Q & A with Director James Mangold


DF-06348R Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz star in the action-comedy-romance KNIGHT AND DAY.<br />Photo credit: Frank Masi, SMPSP <br /> TM and ©2010 Twentieth Century Fox and Regency Enterprises. All rights reserved. Not for sale or duplication.

DF-06348R Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz star in the action-comedy-romance KNIGHT AND DAY.
Photo credit: Frank Masi, SMPSP
TM and ©2010 Twentieth Century Fox and Regency Enterprises. All rights reserved. Not for sale or duplication.

As part of ZAMM.com’s continuing conversations with leading filmmakers Martin Grove talks to director James Mangold about 20th Century Fox’s action comedy “Knight and Day”, starring Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz, opening June 23.

“Knight and Day”, from 20th Century Fox and New Regency, was directed by James Mangold (“3:10 to Yuma”) and written by Patrick O’Neill (first feature). Produced by Todd Garner, Cathy Konrad, Steve Pink, and Joe Roth, it was executive produced by Arnon Milchan, and E. Bennett Walsh.

The Story (official synopsis – no spoilers): An action–comedy centered on a fugitive couple (Cruise and Diaz) on a glamorous and sometimes deadly adventure where nothing and no one — even themselves — are what they seem. Amid shifting alliances and unexpected betrayals, they race across the globe, with their survival ultimately hinging on the battle of truth vs. trust.

James Mangold directed seven feature films prior to “Knight and Day,” including the award–winning “Walk the Line,” “3:10 to Yuma,” “Heavy” and “Girl, Interrupted.” Mangold is a director known for making sophisticated ensemble films in a wide range of genres while keeping constant the powerful themes, original characterizations, sterling performances and striking imagery that have come to define and unify his work.

The son of artists Robert Mangold and Sylvia Plimack Mangold, he was raised in New York’s Hudson Valley and graduated from California Institute of the Arts, where he studied acting and film with director Alexander Mackendrick (“Sweet Smell of Success,” “The Ladykillers”).

Mangold broke into the film business at 21 as the recipient of a prestigious writer–director deal with Disney. After a few years in Hollywood he decided to go to Columbia University’s film school, where be began writing the film “Heavy” while studying under Oscar winning director Milos Forman. “Heavy” went on to win the Director’s Prize at the 1996 Sundance Film Festival and was selected to represent the United States at the Director’s Fortnight in the Cannes Film Festival.

Following the critical success of “Heavy,” Mangold began production on his second film, “Cop Land,” an urban Western set in modern–day New Jersey starring Sylvester Stallone, Harvey Keitel, Robert DeNiro, Ray Liotta and Janeane Garafalo. The film was accepted into the main competition of the Cannes Film Festival and premiered in the U.S. to strong reviews. It was on this film that he began his creative partnership with producer Cathy Konrad (“Kids,” “Beautiful Girls,” “Citizen Ruth,” “Scream” and all of Mangold’s subsequent films).

Mangold continued his tradition of documenting the inner struggles of conflicted individuals by adapting Susanna Kaysen’s “Girl, Interrupted” for the screen. The film went on to win the Best Supporting Actress Oscar and Golden Globe for Angelina Jolie’s performance as the charming sociopath who befriends the protagonist, played by Winona Ryder.

Mangold then went on to make the romantic comedy “Kate & Leopold,” starring Meg Ryan and Hugh Jackman, and the mind–bending thriller “Identity,” starring John Cusack and Ray Liotta.

“Walk the Line,” an enormous success with critics and audiences alike, starred Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon as the legendary music couple Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash. Both actors performed their own vocals for the movie and took home Golden Globes for their performances. The film also won the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture — Musical or Comedy. It received five Academy Award nominations and Witherspoon won the best actress Oscar. A project long in the works — Mangold and Konrad began work on it a decade earlier — it was developed with the assistance and collaboration of John and June Carter Cash until their deaths in 2003.

Mangold’s gritty western “3:10 to Yuma,” starring Russell and Christian Bale, was well received by critics and audiences alike and received numerous awards nominations, including two Oscar noms. The film’s cast received a Screen Actors Guild nomination for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture.

Mangold also directed the pilot episode of the ABC romantic comedy/drama “Men in Trees,” starring Anne Heche, which debuted in fall 2006 and ran for two seasons on ABC. The series was produced by Mangold and Cathy Konrad’s production company, Tree/Line Films.

