James Mangold tells us why Logan is a lot like Johnny Cash

We talk to James Mangold about his dark vision of Logan and making a movie for grown-ups

One of the trailers for Logan plays Johnny Cash’s potent version of ‘Hurt’ over images of a battered, bruised and bloody Wolverine and it’s a song that plays the audience out of the film too. Johnny Cash was an important figure to filmmaker James Mangold, who directed a biographical film about the musician’s early life back in 2005.

One of the reasons why Mangold chose that song is because he sees many similarities between the two, stating, “I think they’re a beautiful match. I think they’re very similar characters. He’s dark, living in the shadows, feels like almost in a way a broken or doomed person. The sense of a fear of intimacy or love and that type of masculinity make them real parallels to each other.”

He goes on to explain, “When I made Walk The Line I got to know Johnny. I was talking to him literally every Saturday and I talked to him five days before he passed. I was at his funeral. I heard about his death from one of his best friends. It was a powerful experience for me to be standing there as he was lowered into the ground with all of country music around.”

Hugh Jackman has stated that this will be his final turn as the character of Wolverine so the screenplay had to match the significance of this. On first reading the script Mangold says that Jackman was, “A little nervous… I think actors live in a world where they get psyched up all the time with some directors telling them how awesome it will be. The real relief I had with him was when he first saw the finished film, which was only a few weeks ago. I got the most wonderful letter from him.”

The fact that Logan has got an R-rating in the US (a 15 certificate in the UK) allows the film to enter some very dark territory and Mangold explains the motives behind this decision, saying, “It wasn’t just for the violence or to have blue language. When you make a movie rated-R it means the studio gives up on selling it to children and they stop pressuring you to make the film more accessible to children.” He goes on to explain, “The blockbusters when I was a kid had tremendous heart. They were not a platform to sell another movie or toys. They were one-offs and you felt the filmmaker’s voice and they had a story to tell. And the filmmakers made the films for grownups, not children. That was something I was very eager to reconnect with in this film.”

It’s an interesting tactic considering one of the stars of the film is an eleven-year-old actor named Dafne Keen who as Laura gets to lay down some serious fight moves. In how he approached explaining the role and directing Keen, Mangold says, “I just spoke to her directly, she’s a very mature kid and the daughter of two actors. She’s probably seen both her parents killed on-screen. She didn’t have a hard time separating fact from fiction. The mood on set was not the mood of the movie. We were a big family making the film. For an eleven year old shooting a movie it’s a bit like being in a perpetual Halloween rather than something dark and frightening.”

He goes on to explain that Keen did in fact “Do a lot [of fight scenes] herself. Dafne has a couple of very talented doubles for certain things she couldn’t do… the reality is that it’s harder to double an eleven year old girl than it is to double a six foot man. Sometimes grown actors cannot own the action and what I love about Dafne is not only is she an incredibly gifted actress but she really pulls the physical side together.”

Much of the dramatic weight in Logan comes from the relationship between Charles and Logan, and their first scene together effectively conveys that turmoil. Mangold states that, “The scene where I was walking on air when I came home was one very early on where Logan and Charles are first seen together. The have almost a one act play. Both actors were so dazzling in that sequence and I wrote a lot of that scene and I felt really proud.”

Throughout Logan, there are mentions of the X-Men comics and they appear in the film, but Mangold explains, “Marvel would not let us use the real comics. That was the only thing we were told we couldn’t do. Joe Quesada designed them. He ran Marvel in the 1970s and 80s. He did period appropriate comic book pages and covers for us.”

It’s a beautiful homage, and you can see it for yourself when Logan finally hits cinemas tomorrow.

Logan is released in cinemas on 1 March. Read our review here and keep up with the latest genre news with the new issue of SciFiNow.