Your other credits include Walk the Line, Cop Land, Girl, Interrupted. You’ve done action in movies like 3:10 to Yuma and Knight & Day, but you’re not known as a fantasy filmmaker. What got you the job of directing The Wolverine when Darren Aronofsky dropped out?
I couldn’t tell you why they hired me, but I can tell you why I wanted it. I have a long friendship with Hugh Jackman. [They made the 2001 romantic comedy Kate & Leopold together.] And I’m a huge comic book collector. When I was a kid, I had both Marvel and DC. I was my own librarian. I made card files. I had origin stories of all the characters, and cross-referenced when they appeared in other comic books. I was full on.
So you’ve just been waiting for your chance?
For me, watching this decade of superhero films and having not participated while I was making other movies, what was interesting to me – and it had not been done, with a few exceptions – was to be free to tell a real story of an immortal character. Too often these films are burdened with origin stories that produce a very unwieldy script, because you spend half the film creating the character and then you only have half the film to then tell a story about the character. When stepping into a franchise, one of the scary things – for a person in my position – is that it’s like directing the fourth episode of a TV series, and everything is on autopilot. They’re doing what they’re going to do, and what are you really going to bring to it?
And how did you break that mentality and do your own thing?
Because of my bond with Hugh, because of the amount we talked about it, I very much knew what I was bringing to it, and that he was amenable, and that the gigantic change of scenery – which Japan offers – gave us a kind of license to make the tone we wanted, as opposed to continuing another tone that may have existed. For me, the tremendous advantage and attraction of this material was working with an actor I admire. I felt we could both make demands on each other and take it someplace the other hasn’t gone.
Are there any other pitfalls you feel comic book movies fall into?
A fantasy film is often improved by some kind of human reality. What makes them hard to sit through is that the modern-day tentpole film has become a lot of fast cutting and an incredible amount of money spent generating effects. What are we left with? We’re left with what we see – a kind of inundation, a head-banging barrage in which they keep turning the volume up on the mix, and flying things at you faster in the hope that it keeps you in your seat. For me, the idea of making a film with hardcore action, with physical action like I grew up reading in the comic books, but also with a heart – and this character has great heart – to me, it’s no different from making a western. Or a cop film.
Next Page: Finding the source of Wolverine’s despair …