Q: This is a different kind of movie for you.
A: I always imagine — and I can’t speak for other directors — that if the world is allowing you to keep making and exploring different genres, I wouldn’t know why you wouldn’t take the opportunity of the gates being opened if actors and financing and the good stories are following you from world into another. For me and my own journey, I think the press is a part of it. I think fans are a part of this and the industry is a part of this. It’s very easy to pigeon–hole someone and go, “This woman or this man is an action director, a drama director, an indie director, a pop director, a comedy director, a horror director, a director of Southern films — you know, whatever it is. I think you can find things that are consistent among all my films, but you’d have to look deeper than just their genre. And I feel really lucky for that.
Q: Is there a difference when you’re a directing a film like, let’s say, “Girl, Interrupted” vs. a film like “3:10 to Yuma” vs. “Knight and Day?”
A: There are some things that are different and some things that remain the same. Tone in every movie is a very important consideration and the tone in a film like “Knight and Day” is night and day different from the tone in a film like “Girl, Interrupted,” for instance. But nonetheless there are interesting synergies. I couldn’t explain it completely, but when I made the horror thriller “Identity” and then followed that up with “Walk the Line,” there was a lot I learned making “Identity” that really helped me make “Walk the Line.”

For instance, when you’re making a thriller you know pretty much you’re not making an Oscar movie. You’re making a pop creation. You’re making a fun rollercoaster ride — something people will like, but also something that’s going to be judged and perceived differently. There’s different kinds of prisms that it will be examined with than, for instance, an exploration of a young woman’s stay in a mental institution (as in “Girl, Interrupted”). I was more relaxed making “Identity.” I didn’t feel when I made that film like I had to make every scene the greatest. I didn’t feel like every scene had to be reinventing drama and every actor had to be reaching their innermost depths. When you experience that it makes a film a little bit more fast and loose and you have a little more fun. And then you return to more of a serious profile picture like “Walk the Line.”

It was very interesting to me how I learned to relax even making the more serious film. When I returned to making a more serious project with very important scenes, the one thing I didn’t bring with me was the tightness that I felt I had brought in earlier films. Part of the ambition is really useful, but part of it is not. Part of it is you’re so aware of how important your movie will be, how it will be examined and how “important” it is that you get tightened as a director and you start making careful choices as opposed to bold choices. It was a big lesson for me in moving from one genre to another how sometimes one genre can teach you to lighten up or relax.

Now in relation to “Knight and Day,” I think the biggest thing that I’d be aware of from a picture like “Yuma” is that while the action is really important that it be visceral and intense, it also had to have an element of comedy to it. I would often talk to Tom and Cameron about the parallels actually between “Walk the Line” and “Knight and Day,” in the sense that I felt my duty was to always make sure that in any action sequence just like in a musical sequence the story wasn’t stopping, that the comedic energy had to run through.

I think in many of the great films you can think of where there’s both action and comedy, what works and succeeds is despite the intensity of the physicality of the scale of the action, there’s always moments of intimacy and even ironic intimacy — like our heroes are lost or can’t find their way or are bickering over who’s going to hold the wheel while the other person tries to put their foot on the brake. There’s always some kind of intimate struggle going on as well as this very large scale physical struggle and it’s something we were very aware of.

I was aware of it in “Walk the Line.” For instance, we never sang a song without having something going on underneath the surface when they were singing. In one song he’d be trying to propose to her. In another song he’d be looking at his first wife in the stands and she’d be seeing how he’s in love with June. Every song had a kind of dramatic subtext that also made it more than just a musical interlude. And similarly, I think, our goal here was to not make action a kind of interlude from story and character, but to make sure their characters stayed alive through it all.
Knight and Day — In theaters June 23rd

Knight and Day — In theaters June 23rd

Q: You've got some very heavy action in “Knight and Day.”
A: The most miraculous thing that I’ve never experienced before is that in the case of both my leads I had two people who are not only world class actors and incredibly gifted comedic actors as well as serious actors and incredibly easy on the eyes, but I had two actors who are also incredibly gifted as stunt people. Our stunt coordinators could tell you that either Tom or Cameron could stop acting tomorrow and start a career as a stunt person. They’re both incredibly skilled.

