“I think peo­ple are sus­pi­cious of that much pos­i­tive en­ergy. There is a com­plete ab­sence of cyn­i­cism” – Man­gold on Cruise

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Film -

par­tic­u­larly in Tom’s case. I missed that ver­sion of Tom from Risky Busi­ness, when he is re­ally puz­zled. That’s my favourite Tom: the one that’s slightly baf­fled by his sur­round­ings.”

Ah, Tom Cruise. As the decades progress, the diminu­tive movie star just seems to get stranger and stranger. His re­cent ap­pear­ance on Top Gear – pro­mot­ing Knight and Day with Diaz – only added to the im­pres­sion that lit­tle per­son­al­ity lurks be­neath the shiny cara­pace. Who the heck is Tom Cruise?

“I think you are work­ing too hard when watch­ing him,” Man­gold says. “He is re­ally hard-work­ing. He re­ally loves life. He loves movies. He loves his fam­ily. He is ac­tu­ally not a very com­pli­cated cat. He loves the busi­ness and is filled with sto­ries that may bog­gle the imag­i­na­tion. I think peo­ple are sus­pi­cious of that much pos­i­tive en­ergy. There is a com­plete ab­sence of cyn­i­cism. He is not nat­u­rally sar­cas­tic. He ar­rives on set with a wave of pos­i­tive en­ergy.”

Very pro­fes­sion­ally ma­noeu­vred, Mr Man­gold. Ob­serv­ing his fi­nesse in in­ter­views, you would not be sur­prised to learn that the di­rec­tor came from a show-busi­ness fam­ily. In fact, though his par­ents are prop­erly fa­mous, they lived their lives in an al­to­gether less flashy en­vi­ron­ment. Robert Man­gold and Sylvia Pli­mack Man­gold are two highly re­spected ab­stract artists. You can catch sight of Robert’s aus­tere min­i­mal­ist paint­ings in Tate Mod­ern and New York’s Mu­seum of Mod­ern Art.

One ro­man­ti­cally imag­ines a bo­hemian up­bring­ing, dur­ing which Robert Rauschen­berg would drop round to tell sto­ries of Jack­son Pol­lock’s binges. As it hap­pens, the truth was not so dif­fer­ent.

“It was a lit­tle like that,” he says. “Pol­lack was a bit like a dad to my fa­ther. Rauschen­berg was more like a teacher to him. The world of their con­tem­po­raries was in­deed the world I grew up in. My own re­bel­lion was mak­ing movies – en­ter­ing a slightly trashier, slightly less elite world.”

Re­belling to­wards the main­stream, per­haps? “Look, I ad­mired their art, but I found it slightly odd. Grow­ing up in New York State, I found it weird that they were all mak­ing art that most of the coun­try didn’t know or un­der­stand. As a kid, you want to con­nect with what does your dad does. You’d get asked and you’d think: ‘My dad draws a square in­side a cir­cle.’ It would frus­trate me that only an elite seemed to get it.”

Were they slightly ap­palled when he be­gan mak­ing com­mer­cial films? One re­mem­bers that Monty Python sketch in which the son of proud work­ing-class play­wrights de­fies his par­ents by tak­ing a job in a north­ern mine. “Hamp­stead wasn’t good enough for you! You had to go ponc­ing off to bloody Barns- ley.” Do I do the Man­golds a dis­ser­vice?

“Well, it took a while be­fore it looked like there was any chance of me be­com­ing a proper di­rec­tor,” he laughs.

In fact, Man­gold was not slow in at­tract­ing at­ten­tion from the Hollywood moguls. He stud­ied film-mak­ing then act­ing at Cal­i­for­nia In­sti­tute of the Arts and, at just 21, se­cured a deal with Dis­ney. Way back in 1988, while Michael Eis­ner and Jef­frey Katzen­berg were still pon­der­ing the trans­for­ma­tion of Dis­ney’s an­i­ma­tion unit, Man­gold wrote the ho-hum fea­ture car­toon Oliver & Com­pany.

Man­gold quickly re­alised, how­ever, that he didn’t feel con­fi­dent in his abil­i­ties. He stud­ied for a mas­ter’s in film at Columbia Uni­ver­sity and be­gan de­vel­op­ing the script for Heavy. That 1995 film, an in­die drama star­ring Liv Tyler and Shelley Win­ters, did well enough for him to se­cure the ser­vices of De Niro and Stallone for Cop Land.

“I credit Bob with be­ing my in­spi­ra­tion,” he says. “He lived near me in New York City, and we had a lot of meet­ings. One of the things he said very clearly early on was: ‘You are my di­rec­tor. Don’t ever for­get that. I haven’t worked with a lot of young guys, but tell me what you want. You have to di­rect me.’ That was im­por­tant ad­vice. You want an ac­tor to walk away from a day work­ing with you and think: ‘I did bet­ter than I thought I was able.’ Then you have li­cence to push things as far as you want.”

Man­gold has di­rected the odd flop – let’s just men­tion Kate & Leopold and move on – but he has some­how, over the past decade and a half, man­aged to de­liver a film ev­ery two years. Only a re­li­able, hard-nosed pro could achieve that feat.

Cop Land was an off­beat thriller. 3:10 to Yuma was a western. Walk the Line was a mu­si­cal biopic. So, tell us the truth. Are you re­ally try­ing to touch all the bases in your per­sonal game of genre-ball?

“Yes, maybe, but not in that for­mu­laic a way. I just want to do things that sound in­ter­est­ing. When I’m talk­ing to my wife and I say I want Chi­nese tonight she doesn’t say: ‘Are you in­ten­tion­ally try­ing to touch all the bases?’ It’s just that Chi­nese sounds fun.”

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