Months after visiting the set of The Wolverine and interviewing director James Mangold, along with the cast and crew, we traveled to the Twentieth Century Fox lot edit bay to meet with Mangold again and watch over 20 minutes of the film. The footage was comprised of the opening of the film which details Logan’s reason for returning to Japan, and then we skipped forward to watch the entirety of the bullet train action sequence.
After witnessing firsthand how The Wolverine is shaping up, we sat down with Mangold to discuss the footage, the X-Men movie universe, working with Hugh Jackman again, and how to tell a different kind of Samurai movie that happens to feature mutants.
[Warning: The following interview discusses a few scenes from the footage we saw which can be considered spoilers]
So obviously you know that the last [Wolverine film] wasn’t well received. What was your approach [going into the film] knowing that you had a damaged legacy to deal with?
James Mangold: I think for me there were a lot of opportunities in the movie. It was less about the fact that [the story of Wolverine] was a Japanese saga as well [instead] it allowed the chance to do the version you would like to see… I think this film, one of its advantages for me and I think a tougher thing for the first one; you’re unburdened by the origin story. I mean the origin story is awesome but it’s very hard [to pull off]. I’ll be very curious to see [how it’s handled in Superman]—a lot of friends [of mine] and smart people worked on [the new] Superman [I’ll be interesting to see how they pull it off]. The original Superman is like two movies; there’s a kind of Christ story to tell of how this immortal gets made and then they have an adventure. The advantage I have on [The Wolverine] is my two hours are entirely devoted to characters and adventure and not having to set everything up. There’s a joy to [setting up origin story], I’m not putting it down but I think that when you have a movie where you’re trying to do both it’s an extra challenge. For me, because so much has been set in place with this character already it afforded me a chance [to do something different] and I don’t think many films like these hero films, go inside [the hero] and just explore him. The movie doesn’t revolve around any gigantic villain out to destroy the planet, the earth, the continent… football stadium… the movie is built on interpersonal relationships. It sounds more obvious than you’d think there really aren’t many of these movies that are built on that.
It seems like you’re using the other movies or our perception of them to build in that thing. You use Jean Grey there—
Mangold: I think it would have been almost silly to try to make a movie with the same actor and essentially reboot by adding more of the existing characters I wasn’t trying to do that. I was trying to free myself tonally. Script wise working on the film one of the things I tried to walk the line between was what I really loved about the original Claremont-Miller saga [which was] what had already been set in place in the X-Men universe in the movies and in the comic books. In a sense not to flagrantly contradict what has come before but to just feel like as a piece of tone, as a piece of filmmaking, the movie can exist separately. It kind of exists in its own energy, in whatever I’m doing. I wasn’t just trying to pick up wherever someone else left off.
With the Claremont and Miller storyline from the Marvel Comics, there’s a lot more to expand on when it came to the original storyline and it looks like you’re taking advantage of that.
One of the things I thought was really interesting about when I came on the project is that it wasn’t entirely clear where this took place in the timeline of the movies and other things that existed. For me what was the opportunity was to place this after everything the existed so that in a way I could take advantage of what I wanted to take advantage of without having to do a handoff to a preexisting movie or end in a certain place. But also there were themes I wanted [to explore]. I knew Hugh [Jackman] a long time, I’ve watched these movies. I’ve been a comic book fan both Marvel and DC for my whole life particularly [in my] younger years. For me there were things I saw the opportunity to explore that were touched upon in the saga but because honestly the comics are never ending you can explore these themes in a kind of expansive, horizontal way and in the end I have to somehow construct something that has a middle, beginning and end in a two hour period. So you have that, and that offers you things that you have to deal with…In Miller’s storyline he’s got a preexisting relationship with Madripoor, well that would be really weird to just open a movie and he’s already been to Japan. In a way I had to do the origin story of his relationship with Japan. Like if there was something I had to introduce it was so that you’re not only falling into a new point in his own life but you’re falling into a place where he’s already made a host of new connections and you don’t know how any of them came to pass. So there’s very simple redirection like that that we made. My own feeling about putting it after everything which for me was a huge opportunity yet another idea that was less acutely explored in Claremont-Miller but I thought would fuse with it very well was this idea—when I first saw the first script that they had developed for it the thing that I wrote down was ‘everyone I love will die.’ It was this idea to me of what it is to be immortal and in a way Logan is cursed. So that you have a sense that, in the storylines of the existing films what served me was that everyone you love is gone. Everyone, your mentors are gone, your sense of belonging to any kind of fraternal organization whether you dismissed it or not was gone. People you loved are dead, either at your own hand or because of who you are or because of people who hate you. That’s a really charged emotional place to find a character especially one who is condemned to live forever. So that you kind of go that’s really interesting, what happens if you come upon a hero like this. A dark hero like this who has lost any real purpose for being and perhaps even lost some of his interest in trying to help mankind in anyway.
