James Mangold’s version of 3:10 to Yuma may have gotten off to a bumpy start. Tom Cruise was interested in the project for while, but that didn’t pan out — nobody wanted to make the Western and then the film got put into turnaround. That didn’t stop the tenacious director from going forward and making an outstanding and, not to mention, Oscar-worthy film. ComingSoon.net talked to Mangold about the challenges of remaking the 1957 movie as well as his take on Westerns.
ComingSoon.net: Can you talk a little bit about the casting process and landing Russell Crowe and Christian Bale?
James Mangold: Russell was someone who I very much had in mind when I would talk with Cathy (Konrad; Mangold’s wife and producer) about this movie for several years and I had met him several years ago when I was working on some other stuff and was really interested in approaching him with this. And it was our first pass. He at one point was tied to [another] movie, which made it seem like it wasn’t going to happen. And then suddenly he became available and that was really a mother load for us because I think he’s perfect Ben Wade.
CS: And Christian?
Mangold: Well in the casting of Christian, that was something I really opened my eyes to. He was someone who I sat down and met and I was not sure. And I think I had never met him before and really admired his work but wanted to make sure that I felt it in him and I really did. I mean I really felt an incredible passion for him, from him for the role and also was just really impressed with what he was going to bring to Dan Evans.
CS: Ben foster has a really coming out in the film; can you talk about casting Ben and what he brought to the table?
Mangold: The key for casting the film to me was to try and avoid the stereotypes of the Western. And we saw a lot of it. Because we read for Charlie Prince, you got to see a lot of it in the sense that I can out-bad, “I’m super tough. I’m super bad. I’m bad. I’m bad. I’m bad.” And the key to conquering these roles from Ben Wade down is actually to bring a kind of ease to it. I mean the great, whether you’re talking about Anthony Hopkins in “Silence of the Lambs” or Russell Crowe in this movie or a lot of other interesting roles you might come upon, part of the seduction of this character is their ease, their comfort, their charm, which comes from not just twizzeling their mustache every three seconds and doing kind of a Dick Dastardly impression, but from bringing a lot of humanity to the role.
CS: And yet at the same time this film really kind of harkens back to the traditional Western.
Mangold: But the traditional Westerns are really mis-typed as bad guy, good guy movies. Most of them, you go back, who’s the bad guy and good guy in “Shane?” Shane’s a killer, but he saves the family. Jack Palance wants some office property, is he bad, is he good? Everything is gray the great westerns and you can go back, “The Searchers,” is John Wayne a good guy or a bad guy? I think that’s one of the great misconceptions about the Westerns and why they’re dead. And I’d hope, actually you guys to avoid printing what isn’t really true except for the worst Gene Autry movies, is that there really was never the black hat, white hat Western. John Wayne was a dark figure. “3:10 to Yuma,” 1957, that’s not a movie about clear cut good guys and bad guys. “Rio Grande,” “Rio Lobo,” on and on I could go. These are all movies about the gray between good and bad and I think part of the reason people have tuned out of the Western is this assumption that it actually isn’t born out by reality, that they’re somehow simplistic stories. When in fact I think they sometimes have more in common with like “Taxi Driver.” The simplistic movies might have been Steve Reeve’s “Hercules” movies, but the fact is that the Westerns never were.
CS: Back then Westerns were able to say things that you couldn’t say in other kinds of movies. How does the Western apply today?
Mangold: I think we’re exploring similar things. I mean I think that one of the things the Western gave us an opportunity to do and I don’t think it’s particularly obtuse to explore a lot of issues today in the context of the post Civil War period in America and allow you to see them allegorically instead of directly. And it makes the film less preachy. It makes the film less of a kind of political didactic experience and much more of a film where you experience, wow I didn’t know that voluntary militia men were drawn into the Civil War even if they didn’t want to be. And even just exploring, I would always joke with Peter Fonda that he was kind of playing Dick Cheney, that the kind of use of God to justify violence on both sides. That Ben Wade will justify violence using a kind of anarchy or kind of almost libertarian philosophy of survival of the fittest and at the other side of the spectrum you have Peter Fonda, who’s kind of using violence justified by law and order. And both of them are quoting the bible to justify their actions. And I think that a lot of that becomes a way to play out things without making political points but actually drawing an audience into something where they just might be left thinking in a way that we haven’t divided people.
