The Wolverine Screening Q&A With Director James Mangold

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In support of today's Blu-ray release of The Wolverine: Unleashed Extended Edition, filmmaker James Mangold met with reporters for a special screening of the film last night on the Fox Lot.

Below is a quick-and-dirty transcript of the Q&A that followed the screening. You can check out more on the event here.

This is seven movies now for Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, right? What do you think keeps him coming back?

I think he's phenomenal in the role. I made Kate and Leopold with Hugh after he'd made the first X-Men so to me it doesn't seem like the same--he was part of an ensemble in that first film. I don't think he had any idea, even after completing it, what was happening.

It's easy to look back and go, "He's made seven movies; he's been the Wolverine," but in the beginning he was part of a crew. I think that the evolution of what's happened with it is the natural evolution of a great character and a great actor. It's one of those really rare moments where it's an alignment of the right person for the right job and I think when that happens, Sean Connery Bond, I don't think there's any reason that should stop.

Do you think fans are more forgiving of actors and less prone to typecast them than there used to be? Do you think it's just the fact that the movies are so good that stops him from being typecast into a role like Chris Reeve or Leonard Nimoy?

I wouldn't credit the movies and I wouldn't credit anything but just Hugh. I think that he's an incredible, versatile...

...Leonard Nimoy can't sing and dance, God love him. And he can't do a romantic comedy with Meg Ryan. So there's a reality to Hugh Jackman in terms of his own versatility that is really uniquely equipped to both eclipse and live within the world of the character he's created.

The-Wolverine-DVDIt's also, if you think about Eastwood--how many Dirty Harrys were there? Five? But you think that Clint essentially has been in the groove of that guy for about nineteen movies. The reality is that once people respond to an actor--John Wayne may have had different names, but he was playing the same guy. There's nothing wrong with that.

I find having made a lot of movies with movie stars that there's almost this tragic pressure on them to prove their versatility, whether it's to a critical audience or it's to the general public itself. How different was Jimmy Stewart picture to picture? And I don't mean that as a dig; there's nothing wrong with being Jimmy Stewart. There's nothing wrong with being Gene Arthur or Fred MacMurray or Errol Flynn; Errol Flynn didn't do a new accent in every movie.

It isn't only the measure of an actor, in my opinion, whether they can change like a chameleon. The absolute ability to bring your honest self to the screen with this big, round spherical lens three inches from your nose, is a miracle in and of itself and a lot of actors get hurt by trying to keep reinventing themselves as opposed to--you know, track stars run and baseball players play baseball. They don't suddenly next season...well, one did and it didn't work out so well. When you find that vein of gold, that connection with an audience, there's no reason to abandon it other than some sense of public or media shame that you're not branching out more. I think when you find a groove you can stick with it.

It can feel kind of stunt-y, too...

It can but I think the real measure is artistically, asking yourself inside whether you're flatlining. The world, whether it's politics or music or athletics or art or movies has gotten to where there's so much commentary and if you listen to it you can stop listening to yourself.

I think at the moment Hugh is tired of doing this--personally not challenged--he'll stop.

The Wolverine Unrated VersionHe's a great character and great characters are a challenge. You have to find a way that's different to do it than it's been done before. You changed the claws; there's a notable decrease in the amount of hairspray and just the look of the film I think--no superhero costume, per se...

They were all part of a general strategy I had to make the kind  of movie I'd want to see. I looked at images of Hugh in the previous movies and I felt like he looked like he was wearing a wig, frankly. And he was, so that's why it looked like it. It's tough hair, but it shouldn't be...

...For me, you're always trying to walk that line between some kind of relationship to the existing comic book art and at the same time having to physically make it work on human flesh so my thing is just, there's my own barometer of what I'll reject and I didn't want Wolverine to look like A Flock of Seagulls. And each one of those things--just pushing  that through 20th Century Fox when there's been as many movies as you're listing that have had his hair like that and they're like, "Why can't we do that?" You're like, "Because I think it looks like s--t and I'd like to try and do it differently." It was very much in keeping with the idea of trying also, given that the previous Origins film had not been extremely well-received, to try and kind of say let's rethink some things about how we're doing this and we were very conscious even at the scripting phase of giving ourselves room to do it. I mean, honestly since he let his hair grow so long in the beginning and there's people cutting it who may not know the official Marvel style, then maybe I can just credit it to what happened in the room with those two ladies in the tub.