In the scenes we just saw obviously that’s the theme—the immortality—that sort of drives the plot a little bit. We saw Yukio suggest that Wolverine does die eventually and we saw him not being able to heal…
Definitely, we haven’t made it a kind of secret. A) It’s always been an interesting story liability for Logan’s character not so much when you have a full X-Men movie because you have a lot of jeopardy with all the other characters. But if you have a guy who is impervious to almost any death except the most contractually complicated death you can imagine the reality is that it removes the kind of stakes for the picture. But also there was a level of if you’re making a movie about a guy who kind of lives forever, outlives everyone he ever loves and almost wishes he can get off that train then you have a really loaded situation of if you almost give him that and now that is a problem. Meaning that he gets what he wanted and it isn’t what he wanted. That’s kind of what’s interesting, ironic and interesting about the film is that it just asks a lot of questions about what it is to be a God in a way and whether we want it.
Because of the time period The Wolverine takes place, Mutants in this universe are a known part of society, so these enemies are very aware of Wolverine’s abilities?
Yeah we play it just straight. We play it as if it’s known quantities in a way he’s a little bit of an oddity in Japan but I’m just trying to play it straight like we play it with different races and stripes now.
Yukio can see the future? That’s her mutant ability?
What you saw is what you get.
I know this is a story Mr. Jackman has been wanting to tell for a long time can you describe your relationship with him and how maybe both of you came to this project in the beginning in your early conversations and how the project evolved?
These kinds of movies are never something I thought about in the forefront of my own brain making and obviously there was another filmmaker working on this for a while and it’s been in development without any filmmaker for a while but Hugh and I had a long term friendship and have kept in touch with each other and obviously we made a movie together over a decade ago. What happened to me was this kind of funny nexus of when the project fell apart with the people that were making it and it came upon my doorstep my first reaction was like, ‘No.’ But honestly because of all things that I came to realize when I spoke to Hugh I hadn’t read Claremont-Miller since it had come out. So when I took a look at it, it dawned on me that the apprehensions I had about getting involved in a film particularly one with preexisting characters and what could be the burden of feeling like you’re making the 5th episode of a television show I was freed from. I saw a fresh start and I saw…maybe this in some way addresses your question without putting down other films but I saw the opportunity of unexplored avenues for this character. Miraculously given how many times Hugh has done this role in movies that there are aspects of this character have gone unexplored. I think that’s mostly a function of when you make an X-Men film it’s kind of a round robin and when you really get down to it there’s two hours and six or seven heroes and even if you give each one eight minutes you’re out of time. So the fact is that there’s this huge ability to focus in on one character and watch him exist, be, do things and not feel under this continuant pressure to keep having it have the to turn the plot around.
You mentioned Kate & Leopold and working with Hugh back then. He’s since become a bigger star than and he’s played this [Wolverine] role multiple times. As a director how did you did you see that affect his performance? Is he just automatically on?
Well he has part of that, it’s clearly not the first time he’s put on claws or fought with claws but it does allow you to kind of ask more. It’s this kind of wonderful [thing]. You can reach deeper, you can look to refine things there’s a level where you just have a chance to redirect. The one thing that’s great to kind of redirect energies where they haven’t been before. One of the great things about Hugh is that he’s not cynical meaning that there’s no aspect where which he started this project kind of looking at it as a paycheck on a sequel movie. I think he views it as a kind of great ‘role of a lifetime’ and I think that the character has such incredible depth. Even when I was saying about the losses he’s had to suffer, what he’s made of both kind of a genetic accident and at the same time meeting up with mankind’s own kind of Frankensteiny ambitions it’s a huge amount of scars to carry inside a character and a huge task it’s also really rewarding as an actor to play someone so interesting and not just a leotard. I think the he is very ambitious and was very ambitious about what he hoped to get out of this. The places he hoped to go to that he hadn’t gotten the chance to.