Film Scouts Interviews

James Mangold Press Conference
at the 2003 Taormina BNL FilmFest

by Philipp Hoschka
At the press conference following the screening of their splatter movie "Identity" at Taormina's ancient Greek theatre, director James Mangold and producer Cathy Konrad talk about warmed-up rain, grown-up horror movies and split-up personalities.

How did you come up with the story ? Did you write it ?

Mangold: No, Michael Cooney wrote the original script - Cathy discovered it.

Konrad: I read a lot of scripts and I like scary movies.

Mangold: I always loved films that take place in claustrophobic environments, for example in old Hitchcock films such as "Lifeboat". I think single-location movies are more cinematic rather than less cinematic by being more confined.

There are many references to other films such as "10 little Indians". But in these other films, you can relax. In yours, the rhythm is very fast - there is no time to relax. We actually found it difficult to order a meal last night after seeing the movie !

Mangold: I think of this film as a magic trick - you have to keep moving - one way to do this is to never stop. It seems like a train you're on.

There was a lot of rain in the movie - was that a difficult aspect ? Did you have actors getting colds ?

Mangold: The rain was in the original script. And it had to be a big one to trap everyone in this motel. Actually, the motel was all built indoors on one of largest soundstages in LA. The "Wizard of Oz" and "Singing in the Rain" were done on this soundstage.

The desert around the Motel was also done on the set. We used an amazing rig of sprinklers. That way, we could actually control rain like we control light. So it wasn't that cruel.

Konrad: Also, we heated the water. Of course, it was still wet, but the actors weren't cold.

Did you do research on cases of multiple personality ?

Mangold: There can be dominant, controlling personalities - some may be more diabolic or evil.

In LA, we had serial murder, and they arrested a suspect. All evidence pointed to this person, but he maintained his innocence in a very calm way. So the detectives were very uncomfortable. They had him hypnotized. Under hypnosis, the suspect sounded different. They asked: "Who are we speaking to ?" - "Steve" - "Where is Ken ?" - "He's not here - I didn't tell him about murders, I don't like him".

This is of course a new area of psychology, but there are cases where one personality side can commit crimes, and the others have no knowledge of the acts of this personality.

Compliments for the rhythm - in 87 minutes, there is a killing every 8.7 minutes. I am curious about the choice of actors. Why did you make these choices ?

Konrad: We wanted strong talent and good actors - not movie stars. When you cast someone who everybody knows, you sometimes can't cast him the way you want. Also, in this type of movie, it is important to make everybody a suspect - you don't want the audience to look at one particular person too much. How we cast personalities was as important as the personalities themselves. Ray Liotta we worked with in "Cop Land" - he loves playing this sort of characters. He and John Cusack were very attracted to material - they all liked the ending, since it is very surprising. This is an intelligent horror movie - the actors drive the plot, as opposed to the plot driving the actors.

Mangold: I haven't made a horror film before - I wanted to bring same class of actors that I made other movies for. These days, horror movies in the US are targeted to teenagers - we had "grown up" actors.

Are you in favor of death penalty for psychopaths ? At the end, the murderer was able to kill again - maybe it would have been better to kill him before.

Mangold: The end of a movie is a question, not an answer. The question in this case is whether there is pure evil. Do we destroy evil or do we love it into sheer goodness? Every country, every person has to debate this. Personally, it confuses me - I don't support the death penalty. If somebody did something to my wife ... the rage you feel as a relative is very different.

You make very different movies. Is there something that they have in common ?

Mangold: The danger in replying to this question is that I become my own literary critic. I think it is good that as an artist you're not walking around with an epitaph in your head. If you look at the characters in my films, I am always fascinated by people caught in the cracks of life. I have been making movies since I was twelve - my first movie was actually a monster movie.

Since the movie talks about multiple personalities - how much of the personality of Alfred Hitchcock, Brian de Palma and Agatha Christie is inside you ?

Mangold: Hitchcock is a genius of films. If there is a Shakespeare of films, it's him. The time he stayed relevant for films is extraordinary - from the period silent movies to 70s. No other director will be able to do that.

Single location movies unite a lot of things - you think of Hitchcock, "Alien" and others. All of these films share certain artistic traits - some of your choices will echo other choices you have seen before.

Persons with multiple personality seem to be perfect actors.

Mangold: That couldn't be more true - when I talked to actors, they were concerned about playing the characters very "real". But that's what I wanted. Each personality in the film is fully developed, has a past, and a sense of psychological issues in itself. That's what makes this disease so profound and interesting. It is an extremely theatrical movie, especially at the beginning. I thought of it as making a "noir" film, a 1940s film - I saw John Cusak as Humphrey Bogart. It should seem like a vivid dream that becomes a nightmare.

The movie starts with some verses - does the poem belong to something written by a real poet ?

Mangold: Yes, it belongs to a poem called "psychoe'd". When I wrote "Heavy", in the screenplay on the very first page, I had that poem.

In "Identity", I needed something that pointed back to childhood. There was something about this rhyme that I liked very much - it is a nursery rhyme, only bent. While making the film, we continuously thought about where we could use it - there was a lot of play and experiment in this movie, and a lot of collaboration between people on the set. We all had a great time.

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