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