SPOILER WARNING: This article contains spoilers for “Logan,” in theaters now.
After 17 years and nine feature film appearances, Hugh Jackman’s ride as the Wolverine is over. “Logan” marks the end of a journey that began way back in the year 2000 with the first “X-Men” film. The new mutant movie also marks director James Mangold’s second film in the sprawling franchise, his follow-up to 2013’s “The Wolverine.” Like “The Wolverine,” “Logan” focuses squarely on its titular star and leaves much of the larger X-mythos out of the picture. But more so than ever before, “Logan” contains a sense of finality as well as ruminations on love and family.
Hugh Jackman’s joined on his final ride by Patrick Stewart as Professor X and newcomer Dafne Keen as Laura/X-23 — a fan favorite character that makes her live-action debut in the film. The character, played by 11-year-old Keen, is a weapon, created from a sample of Wolverine’s DNA, that strives to be a child — all while being pursued by the evil corporation that created her. CBR sat down with director James Mangold and actor Dafne Keen to talk about the pressure of bringing X-23 to life, as well as the film’s mission to pit Logan against the one thing he’s afraid of: love.
CBR: You both had to introduce X-23 in this movie, a very popular character from the comics. Did her popularity cause you any hesitation, in regards to adapting her well and pleasing fans?
James Mangold: [To Dafne Keen] What do you think?
[Keen smiles and shrugs]
Mangold: I largely try to protect my cast from those very kind of questions. To use another movie as an example, when we made “Walk the Line,” everyday Joaquin [Phoenix] would come up to me and go, “Say that thing, say that thing.” And I’d go, “You’re not Johnny Cash.” And he’d go, “Thank you.” What I think anyone like Daf or anyone else can understand is, you have to play the scene. So carrying all this awareness of how important the role is to people, there’s nothing you can do about that. It’s like someone saying right before you go into a room to speak, “This is really really important! Everything’s riding on it and everyone feels so powerful about it!”
Dafne Keen: It stresses you out.
Mangold: It just stresses you out, yeah. [To Keen] When did you first look at, like, X-23 and comic books or something, in relation to this?
Keen: I remember like, when I came to the casting here there was this comic shop in front of the hotel and we went in there.
Mangold: And you saw some?
Keen: We just had a look.
Have you had any interactions with fans yet, who freak out and say, ‘You’re X-23’?
Have you gone to any comic conventions yet?
Keen: Nope [laughs].
I have to imagine that finding the perfect Laura for this movie was difficult, because she does so much in this movie. You fight, cry, you do so much stuff. What was it like auditioning for this role?
Keen: It was tons of self-tapes that I had to do.
Mangold: Yeah, the first time I met Daf was through tapes that — your dad made the first one, right?
Keen: Yeah, with his phone.
Mangold: I think, you know, Daf comes from a family of actors so in many ways — you have a pretty artistic family, is that accurate?
Keen: Yes, very.
Mangold: The first introduction was this tape I got of her climbing around on bookshelves at their house and prowling around lounge chairs and doing a somersault or two. And then she did some scenes from the movie and all I can tell you is, I felt like I had written with my writing partners a stool with three legs. I knew one leg was Hugh Jackman and one leg was Patrick Stewart, but I had no idea who was going to be this third leg and they needed to be between 10 and 12 years old, bilingual, physically talented and an amazing actress.
That’s a lot!
Mangold: Yes! And onto my desk one day came this self-tape that I got, and I literally knew this was the person. I just had to make sure she got hired.
Keen: The first tape you got was the one where I was climbing on the door, right?
Mangold: And then you made, you did another tape or so, and then we had a session where, in New York, Daf flew to New York and we got together with Hugh and we did a couple scenes together there.
What was it like meeting James Mangold and Hugh Jackman for the first time? Did you all hit it off instantly?
Keen: It was, I remember when I went and the first day I met him and I didn’t really know who he was until after the first day I met you [Mangold] and I went to the hotel and they were like, “So what was the director like?” And I was like, “That guy was the director?”
Keen: And then, Hugh was really nice to me the first day. I was very nervous. I was jumping around the hotel room. [Laughs] And it was nice.
You get to punch Hugh Jackman in the face in this movie.
Mangold: That was one of the scenes we did in New York and I kept encouraging you to get crazier and crazier in that scene, and I think Hugh ended the day with a giant —
Keen: Bruise —
Mangold: — bruise on his shoulder.
