CS Interview: James Mangold and Dafne Keen Talk Logan’s X-23
This weekend, 20th Century Fox‘s Logan handily took #1 at the box office with $237 million worldwide, and has been nearly unanimously hailed by critics. Much of that success rests with director James Mangold, who took a more grounded approach to a superhero movie, but the film’s secret weapon is 12-year-old Spanish actress Dafne Keen as Laura (a.k.a. X-23). We had the chance to chat with both Mangold and Keen about the casting process, and also got to ask Mangold about a crucial plot point that’s only discussed but never shown on camera involving the ailing Professor X (Patrick Stewart). Check out the interview below!
***BEWARE OF SPOILERS!***
ComingSoon.net: Let’s start with you, Dafne. What was the most difficult moment for you physically in the film?
Dafne Keen: Just—wow, that’s…
James Mangold: Like, what was the stunt that gave you the most trouble?
Keen: I think they were all quite, like, the same level.
CS: What about the most emotional scene for you?
Keen: I think it was the last scene.
CS: The one with you and Hugh together by the tree? Do you think, given where she is at the end of the film, do you think it would be good to see more of X-23’s adventures? Or do you think it’s better to just imagine where she goes from here?
Keen: I don’t know. (Laughs)
CS: Do you have an idea in your mind where she goes from here or what could become of her?
Keen: I think she escapes to Canada with her friends.
CS: It seems a bit better in Canada anyway. I heard it was a process, getting to Dafne. What was the moment during the audition process where you and Hugh looked at each other and said, “That’s the girl”?
Mangold: It really wasn’t much of a process, to be honest. We didn’t know who could possibly be 10- to 12-years old, Spanish-speaking, physically capable, a brilliant young actress. And once you kind of put that whole list, it’s incredible how few people even come in. And when I saw the first tape I got that Dafne – where did you make it, in Madrid? Or were you in London when you made it?
Mangold: Madrid. Her dad and her made a tape of her kind of climbing around their apartment or their house, and I remember she was like, scaling bookshelves and then jumping down and tumbling, and then doing these scenes. And looking like she was having a great time, it looked like you didn’t want to stop.
Keen: Yeah, I know.
Mangold: I had a very visceral reaction, which was just, this is the person. Long before I met her, I was like, this is the person. Fox was like, “Well, we have to keep the casting process going. You can’t just pick this one. We need a process.” I was like, “Yeah, but this is the person.” I remember, I dragged Patrick, Patrick came for a visit to talk about the script in LA, and I dragged him into my office and I played this tape of Dafne, and he was like, “Oh my god. She’s amazing.” And I sent it to Hugh. We arranged a session for Daf to come to New York and meet Hugh and do some scenes with her and him and me. And then, it was done.
Keen: And I remember it was weird, like thinking, I remember lying in bed and thinking, “Right now, it’s day time in LA and they’re watching my tape. And I’m in bed right now.”
CS: Well, it all worked out. That’s for sure.
Mangold: Yes, it did.
CS: Now the last time I talked to you, we got to talk a little bit of sort of about the “Unforgiven”-ness of the movie. There have been plenty of other sort of deconstructionist superhero movies, but in a lot of ways, “Logan” feels to me sort of the “McCabe & Mrs. Miller” of superhero movies, in the sense that it’s very much an elegy for the superhero mythology. And if we’re now sort of in the revisionist Western phase of superheroes, where do you see the genre going from here?
Mangold: Well, I don’t know that we’re in a phase where every movie has to be about the passing. I think that this movie was about the passing of a very specific character, but also about, for me, trying to escape—I think the movies have become repetitive. I think not just the “X-Men” movies or DC movies, but blockbuster and tentpole movies in general, there’s been a formula that’s been arrived upon. These movies cost so much, that only a few are made every year. And then, there’s almost a cultural need that everyone has, they have to go out to three or four movies in the summertime and see. Because these movies are such big franchise characters, everyone feels almost compelled, young people, anyway, to see these movies, about these characters, so they can talk about them with their friends, which kind of creates a built-in audience. You know a certain number of people are coming to see these movies, which also encourages a lack of experimentation. So all we tried to do with this movie, I really didn’t set out to say goodbye to heroes, as much as goodbye to this hero. But also, try a different tone, a tone that felt more like our world. And I definitely feel like our world feels like a place where heroes are desperately needed and in short supply, as opposed to a lot of these movies feel like heroes are desperately needed, and you can’t look left or right without finding one. So I definitely think that was a part of it all.
CS: A pivotal course change for everybody, but especially for Professor X, was this incident that we never see, where he sort of accidentally kills a lot of people and a lot of mutants in Westchester having one of his fits.
CS: Was it ever a question of showing that scene or not showing that scene, since it’s so crucial to where the characters are when we find them?
Mangold: Yeah, I wrote that scene. I wrote it, and at one point, it was even the first scene in the movie.
CS: Really? Was it just too traumatic? Too much?
Mangold: It also made the movie about that. It was really interesting. It suddenly made the movie about X-Men dying, as opposed to allowing the movie to be a kind of unwinding onion, like allowing you to kind of enter the story and go, “Where is this going?” It was so large and loomed so large, and I felt like it also was still falling into the formula of the movies, with the big opener, that is setting up the mythology first. I thought, “What if we do an opener that leans into character first? Actually underplay those things?” Let them just feel like it’s more like a—what’s that?
Keen: Normal thing?
Mangold: A normal thing, like it’s happened. And instead of underlining it, yeah. Just let it live in the background of all these characters.
CS: I remember reading a few years ago, I think it was Damon Lindelof was saying that when you make a movie at this scale, the stakes have to be to save the world. And now I think between this and “Deadpool” and some over movies that are coming down the pike, people are starting to realize, no, it doesn’t have to be those huge stakes.
Mangold: Well, I’m not sure whether Damon’s saying they have to be, because he felt like there’s no other way to solve the problem, or was he saying that the pressure to make the movie… because I do think there is a kind of accepted theory that audiences will be more invested in a movie if their own lives are at stake. Meaning, if what’s happening on screen will affect whether we can leave this room, you know, whether the world ends or not. I do think that’s largely untrue. And Damon’s super smart, so I’m not sure he was saying that you really can’t make a movie, because every day someone’s making a movie about characters without the world ending. The real question is, why? And to me, if, when we look at comic books, most every issue of X-Men, Wolverine, Batman, World’s Finest, you name it, The Flash, Green Lantern, Howard the Duck, most of them don’t rely on the world ending. I remember when I was collecting comics all the time, maybe there was like a double issue every year, like in Justice League or X-Men, where the fate of the universe was at stake. And then, the rest of them were like, a little bit more like soap opera issues, and bank robbers and a crime spree of one kind of another, some new malevolent figure. But it wasn’t always about the planet exploding. And I think that I never cared any less. In fact, I tended to be most bored by those double issue spectaculars. Well, then why are we only making the movies the double issue spectaculars? But in many ways, I tried to do that even with the last Wolverine in Japan, which is that the movie really was not much about saving the world. It was much more about him and these people he met.
Logan is now playing in theaters everywhere.