While on the Australian set of The Wolverine last fall, we began our tour with the second unit, talking with the crew who were setting up an overnight shoot with Hugh Jackman's Wolverine fighting ninjas in a snowy Japanese village. We also traveled to the main unit who were shooting secretive scenes in one of the main stages of Fox Studios Australia.
Director James Mangold took some time in between shots to chat with us about The Wolverine where he discusses the development on the film, its ties to the X-Men film franchise and comics, the use of 3D and Easter eggs, and of course, mutants.
Before you came on board at one time, Darren Aronofsky was in line to direct. In what state was the project in when you came joined and how much did you have to rework?
James Mangold: "Well, I mean, pretty much any movie I get involved with I'm going to kind of take apart in some way and put together in a way that interests me. I mean, Darren, you would have to ask Darren about what he was doing on it and how he was working on it, but I mean, I don't believe that he was on it very long. I mean, there weren't like drafts that had come from his involvement or anything. But, I did speak to him before I became involved because I was just curious about what his experience was before I kind of got involved on it.
My whole connection to it was my own kind of fascination with Logan and immortality. I saw a real opportunity to kind of explore a lot of really interesting themes that were inside the Claremont-Miller kind of saga. I saw a lot. There was a lot of great stuff in the McQuarrie script that existed, but over the last two years, we've continued to work it—other writers, myself. I mean, you probably know the other writer, Mark Bomback, Chris, myself and Scott Frank all worked on it at different times, so kind of all on the same page and working on the same agenda. But for me, it was always about A—trying to really get underneath Logan, trying to get inside Logan, trying to break out of the kind of natural gravitational pull of these kind of movies to become a kind of—they're pretty much all built on the idea of some really bad guy is going to doing something, or alien or something, is going to do some incredibly nefarious thing to earth, or a continent or at least the city. And that, to try and go, how can we make a kind of character based film—I mean, obviously it's going to still have tent pole action and super hero action in it, but that isn't essentially based on the same exact three act structure of super villain, stopping the super villain, how do I stop the super villain? And, trying to break out of that and make it a much more internal story about a character and his own journey, yet I mean, in many ways, there's a whole litany of films that are kind of action based—Westerns, film noir that are mysterious, exciting, filled with gripping action that don't necessarily have to have a 70,000 pound lizard from the planet something coming to earth. So, there is a way. It's not like you're abandoning excitement to make a movie about characters. You're just trying to find a way to break out.
Also, to me, having been a comic book collector since I was a kid, in a way, the standard formula of the Hollywood superhero film was also something that didn't reflect to me the way comic books lived, which is that very often they're much richer and deeper in characterization. And part of what keeps you glued and hooked is not just the gimmickry or the unique powers or kind of the high octane action, but actually, the interpersonal relationships, romances, yearnings, fears, depressions of the hero of the piece."
That's what put Marvel on the map to begin with.
"Well, it is, and yet I think that what happens in the natural conversion of almost any kind of story to the kind of standard two hour structure is that there's this kind of snap to grid that suddenly the movies kind of get into, and I think that's what we're trying very hard to kind of avoid."
So you read the comics when you were a kid?
You were familiar with this?
"Sure, sure. I mean, I was a DC and Marvel fanatic. I was really into comic book collecting and reading. But, that particular saga, I was out of college at the point when it came out. But, for me, there was something so bold and intriguing about trying—I mean, honestly, I didn't believe they were going to let me make the movie. I mean, I thought that the movie was so interesting, I kind of always had this sneaky feeling that I thought they're going to find a way out of doing this because essentially, there's so many adventurous aspects to the film. Number one being the fact that it takes place in a foreign land, and language, multiple languages are getting spoken, multiple cultures are getting exposed to one another. And so, it struck me, you know, that I mean, the cast is almost entirely Japanese. So, the natural kind of cynicism of this business made me wonder, “Are they really going to do this,” and they did, to their credit. To Fox's credit, they pulled the trigger on it and they put a lot of resources behind this. I think they've allowed us to do it the right way."
How did you like filming in Japan?
"I loved it. I mean, it's very challenging, but I loved it. We had a great time and we all love Japan and we've spent a great deal of time there, both mentally and physically, meaning like, even when we're here (motioning to the set), we're kind of in Japan. But, and we have so many Japanese people as part of the cast and kind of consulting with me and working on the film that it's kind of this continuous immersion in Japanese culture. But, I love it."
Yeah, I wanted to ask, so two questions relating to that. Does the Wolverine character—like in the books, he's got so many years, so many experiences, so he's actually very intelligent and can speak multiple languages, does he learn to speak, or can he speak Japanese in the film?
"He doesn't really speak much Japanese in this movie."
"We play this as his first trip to Japan. I kind of didn't want to get involved in—I find that it gets really complicated in a film to be suddenly opening a film and bringing someone, for instance, to Japan and going, 'This is our fourth time here.' It's kind of slightly anti-climactic. So, this would be the story of kind of a lot of the elements, most of the elements that exist in the Claremont-Miller comic are in it, but the only difference is that he's experiencing them all for the first time. He's meeting Mariko. He's meeting Yukio. These things are all happening as a first, as opposed to feeling like you stepped into the third or fourth episode of a saga. You're kind of starting with all these people kind of coming up against it for the first time."
Continue to Page 2 for James Mangold talking 3D, X-Men Easter Eggs, and tying into Days of Future Past!