We recently spoke with James Mangold at a round table interview to discuss his new film, Knight and Day.

During the interview he spoke about internet pedants, 3D and, of course, working with Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz.

Q: How did you find shooting the film? With so many effects and stunts, this is a real departure, isn’t it?

JM: Well, there was definitely a lot of planning in advance. We did that on Yuma for a number of sequences, but, there was a large amount of action in this picture, that required a lot of planning.

It was, in that sense, different; it was, in that sense a learning curve for me. I think I also wanted to do it differently. I really didn’t want the action scene completely storyboarded. I wanted to feel character in the action sequence, and not just action and intensity. I think that part of the way that movies get made now, there’s this kind of pro forma recipe for how to make things intense, there’s a lot of great professionals who know how to lock in, and suddenly it’s like everything’s flying at you, but somehow to keep it lighter, and to try and make something a little lighter… It almost seems across purposes at times, because you’re trying to make it look a little less choreographed, and a little more like it’s kind of controlled chaos, if you will, and the difference is the difference between it being fun or not, as opposed to just kind of intense.

Q: Was Tom Cruise one of the most fearless actors you’ve worked with in terms of the number of stunt scenes he wanted to do himself, and did you have any ‘Oh my God’ moments?

JM: There are moments where you go ‘Oh my God’ early on, then you get used to having them in your movie, and then you, kind of, stop, because he just seemed so comfortable hanging off buildings on strings, that you just seem to take it for granted. I think there’s a level where I fear more for the next person I make a movie with, when I’m like, ‘Just hang over that building, we’ll tie a cable to you’, because by the end of doing a movie like this, I think I take it pretty much for granted. He makes it look very easy.

I think people already get this about Tom, but it doesn’t hurt to say it, he prepares. If he’s doing a stunt, he’s on set three, four hours in advance, stretching, walking, checking out the local, the footing. It’s not like he’s this ‘hotdog’ who just arrives and acts like nothing’s going to touch him, he’s actually just incredibly professional. It would be like a pilot, or somebody, coming in and checking the controls, and doing cross-checks… It’s incredible how much effort he makes, and also measuring what he feels good about.

The actual, most hair-raising thing he did, [it] might not be the most hair-raising looking thing in the movie, but it’s the running on the rooftops in Salzburg. It’s icy, it’s 3am, he’s five stories in the air on a pitched roof, running at full speed. One false step and he’s gone. He felt completely great about it, but that night I was really glad when we got the running over with.

Q: Tom Cruise’s character seems very much like a take on Ethan Hunt [Cruise’s character from the Mission Impossible franchise]. Was the role written with him in mind?

JM: Well, no. When this movie was first developed, it was a completely zany comedy with Chris Tucker and Eva Mendez…

I think I’d disagree with you that this guy’s anything like Ethan Hunt. It’s still Tom playing a spy, but Ethan Hunt is kind of this ‘can do’ guy, sort of a super spy. Cruise in this movie is more, emotionally more baffled, I find. Not up to a relationship. Not quite ready. Wistful, wishing he had taken a different choice for a career, whether he’d become a fireman, or could travel the world.

There’s something about him, and it’s my favourite part of him in this, that seems like there’s a dissatisfaction with his career choice, and somehow meeting this girl, and being able to run with her, there’s a quality in that that I really enjoy in the character, that actually I thought made it at all appealing. The last thing I wanted to do was make an alternate Ethan Hunt movie.

Q: I know Tom can be a bit hands on with the filmmaking. Did he have any input in the way the film went?

JM: Well, no more or less than any other actors I’ve worked with, but certainly he’s got opinions. It would be like, in American football [terms, working with] a quarterback who’s played for ten seasons, and somehow they don’t have an opinion on what play you’re choosing. Of course they will. He’s filled with ideas. For that matter so’s Cameron. It’s part of what they get paid for. My role is sort of corralling, and steering the whole thing so it doesn’t become out of control.

Q: Knight and Day, along with inception, is one of the few films this summer that’s not a franchise, and not in 3D. How do you feel about the way that Hollywood’s going at the moment?

JM: Hollywood’s, in a sense, in crisis. It’s a familiar crisis, it’s happened cyclically before. I think there was a time, certainly in the 50s and I think in the 70s, each time yielding very good movies actually, where Hollywood was losing audience to other methods… and they keep trying to create more spectacle in the movies that they’re making.

I think there’s a whole mix of things going on. The addiction to sequels is not new, and I think that’s as much the audiences’ fault as the studios. The fact is audiences like going to known quantities, so there’s a safety a studio feels in making pre-branded entertainment because they feel like there’s a built in audience, and when you’re risking $100 million, you are really relieved to know there’s a built in audience. So whether it’s comic books, or best selling novels, or sequels to movies that have existed. Anything that gives them leverage to get you in is a huge advantage, and I think that’s a big factor in movies today.

