From Wolverine to Indiana Jones: Mangold on heroes in their twilight years
At our recent roundtable interview with Harrison Ford and director James Mangold for “Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny,” the 59-year-old filmmaker was asked about his penchant for heroes who are in their twilight years—like Indiana Jones (played by Ford) in “Dial of Destiny” and Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) in “Logan.”
“That’s an interesting observation, although that’s only two of my films you’re bringing up. But in order to make a good story, your protagonist has to be facing something [challenging]. We all face aging… and death. We all face the world changing around us and having to adapt to it.
“In Logan’s case, he was about 250 years old when he passed on, so there’s a question of how long his sunset was (laughs). But the reality is that I do find these questions interesting because frankly, I’m bored with movies just being about beautiful people who are indestructible. I think that’s just a snooze!
“Honestly, I have no connection to it. I’m not beautiful and I’m not indestructible. So the reality is, we’ve gotten to where the characters in these movies who are just like Teflon, and we just watch them go through explosions and smashing and crashing, coupled with some smart lines and dialogue. Then, the whole thing ends. But, really, I don’t know what was ever at stake for these characters.
“For me then, what is always a fascinating solution when you’re stepping onto a movie that people perceive as being about a hero—which is true for both Wolverine and Indiana Jones—is to try to position that hero at the first act of your story in a place where it’s not so easy for him to be that person anymore… because it automatically puts him in a kind of crisis that makes the story more dramatic.
“It gives an actor like Harrison Ford [something to hurdle], since I don’t just want him to look ‘capable’ in every scene. What’s really interesting for him is to walk into a situation without the tools that he needs to survive. That’s a problem that will make him look more interesting, more vulnerable.”
Lost in the modern world
When asked about how he got Mads Mikkelsen to agree to play Indy’s Nazi nemesis, Dr. Voller, James admitted that he didn’t really expect the acclaimed Danish actor to accept the role.
“When we conceived the idea of Mads playing Dr. Jurgen Voller, one of the interesting things about it is that not unlike Belloq (played by Paul Freeman) in ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark,’ Voller is kind of the Indiana Jones of Nazi Germany—meaning, he’s also an intellectual and an academic; a scientist trying to pursue his own goals.
“One of the reasons we cast Mads in the role is because of Voller’s odd admiration for Indiana Jones… there’s like a kind of brotherhood. Late in the film, there’s a line I wrote where Voller says to Indy, ‘We’re basically the same. No one cares about either one of us anymore. Men like us are no longer appreciated in this world.’
“And as much as they’re polar opposites in terms of idealism—or in their concept of good and evil, if you will—their own ‘sense of wounds’ about being lost in the modern world is something they share.
“That’s where Mads comes in. He’s one of the most sophisticated and wonderful actors working today. In fact, when the casting director suggested, ‘What about Mads Mikkelsen in the role of Voller?’ I said, ‘Well, you could send him the script, but he’s never going to do it.’ And 24 hours later, I got an email from Mads saying, ‘I can’t wait to do this!’ And that was startling to me (laughs).
“Mads is another evidence of the power of Indiana Jones, because as a young man growing up in Denmark, Indiana Jones had a powerful effect on him. He watched ‘Raiders’ five times on its first weekend in theaters!”