'Cop Land' Director James Mangold: When Stallone Swapped Guns for a Gut

CHRISTIAN TOTO

It’s been 14 years since ‘Cop Land’ first hit movie theaters, but director James Mangold distinctly remembers his first reaction to casting Sylvester Stallone as the film’s heroic sheriff.

“I was dead set against it. I was horrified by the idea,” says Mangold, who would later go on to direct Oscar-winning films like ‘Walk the Line’ and ‘Girl, Interrupted.’ “He played a superhero so often. I didn’t want to make a movie about Judge Dredd.”

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Mangold graciously went to dinner with Stallone all the same and laid out his vision for the role.

“You have to let your body go. I mean let it go … gain at least 40 pounds” the director told the erstwhile Rocky Balboa.

‘He agreed immediately,” Mangold recalls. “He took the leap, and he delivered.”

Stallone’s sensitive performance in the tale of a New Jersey town teeming with dirty cops reminded us he’s more than just a slab of muscle for hire. The film, out this week in a Director’s Cut Blu-ray edition, also proved Mangold could handle a veteran cast led by Harvey Keitel, Robert De Niro and Ray Liotta.

“I have a memory of being a young man with this ridiculously heady cast all around me… it’s like pretty big boots to be strapping on in your second movie,” he says. “It demystified working with really important actors.”

The film also taught him that his complete vision won’t always make it to the big screen.

The Blu-ray edition tacks on a few minor scenes cut for its theatrical release, including a moment where Stallone’s extra weight comes spilling out for all to see. The new version also trims away a few seconds he didn’t want in the film in the first place. The studio wanted to “wrap things up in a happy bow,” he says.

“It wasn’t the feel-good experience of the summer, so the cut got a little compromised,” he says.

“The movie was under so much pressure to be America’s next ‘Pulp Fiction.’ But it’s such a dark and sad tale, less jazzy and more of a kind of morality tale. It ends in a dark place,” he continues. “The star value got so high, and they wanted the grosses to be so high.”

Working with A-listers does come with a downside.

“When ‘Cop Land’ came out, a lot of daggers were out for Sly,” he recalls. “He had made a bunch of shittier moves, he’s the first to admit, that weren’t aimed for the highest result each time out.”

The ‘Cop Land’ Blu-ray includes a commentary track with Mangold, Stallone, co-star Robert Patrick and producer Cathy Konrad, as well as deleted scenes and a “making of” featurette. Mangold’s directorial career took off after the film’s release, veering from smart romantic comedies (‘Kate & Leopold’) to a celebrated look at the life of music icon Johnny Cash (‘Walk the Line’). His next project finds him dabbling in Hollywood’s hottest genre – the superhero epic.

‘The Wolverine’ casts Hugh Jackman once more as the hirsute hero with the adamantium claws. Mangold promises comic book fans the new film won’t resemble any they’ve seen before.

“In many ways what attracted me to this… it’s like the tentpole superhero movie is almost a cliché,” he says. “Hugh and I were most after making an original film.”

The superhero sequel will be based on the iconic Frank Miller series set in Japan.

“It takes place in an entirely different culture and fighting in entirely new ways,” says Mangold, who adds that he’ll be getting under the skin of the main character in ways past films couldn’t quite do.

“What’s it like to be immortal, to lose all the people you love and know you’ll keep on going? To have that kind of violence within you and turn it into good?” he asks before quickly assuring fans the film will still have some “kick-ass action.”

Mangold’s directorial career hasn’t always gone smoothly. Before his romantic comedy ‘Kate & Leopold’ reached the public, reporters were abuzz about the personal peccadilloes of the film’s leading lady, Meg Ryan. Last year, critics greeted Mangold’s action vehicle ‘Knight and Day’ with cynicism thanks, in part, to Tom Cruise’s fading star power.

The writer/director is learning to take it all in stride and trust what he puts up on the screen.

“It’s all about surviving the test of time in the end, not all about the opening weekend,” he says.

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