I think 3D is a whole other topic. I think it’s very cool thing, at times. I think it’s something that’s existed for years. But it’s also a way to charge twice as much for a ticket.

Q: Would you consider making a film in 3D?

JM: I wouldn’t rule anything out, but a lot of what you’re talking about is also, if you make a blockbuster film, and you can justify charging twice as much for a ticket at face value than you do when it’s 2D, that’s a lot more money in the coffers of the film, so for a rather small investment in equipment and time, they get to add a pretty healthy chunk to the gross if people show up. I think that’s playing a role. I think in reality there’s some movies that are really suited to it, and some that aren’t.

I’d be really interested in making a dramatic, low-key 3D film. The reality is the most perverse and interesting thing to do with it might be something completely unexpected. One of my favourite movies, Billy Wilder’s ‘The Apartment’ is shot in Super Wide Screen, and it’s beautiful. By any rational, normal logic, why would this be in the same format as Laurence of Arabia? It looks fantastic. That’s why, and so I think there’s times that technology like that can be applied slightly eccentrically, and can make things very interesting.

Q: Cameron Diaz’s character is quite the tom boy, but her character at the beginning is kind of a throwback to the ‘screaming blonde’. Was that an intentional nod to older films?

JM: When you find yourself making a movie, you find yourself asking yourself, ‘how many blondes know how to use a gun? Or who wouldn’t scream when driving the wrong way down a highway at high speed’,   so it actually dawns on you the other reality of the depiction of people, not just women, but just people in predicaments like that, you’d pretty much be screaming your head off, and begging for mercy, and holding guns awkwardly.

We played with a lot of different identities for her, because we wanted to have the idea that she could grow into more and more capability as the movie grew.

I did have fun. I’m sure it was exhausting for Cameron, but part of the fun of those sequences was the fact that there’s a character in the middle of it going ‘this can’t be happening’, that they’re fighting it. That is almost the staple of the genre, and of this kind of a film, that in the standard action adventure you cut to the determined face of your hero as he navigates his way through this labyrinth. In this kind of film you cut to the panicked face of your hero as they beg for mercy as they go through the labyrinth. That is, kind of, what it is. I don’t think there would be any place for her character to go if she was comfy with what was going on.

We were very conscious, and I do think, without making the film seem old fashioned, that we were really conscious of trying to do a throwback, and I think that some people do get it, and some don’t.

There’s funny movies, and there’s action pictures now. So you have your big, huge CG action pictures, and they’re very serious, and they deliver their thrills, and there’s ancillary video games, and then you have, kind of, silly pictures, and I think we’re trying to do a throwback in the sense that we’re trying to do a funny movie with real actors, as opposed to a lot of comedians, and there can be some thrills and some action in it, but there also might be some character in it. ‘North by Northwest’ would be a touchstone, ‘Charade’, the Peter Falk and Alan Arkin movie ‘The In-laws’ was a big inspiration for Tom Cruise and I in terms of his character.

These are wackier movies, but also movies that hearken to a day when there was a little more style and a little less logic, to be honest. I find that if there’s anything I say on my set all the time, is that I’m so weary of people catching things and writing in [to IMDb]. Guess what, there was a whole crew there, there was no fourth wall on the set, and even though they’re in a corn field at night, they look so beautiful, is because we have lights, and the whole reality is that it denies something. Movies aren’t supposed to be a representation of reality, they’re supposed to be an art, and this kind of adherence to suddenly ‘why would they have a gun hidden in there?’ is just kind of, ‘yawn’. It bores the shit out of me. It’s like, ‘you want me to add ten minutes so one geek on the internet can have an explanation?’ no. If those guys were alive when Alfred Hitchcock made ‘North by Northwest’ they’d go, ‘and why is he trying to get killed with an airplane? Who would try and kill a man with an airplane? Are they spraying him with pesticide so he dies in five years from cancer? What is the point? And why are they trying to murder a guy at the United Nations? And why exactly would somebody build their secret bad guy lair under Mount Rushmore?’ and you could go on and on and on.

The truth is there is a beautiful energy, and a beautiful, movie loving energy that comes out on the internet, but there’s also a level of, when you really make a movie, these are the least important things. ‘Is it entertaining?’, ‘Do you find these characters engaging?’, ‘Does it look good?’, ‘Does it capture you?’, ‘Does it capture your imagination?’ These are the important things, and the litigious nature of making a movie, and the almost, ‘did you fill out your w4? And your tax form?’; there’s a level where making a movie be fully explainable, and realistic every second is actually a choice. You can do that, or you can not do that, and I am a big proponent, a lot of times, of not worrying about it, because I think there’s a lot of good things, and exciting and creative things that can happen in a movie if your first priority isn’t that chap in his pyjamas at 3am trying to find mistakes.

Knight and Day is released in UK Cinemas today!