James Mangold and Peter Fonda Talk 3:10 to Yuma With RT

Mangold: "No one's making films about people anymore."

by |

RT: All this beauty and meaning -- but still it must have taken bravery on your part to make 3:10 to Yuma now, when Westerns have been receiving such chilly receptions.

PF: It's an axiom in Hollywood that Westerns and baseball films don't make money, but Kevin Costner's Dances with Wolves was a great film and Clint's [Eastwood] Westerns --

JM: Unforgiven.

PF: Well, most of his Westerns, in fact, are very successful so he gets to make Westerns. It was much harder for Jim [Mangold] to get that [made] because he's coming from films like Heavy and Cop Land.
JM: But the truth also, is that Costner's Dances with Wolves sat on a shelf for a year after it was made. Orion was going bankrupt and they didn't want to release it because they thought it would be a bomb. Eastwood has produced his films for a really good price and I think the problem with studios and the Western is the same as the problem with studios and all other films. No one makes movies about people anymore. They're made about marvel characters or DC characters or toy lines. The act of getting a film made about human beings is really a test of how good your relationships are in Hollywood and how financially successful your last film was.

PF: Yeah -- you're only as good as your last picture.

JM: The truth is there's so much risk in making a movie about human beings and there's so little risk in putting some young dude in tights and having him jump around in front of a green-screen. There are guarantees on what the 14 year olds will show up to see. There are guarantees about what the video business will do that make it a good investment.


RT: You two have made many films in many different genres but ultimately there are some very consistent traits among them --

JM: One thing I'd say is it's not good for us to know that.

PF: You took the words right out of my mouth.
JM: It's good for you to know it because it's what you do. There are three unhealthy things about us talking about that. First thing: it gets us self-aware and involved in our own hype. To frame that question and answer it means I'm looking at myself like I'm a famous movie director and thinking about my consistent themes. I think too many of my peers do too much of that already, which is why so few good films are being made. They've already figured out that by their second movie they're the king of the horror movie, or the king of the post-modern whatever. Billy Wilder made 16 films before he made one comedy. If you had asked Billy Wilder that when he made his fifth movie what would he have told you? And what would he have limited himself to? The reason this story occurs to me is that my great teacher was Alexander McKendrick [Sweet Smell of Success, Lady Killers, The Man in the White Suit] told me a story [about] how he was doing an interview, much like this one -- I don't know for which film -- and the reporter asked him a similar question and he waffled a bit and the reporter said, "Are you aware every one of your movies is about deadly innocence? Whether it's the little old lady in Lady Killers or JJ. Hunsecker's sister in Sweet Smell of Success, your films always have a daffodil of innocence that ends up destroying a great evil." And then he went, "I never was aware of that." And he said he never picked up a script again without thinking, "Will I fulfill my 'Deadly Innocence' prophesy?" It makes you self-conscious about your own work, when what you really have to do to make good work is to get out of your head and into your gut. I'm sure I bring the same bag of tricks to every picture and I'm sure I bring my family issues and life issues into each film but I'd rather deal with that in my personal life and not frame them in my work life because I want to keep growing.

PF: I've played a lot of really different characters in my career.

JM: And when I met Peter I was trapped by his oeuvre. I said, "I don't know if the beekeeper can play someone this savage and tense killer. I imagined him as Robert Shaw in Jaws I think Peter does an incredible job finding an original way to attack this role, but if I operated from my sense of his gig then I was limiting him. Both sides are true: he brings his core energy and you can see moments of The Beekeeper in Byron McElroy. They're not the same man, but the same soul is bringing life to each of these roles.

PF: I'm with Jim. I have a certain way of acting, and I know how to bring that to each character, but I think if you haven't explored the other side of your body and mind you're in deep doodoo.

JM: Peter has one mouth, one set of eyes, one body; he can't play a fat man. We have things that define us. There are movies I can do better than others, but I don't know if the person I will be in ten years will be different or a permutation.

PF: And I could get a fat suit.




RT: How quickly you evade being limited!

JM: Fine, or CG. What I love about the golden age of Hollywood actors is that they seem to understand and feel less pressure -- there are different definitions of acting. There's the kind of acting like Alec Guinness where you put a powdered wig on your head and become a different human and then people like Jimmy Stewart was not very different from one film to another. At the same time, I wouldn't say Jimmy Stewart was playing the same role in every movie. That's a really fine line. Errol Flynn, Humphrey Bogart, they were not different in every movie, but I wouldn't say they were playing the same part again and again. Those men found a way to bring something incredibly true to the screen, and it's not easy. You get in front of a Panavision lens, six inches from your nose, and bring your true soul to the screen. It's really hard.

Comments