or a leader and there’s nothing to fight for, that is a 21st century problem for a superhero in a world that is a tangled mess. It’s easy when some aliens want to come and blow us up, then all can rally round to stop them, but most contemporary problems are a morass of who’s bad and who’s good. It’s about the malaise that a superhero might feel when they think, “What you are supposed to do in a world in which you can’t even figure out who is screwing who?” It’s an interesting existential quandary. Also, setting the film after X-MEN: THE LAST STAND makes sense, because if he were still with them, he could just call them up and say, “Can you help me with these fucked up Yakuza?”

Did having no more X-Men in the film help you with a more linear narrative?

James Mangold: When you do the maths, the average X-Men movie, minus credits, is a hundred and twenty minutes. Then how many mutants have you got in each movie? At least seven. So then you divide a hundred and twenty minutes by at least seven, so you got seventeen minutes per character? It’s really hard to cover that much ground. The second you got that many balls in the air, to do a kind of personal story for each character becomes an opening scene or a problem scene, you find them thirty-five minutes later, you visit that problem one more time, the movie wraps up, you maybe get a chance to figure out whether they’ve gotten over that problem or not. The end. It doesn’t seem that rushed because you’ve got six other characters with their arcs all balanced out. That’s very different to this film. With an exception of maybe two scenes, Hugh is in every single scene in the movie.

I think that’s a good approach, particularly for people who aren’t familiar with the previous films.

James Mangold: It is incumbent upon you to always tell a story with the assumption that people aren’t familiar with the character. You can’t assume that anyone knows who Johnny Cash is, you can’t assume that they’ve read Girl, Interrupted and you can’t assume they’ve ever seen a Western before. You have to introduce the rules of the world to people, but that doesn’t mean that you have to explain the rules of the world. Sometimes I think people will go too far; movies to me aren’t inherently about talking, they are about seeing, so you don’t need to literally tell people what’s going on. I think as I come into this film, I see a guy who’s clearly lived more than a century, who doesn’t seem to be ageing, has claws that come out of his knuckles, seems haunted, troubled, missing some woman in his past… Did he hurt her? What happened? I think it functions. You want to be intelligent enough to aim the movie at an audience who’ve never seen it before. That’d be an interesting statistic, to find how many people who would come and see this movie who’ve never seen the X-Men films before.

The Wolverine Silver Samurai Will Yun Lee

Then there are the opposite, the people who are maybe a bit too keen on the character and don’t want you to change him at all. How do you approach that?

James Mangold: It’s a movie and you’re using flesh and blood people to bring them to life, and if fans want to live in the drawings, they should not leave them. Johnny Cash was a lot taller than Joaquin Phoenix. The effort people like me make to mount the characters into life requires specificity because we’re putting them in flesh and blood. I can’t comment on people freaking out about Superman’s pants because Superman is more of a vanilla icon and so the costume is more important because there is so little else there. With Logan, there is so much story surrounding a guy who has been born, fucked up, lived for over two hundred years and been screwed with by science. I think that’s why he’s been so successful. In many ways it is to be congratulated that the filmmakers before me have stayed away from the gizmos and the outfits. Some fans consider that tragic, but we all go to the edge to make everyone happen, but then we realise that we’d fall of the cliff if we did because Logan is so raw and real. You experience him without the vanity of an outfit, in the context of the movies. Because that’s what it is – branding. The thing I can’t get around, that uniform is branding, and one thing Logan doesn’t have any fucking interest in is being on someone’s fucking T-shirt. The character is not a guy, as I perceive him, who’s walking around thinking, “How can I be recognisable to everyone around the world and what will my colours be? And who will construct this for me?”

Come back tomorrow for the concluding part of THN’s interview with James Mangold!

Click here for our review.

THE WOLVERINE is released on 25th/26th July in the UK and US respectively.

John is a gentleman, a scholar, he’s an acrobat. He is one half of the comedy duo Good Ol’ JR, and considers himself a comedy writer/performer. This view has been questioned by others. He graduated with First Class Honours in Media Arts/Film & TV, a fact he will remain smug about long after everyone has stopped caring. He enjoys movies, theatre, live comedy and writing with the JR member and hetero life partner Ryan. Some of their sketches can be seen on YouTube and YOU can take their total hits to way over 17!

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