But for me, I think he looked fantastic in the movie and I think anytime you can allow your actor within their own skin and their own scalp to be their character and not be separated by layers of--wearing a wig feel like wearing a hat!--everything separates you from authenticity and that's what I was after. And that relates to the claws as well, where I felt like some things got over-designed. I mean, I literally just pulled a page from Marvel Comics where I think it was Weapon X right on the cover and I said, "Make these." I think that the claws had looked so fake, frankly, in some other shots and movies that I wanted to just...to me, this was a film that wasn't going to operate on the will the world be saved question so it was going to live and die by whether you're interested in him as a character. The stakes were completely different; it may not seem gigantic from the outside but from the inside it's an entirely different construction where there really is not central villain out to hurt millions. The whole thing is operating from a different architecture and from that point of view you're kind of like, "How can I make the humanity of this character and his whole reality come to life?".

wolverine-frank-millerDid you spend a lot of time with the Claremont/Miller series?

All the principal characters are either lifted or have evolved from what was in Claremont/Miller. I think the trick you have when you come on a movie like this is it somehow has to relate to the other things that exist. You can't kind of pretend those movies didn't happen so you try and take the story and at the same time plug it into this larger universe.

I think after Darren left, first of all following Darren seemed like a suicide mission. Anyone who would even be tempted wasd just going to be slaughtered. It would be like slaughtering Springsteen or something; it would be like, "Why? Why would you bother? Everyone's going ot just imagine what could have been," and so time went by...but what I was getting to is just that when it finally landed in front of me the first thing I thought was, where does this take place in terms of what I've seen already? And it struck me that why is he in the Yukon? You don't ask that question when Claremont/Miller opens becuase you find him in comic books anywhere and everywhere--but in the context of a movie, it's just like, "Okay, here he is living in the woods. Why? Why now?" The movie has to answer that. Hugh is going to ask me that--"Why am I here?" I can't go, "Oh, it's in the comic book." The reality is that it struck me the reason he's there is that he doesn't want to have any more contact; he wants to be alone.

So that to me was not a change to Claremont/Miller but in a way trying to get underneath and support it, which is just - why would this journey to Japan become important? What has he been avoiding, what is he running from? And it occurred to me that he's running from the fact that anyone he cares for dies, either from the curse, the dark side of immortality which is that you are forced to ride this very slow train in which you're watching everyone you care about die or the most aggressive version which is that people who want to get at him kill the people he loves. And then you have the added juice of the fact that he took out someone he loved in a previous film so I was the one who decided to take this narrative and put it after X3 and in a way make it a sequel to the X-Men films as opposed to a sequel to the Origins film.

The Wolverine ReviewsWith characters like Superman and Wolverine, it's difficult to hurt or kill them. How do you give their stories stakes?

I should dig up this article I read 25 years ago someone did an analysis of Alien. They drew this chart and postulated that the movie was a meditation on human-ness. Or human-ness versus what monster-hood. Right?

So they would go, "Why is there a cat in the movie? Well the cat's non-human but not monster. Why is there an android in the movie? The android is non-human, non-monster...and therefore if you go through the cast - and of course then the creature is full on monster/alien so you kind of have this interesting universe.

I've always got that chart in my head - it was before I made Cop Land because when I made Cop Land, I thought about: you have Stallone as the center and you have like De Niro's character's like Law and Order - then Keitel's character is like the brotherhood, then Ray Liotta's character is like me. Not the brotherhood, not law and order just "What can I get for me?" And I thought those were almost the three aspects of a modern male and how they're dealing with the world and Stallone's caught in between.

I've always tried to think as I'm trying to assemble an ensemble you can take a theme and kind of make sure these different points of view are represented, so when I came on the movie I wrote on the back of the script very early "Everyone I love will die" and then I thought, "well, how do i make a movie, a tent-pole movie about death?"

