James Mangold takes 'Knight and Day' turn with film

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It can be an uphill struggle for directors who want to tackle different kinds of movies than they're known for, but that's not the case with James Mangold.

His films over the years range from the small drama "Girl, Interrupted" to the Oscar-nommed biopic "Walk the Line" to the western "3:10 to Yuma." His latest, the action comedy "Knight and Day" starring Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz, opens June 23 from Fox and New Regency.

"I think you can find things that are consistent among all my films," he said, "but you'd have to look deeper than just their genre."

Are there differences directing so many different types of pictures?

"Tone in every movie is a very important consideration and the tone in a film like 'Knight and Day' is night and day different from the tone in a film like 'Girl, Interrupted.' "

But a director can benefit from working this way.

"When I made the horror thriller 'Identity' that really helped me make '"Walk the Line.' "

How so? "When you're making a thriller you know pretty much you're not making an Oscar movie," Mangold replied. "You're making a fun rollercoaster ride that's going to be judged and perceived differently."

With "Identity" he was more relaxed than if he were directing a serious drama.

"I didn't feel every scene had to be reinventing drama and every actor had to be reaching their innermost depths. When you experience that, it makes a film a little more fast and loose and you have a little more fun."

When Mangold then made "Line," "a more serious project with very important scenes, the one thing I didn't bring with me was the tightness I felt I had brought in earlier films. Part of it is you're so aware of how 'important' your movie will be that you get tightened as a director and you start making careful choices as opposed to bold choices."

With a film like "Knight" that blends action and comedy, he pointed out, "what works is despite the intensity of the action, there's always moments of intimacy and even ironic intimacy-- like our heroes bickering over who's going to hold the wheel while the other person tries to put their foot on the brake."

What's important is to have this intimate struggle going on along with a very large-scale physical struggle.

Both Cruise and Diaz are heavily invested in "Knight's" physical action, having done their own stunt work.

"I had two actors who are also incredibly gifted stunt people. Our stunt coordinators could tell you that Tom or Cameron could stop acting tomorrow and start a career as a stunt person."

Cruise, he explained, "is in on the planning of the stunts. He shows up days in advance to walk through it, to check the grounds, to understand the footing, to think about it. He trains. He warms up. You couldn't find someone who is more methodical and organized about what they're doing."

And Diaz easily holds her own: "Cameron is a really great driver. I mean, an insanely good driver of cars and does all her stunts in the picture."

Mangold's involvement with "Knight" came about through his relationship with Cruise.

"Tom and I got to know each other talking about '3:10 to Yuma.' He had been curious about that film and we had met a bunch of times talking about him potentially being involved in it. When that didn't happen, we still parted with a great relationship and a real interest in doing something together."

They continued discussing projects and ultimately it all came together when Mangold read and liked "Knight" in late 2008.

"I thought it needed work, but there was a kind of intense charm to it and an originality. I was told Cameron was attached and Tom had read it and was curious about it. But it was without a director and obviously was going to need more work. So I met with Cameron and with Tom and talked with them about what I'd try to do with the script."

Mangold felt it was exactly the kind of movie he'd want to see Cruise and Diaz in, but "no other two people in. In many ways, my involvement was based upon whether we could reel in both of these actors because it was about this particular grouping."

The director had missed seeing in the star's recent performances "more warmth" and "more flawed characters." The one thing, he said, "that comes from playing the kind of hero that was in 'Valkyrie' or that occupies the 'Mission' films is that he doesn't have a chance to show a wonderful aspect of his personality, which we've seen in films like 'Jerry Maguire' or 'Rain Man' and certainly 'Top Gun' and 'Risky Business.' "

What Mangold envisioned in "Knight" for Cruise beyond physicality was that "the dance he and Cameron could do through this picture would afford him moments watching the gears turn in Tom's head." Those are, he said, "my favorite kind of Tom Cruise moments -- watching him try to cope with stuff that isn't always rational."

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