They’re each really great drivers, really incredibly skilled fighters, really physically coordinated in a myriad of ways, very aware of their own boundaries and how to work with cable safety, high speed motorcycles and cars. Cameron is a really great driver. I mean, an insanely good driver of cars and does all her stunts in the picture. Tom, I think, already has a pretty well known reputation. When you’re directing the movie, you may have heard the press but then you actually find yourself directing the film and you watch your male movie star running on the rooftops of Austria on a rainy cold night with no net and no cable and he’s seven stories in the air and on pitched roofs from the 14th Century jumping and leaping from one to another and you’re going, “This guy is absolutely incredible.” And, of course, jumping from car to car, hanging on to cars, falling off the sides of buildings. It’s all him. He loves it.
Q: And the insurance people let you do this?
A: (Laughs.) I couldn’t speak to it other than to say that Tom’s really, really, really careful at the same time that he’s really, really bold. And what I mean by that is that he’s very smart about this stuff. He is in on the planning of the stunts. He’s physically there. He shows up days in advance to walk through it, to check the grounds, to understand the footing, to think about it. He trains. He warms up. You couldn’t find someone who is more methodical and organized about what they're doing when they enter a challenge like this.

When you have actors like this, one of the things you actually regret about the emergence of amazing CG technology and face replacement and all these other things that they can do with computers is that actually this guy and girl are old school. I mean, it’s really them. Even though there’s many tricks we could have up our sleeves, you feel it watching the movie. You just sense that this is them.
Q: How did you come to direct “Knight and Day?”
A: It was roundabout in the sense that Tom and I got to know each other talking about “3:10 to Yuma.” He had been curious about that film and we had met a bunch of times talking about that movie and him potentially being involved in it. When that didn’t happen, we still parted with a real great relationship and a real interest in doing something together. We continued talking about other things I was working on. It was late in 2009 that this script crossed my desk — a rewrite by Scott Frank at that time.

I really liked the script. I thought it needed work, but I thought there was a kind of intense charm to it and an originality about it. I’m always looking for something that feels to me like at least I haven’t seen it before in the last five to 10 years. What I was told was that Cameron was attached and that Tom had read it and was curious about it, but it was without a director and obviously was going to need more work to kind of rope it all together. So I met with Cameron and I met with Tom and I talked with them about what I’d try to do with the script.
When I heard Tom and Cameron were curious about doing it, it seemed to me to be a huge opportunity. I think what made it a huge opportunity is it’s wonderful to work with stars, but it’s also most wonderful to work with them when they’re interested and prepared to do something that is so perfect for them and so perfect for them in this moment. My own sense was that this was the movie Tom should be doing right now. And this was also a great opportunity for Cameron. And then I just felt like this is exactly the kind of movie I’d want to see these two exact people and no other two people in. In many ways, my involvement was based upon whether we could reel in both of these actors because it was about this particular grouping.
For me this was a movie that wasn’t just about a story that had to be told, but it was also about personalities that had to be right for it to work. I’m a big Tom Cruise fan and I had missed one aspect of his acting canon that I just hadn’t seen in five or six years. You could say it’s comedy, but it’s also more warmth and even a more flawed character. I think the one thing that comes from playing the kind of hero that was in “Valkyrie” or the kind of hero that occupies the “Mission” films is that he doesn’t have a chance to show a wonderful aspect of his personality and his acting personality, which we’ve seen in films like “Jerry Maguire” or “Rain Man” and certainly “Top Gun” and “Risky Business.”
There’s a kind of, yes, he’s cocksure and yes, he’s confident and yes, he’s a laser beam of focus and incredibly skilled, but there’s also things he’s not as good at and there’s things where he’s got something to learn and there’s places where it’s like he’s not computing what someone’s saying and there’s a tremendous warmth of comedy that comes from watching him struggle with his relationship with Rene in “Jerry Maguire” or struggle with his relationship with Dustin Hoffman in “Rain Man.”
What I saw for him in this beyond the physicality was the dance that he and Cameron could do through this picture would also afford him a lot of moments of kind of watching the gears turn in Tom’s head that to me were my favorite kind of Tom Cruise moments. Of watching him try to cope with stuff that isn’t always rational. You know, Qantas Airlines (in “Rain Man”). The stuff where you’re watching him have to deal.
Q: When was it that you read the script and came on board?
A: It was late 2008 when I first saw it. In 2009 we really opened the hood and began to work on the script and did so all year until production began. We started (shooting) in September 2009. We wrapped a lot of stuff in Europe at the end of the year, but we still had a little bit of stuff to do in January 2010.
Q: Where did you shoot?
A: Boston was the predominant location. Then we shot in Salzburg, Austria. We shot in Seville, Spain and we shot in Jamaica and we also shot in Los Angeles.
Q: Well, it sounds like you had a substantial budget?
A: Yeah. It's not a small movie. I don't even know anymore (what it cost).