And so we have Logan, an immortal who wishes he could die but can't. You have Mariko, a mortal who wishes she could die... and can't. You have her Grandfather who is at the edge of death, and doesn't want to die and wants what Logan doesn't want which is his immortality. And you have a character like Yukio who can see death, who can see death around corners. And then of course you have Jean Grey who's actually dead.

So it's not like I want to to get that when you're watching the movie but it's...I'm very conscious. I follow that kind of thought process [and] I end up...I always know something we can write first of all because there's a lot of interesting ideas in there but there's also the characters all have things to say to each other about their conditions and that's how we got there.

The Wolverine Japanese posterWhat about - Logan on the plane - he's so nervous. It occured to me when I was watching this the first time that if he falls into the ocean that he will drown and come back drown and come back - is that why he doesn't want to get on planes?

I don't know. They told me--everyone who's really knowledgeable about Wolverine has always told me--he hates flying. And Hugh was like "I hate flying"--I mean, as Wolverine. I love the idiosyncrasy of it - that's the beauty of him, I think, the beauty of Wolverine. It does separate him from the kind of Batman, indestructible because of my gizmos or Superman indestructible because I'm indestructible.

Wolverine's greatest enemy is in a way - not only enemies who are out to hurt him but his own psyche. His own ability to kind of deal with the bulls--t. That's, whether what makes him nervous or people who insult his intelligence or just general a--holes the fact that Logan has a kind of - He's a wonderful character in a sense that he's always struggling. So to me the idea that he doesn't like to fly - it just fits in with the animalistic nature of him also. I don't like to be contained, I don't want to be in a tuna can, I don't like to be under someone else's control. I thought it played.

No - it did... absolutely, I just like the idea of thinking of him walking under the ocean...

The plane crashes and he emerges? We tried also to get a way from that.

I mean, we weren't denying it--but the sense (and I don't think that this hurt the first Wolverine film at all) but when he leaps up and brings down a helicopter to me that's too much. It's getting into Superman territory. He doesn't have frog legs. He shouldn't be able to jump that high. My own idea of him is that there's tremendous strength but that somehow he's still bound by physics in some way. We certainly pushed to the max too but not that.

I just turns into a video game. Watching characters flip through the air in any which way.

The Wolverine Hiro Sanada and Hugh JackmanIt seems to me that this movie would fit in with some of your other films - there's a sense of outlaw honor. With 3:10 to Yuma, and Cop Land - is that something you look for, or is that something that percolates in your subconscious and catches your eye?

I don't know. I mean I know whether - I mean I don't think you're wrong. I make a lot of different kinds of movies but I think I bring different things to all of them....I don't try and become a different kind of filmmaker ever movie I make. I feel like I'm always learning. However it happens, I've had the opportunity to make so many different kinds of movies I don't know quite how I got on that carousel. But I'm really grateful.

There was a point early in my career where I felt like I was jealous, frankly, of filmmakers who kind of branded themselves very quickly and were anointed--were first on a list whenever that kind of movie came around. With time I became glad I wasn't.

I mean, for the sake of being whoever I am, whoever that is...but also for the sake of experience of doing different kinds of movies. I can't tell you how much making Identity helped me make Walk the Line but it did. It's like I can't tell you how much Kate & Leopold helped make 3:10 to Yuma but it did. The reality is that breaking out and applying your sensibility in different arenas--I don't know, can't hurt you.

But yeah, I try to bring different things I love and one is kind of in the moment characters and it struck me that it was something that whatever you call it tent-pole movies or superhero films for my own sense lacked was a sense of...

...When I read the comics, I didn't feel like they were a non-stop barrage and obviously this movie is very loud and it' got a lot of s--t going on. But there are some breaks. And I think that's important to me. It's what keeps me connected and it's also what makes me feel like we're not making a video game. If there's actually when the orchestra comes down and the dust settles you feel like there's actually characters there who you might give a s--t about. Even though the s--t isn't moving so fast.