CS: You were a great fan of the original movie and without giving too much away, what went into all of the changes that you decided to put into this film?
Mangold: We changed more than the end. I mean we changed the beginning. I mean I could riffle them off. Dan Evans doesn’t have one leg in the original and he’s not a Civil War veteran and his son doesn’t travel with them and you should see the original then. But there’s an awful lot. There’s a huge journey, a three-day journey that doesn’t exist in the original film. The son isn’t present in the ending in the original. But I think what you should do is watch the original ending and see I think that’s one of the weaker areas of the original and one of the more implausible frankly. But I mean we felt we were making a commentary on what we felt was kind of a more evocative and realistic appraisal of what might actually have happened.
CS: What were the advantages of remaking a movie that’s not held up like a “Gone with the Wind” or a true classic, but a movie that’s a good movie that people really don’t recognize today?
Mangold: I think that the word remake has come to mean one thing and I think it’s very different in the case of films like ours, which is that there’s this very cynical kind of remake in Hollywood where you have a brand of a toy or a TV show from the ’70s or whatever it is and you take some modern stars and 70 million dollars and you throw it all together and you have asses in seats because everyone recognizes the brand. With “3:10 to Yuma,” your point is that there’s probably one percent of one percent of America is even aware of the title. So we weren’t getting any kind of innate cynical advantage, which is usually implied when you’re saying remake. Like “oh, it’s easy work. Your story’s laid out for you and there’s instant appeal with everyone in America.” We have a genre that no studio believes anyone wants to see anymore, we have a story no one’s ever heard of before. No one knew who starred in the original so in a way we really had our work cut out for us. I think the example I’d use is I do think the original film is great. I do think though that there’s a chance sometimes to remake, when movies aren’t legendary or haven’t become iconographic, there is the chance, you know how many “Hamlets” have been made? How many “Macbeths” have been made? We have in this country also kind of really wonderful mythic timeless texts and there are times where it might be interesting to bring a contemporary point of view to one of these stories instead of half the time what Hollywood does is remake the movie from the side, which is keep all the story elements, but deny that you’re just doing a mirror of the original film. Why not just be honest about it and do that text again? And that’s exactly what we kind of just thought we’d do.
CS: The Golden Age ended a while ago, so what was it like bringing it back? How did you make it more appealing to the modern audience, which expects more whistles and bells and a lot more hype?
Mangold: We’ll see. It’s an opportunity.
CS: So what’s your selling point then when you do go to a studio?
Mangold: We lost. No one wanted to make it. The other thing I think is a real selling point of the film and I do think there’s an exhaustion factor is how many times are we going to see young stars of the day in spandex in front of a green screen with some flying background? If I can do it on my XBox and I can do it on my PlayStation and I can see it every week running on HBO, I’m like is it going to stay exciting? And is there something exciting about a bunch of men and women going out into the desert and making a film with their hands and their feet and the hooves and the rains? And the wheels and the guns and there are no green screens and there is no bologna and it wasn’t shot in L.A. or in Pinewood or any of that. It’s like we’re out there. And when it’s snowing, it’s snowing in the movie. And that there’s something I think appealing about that, that we’ve lost in movies as they become more and more kind of results of a digitized. And this is a very analogue film. And I think there’s a way that that could be very appealing.
CS: Could you talk about the things you might be working on in the future?
Mangold: I’m working on a script right now but I’m not going to talk about it, but we’re in the midst of figuring out something very different than this as is our pattern.
3:10 to Yuma opens in theaters on Friday, September 7.