You leave this movie wanting to see so much more of Laura. Dafne, would you be up for doing more?
Keen: [Enthusiastically nodding] Yeah!
Is that what you kinda had in mind, that you had to find a young actor that could potentially hold her own franchise?
Mangold: I even say to myself “I’m not Johnny Cash” when I work on movies. I don’t think about that. I think you could take every movie I’ve made and kind of go, “Well, in ‘3:10 To Yuma’ it ends with Logan Lerman alone as a train drives away. The next story could be about him avenging his father’s death.” People could ask me, “Why didn’t you make a movie about the second half of Johnny Cash’s life? There’s so much more adventures after where the movie ends.” I certainly agree. I think good movies end where you can imagine more stories. Having said that, this young lady’s an amazing actress and I will be very lucky if I get to work with her again. If that’s a route to doing it, it’s a great character to explore. Laura’s been left in a very interesting place, obviously, at the end of this movie. And if we found her a few years later in her life, it would be very interesting figuring out what’s happened.
Picking up on that, I also loved “The Wolverine” — specifically your take on Yukio.
Mangold: Yes! Rila [Fukushima] was an amazing find.
Did you ever feel tempted to do the Wolverine and Yukio movie, an immediate sequel to “The Wolverine”? Or was this always the idea for the next “Wolverine” movie?
Mangold: I knew I needed to move out of the Japanese saga if I was going to make an end to everything for Logan. But there’s also another thing I thought about, which is that if you’re making the last Wolverine movie, then it seems logical that as a character he should be confronted with what’s most scary for him. What is most scary for Wolverine? Is it a supervillain? I don’t think so. Is it the end of the world or the destruction of a city? I don’t think so. Is it the end of his own life? No, I don’t even think he’s scared of that. I think he’d look forward to that in some ways. What he’s most frightened of is love. What he’s most frightened of is love.
So what struck me from the very beginning of just trying to noodle together what this movie would be, is if we’re making a movie about Logan being confronted by love, and the purest kind of love is family love, then he should have a daughter. These comics that are out there about Laura, it seemed perfect to me. And also the idea of saddling him, if you will, with caring for a dying father figure.
The film posits the idea that a mutant haven called Eden exists somewhere in Canada, and then calls into question whether or not it’s real by revealing that it comes from a comic book. The film ends with that still up in the air, with the kids going on their way to an Eden that may or may not exist. I assume that was intentional.
Mangold: I think we watch movies too literally. I think we want answers, contractual answers. Life never gives us these answers, and I think that — people could ask questions about what happened to the X-Men or why do this or why. The comic books never answered every question. Somehow the movies are expected to. When you do, and there are many movies that try to answer every question, you end up with these endless scenes with people explaining stuff, ad infinitum. It may satisfy some people, but in life, I hardly understand what’s going on one moment to the next. I like movies where there’s mysteries.
X-23 also has kind of a guttural scream — and when you hear that scream, you know things are about to go down.
How did you develop that scream and get in touch with Laura’s rage?
Keen: I remember when I got to the stunts training, I was really shy of shouting and they were telling me all the time, “Why don’t you shout?” And then one day I remember I was on the wirework and I decided “Why not?” — and that’s how it all started, the shouting.
Did you do a lot of your own stunts in this movie?
Keen: [Nods enthusiastically] A lot.
I imagine it might be hard to find a stunt performer —
Mangold: Her size, yeah, it’s impossible. We do have a couple doubles when things got really hairy for her character, but the reality is, Daf’s really intense and she’s very focused. It’s also not unlike in martial arts, you release oxygen and you yell when you make a gesture or a strike. I think that the moment I heard Dafne kind of making that sound…
The biggest question to me, was will you believe that this little girl is capable of doing what the comics have proposed she can do — and at the same time, will she seem like a cartoon or will she seem real. I think in many ways, that’s Dafne’s amazing achievement is holding it all together and yet with a reality.
If X-23 was to come back for another movie, is there any one thing you’d like to do, Dafne?
Mangold: I want to hear that too.
Keen: Hmm… interesting. Um… same thing as in this one.
Mangold: [Laughs] Just more!
Just more of the awesomeness.
Mangold: More awesomeness.
“Logan” is in theaters now.
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