Director James Mangold's last film, the Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line, earned five Academy Award nominations and helped make Mangold into one of Hollywood's most sought after directors. Following up on that success, Mangold turned his attention to the Western genre with 3:10 to Yuma. It was still a hard sell to get a studio to buy into the movie, but Mangold persevered and got the film greenlit and two A-list actors - Russell Crowe and Christian Bale - to play the leads.
Director James Mangold Press Conference
Can you talk about the casting process and landing Russell Crowe and Christian Bale?
“Russell was someone who I very much had in mind when I would talk with Cathy [Konrad] about this movie for several years. 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 Baz [Luhrmann’s] which made it seem like it wasn't going to happen. And then suddenly he became available and that was really a motherload for us because I think he's perfect Ben Wade.”
And getting Christian Bale?
“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. 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.”
Ben Foster’s really impressive in the movie. What did you bring to the table?
“The key for casting the film to me was to try and avoid the stereotypes of the Western. A lot of times there are…and we saw a lot of it… I mean 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.”
Yet in a lot of ways this film really kind of harkens back to the traditional Western.
“But the traditional Westerns are really mistyped 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 in the great Westerns. 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.
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. 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 than they do with… The simplistic movies might have been Steve Reeves’ Hercules movies, but the fact is that the Westerns never were.”
Back then Westerns were able to say things you couldn’t say in other types of movies. How does that apply to the Western today? What can you use the Western for today?
“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 - is 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. 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.’
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. Both of them are quoting the Bible to justify their actions. 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.”
You were a fan of the original movie so how and why did you decide to – without giving anything away - change the ending?
“We changed more than the end. I mean we changed the beginning, we changed, 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. 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. But I think what you should do is watch the original ending. 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.”