Manglehorn stars Al Pacino as an elderly locksmith set in his ways, constantly seeking out the one true love of his life who he lost many years ago. However, his daily obsessions over the choices he’s made leave him stuck in his head and distance him from everyone he cares about.
The film played at South By Southwest this year and we had the pleasure of talking with director David Gordon Green shortly after it premiered. During our exclusive interview, we discussed working with Pacino, where the movie’s title came from, directing films by other writers and much more.
Check out the full interview below, and enjoy!
How was it working with Pacino?
Green: It was great. An education and a joy. A living legend, and to be able to sit down with one of your idols and design a character from the ground up with him, it was written for him, having his voice and ideas and relevance all bundled up at this point in his life, it was really amazing. Even between takes, being able to have a guy who’s very accessible and spends time talking to you and giving you advice about your life, it’s great. I’ve got twins and he’s got twins, he’s like, “Hey, here’s what I did. Here’s how you balance the craziness of the industry with your family.” It’s cool to have a kind of father figure you’re working with. It was the first time I’d done that.
Were there any major filmmaking tricks that you learned from him?
Green: He was very respectful of the eccentric way we wanted to put this movie together. I didn’t want it to follow a traditional shot structure or editing style. I really wanted it to be an organic movie where there were no… There was a script for sure, but I didn’t want him to be wedded to a line. There’s a lot of people mumbling, talking at the same time, talking on top of each other.
Sometimes I’d film a scene, like when he goes into a tanning salon, for instance. We sat him in a chair and we put the camera on him super close up and set a green screen behind him. Super close up and there’s literally a dude under Al’s butt (spinning) the chair. I had him say everything that he was thinking. It was unscripted. I just said, “What’s going on in your head? We’re going to film you talking about yourself.” Then you layer them on top of each other and it becomes this trippy walk through a tanning salon. Just weird experimental things. A lot aren’t in the movie because they didn’t work, but we chose the ones that are part of this organic, jazzy, boozy flow that seem to be a part of the character.
What was it about the project that drew you to it?
Green: The title comes from when I was evacuated from a hurricane. We were in production on Eastbound and Down and there was a hurricane coming so we all had to split town. I was driving to Teachey, North Carolina where my friend Joey and his wife Rita were going to house me. I got lost and ended up on this road called Mangle Horn. Two words.
So I call up Joey and said, “Joey, I’m on Mangle Horn Road.” Joey’s like, “I’ll come and get you.” He comes and he gets me and I’m like, “Who’s Mangle Horn?” “Some guy that used to live down that street a long time ago. Crazy Old Mangle Horn,” he says. And I’m thinking, crazy old Mangle Horn? I love that.
So then a few months later I had a meeting with Pacino about a different project. It didn’t end up coming together, but I had all these ideas of this character I saw. Watching his mannerisms and things in the conversation, I walked away with all these ideas for a character for him. I was like Al’s Mangle Horn. If I see a picture of Al’s face and Manglehorn, that’s all I need to know to see that movie. I called Paul Logan’s who’s my neighbor here in Austin. I told him I had a meeting with Al Pacino, one of our mutual idols, and said “I have this title and I want you to write it.”
Then I kind of described the character of Manglehorn, had a couple notes in different scenarios. I wanted him to be a locksmith and I wanted it to be a modern day fable. I really wanted it to play like that. Something like Brother’s Grimm, but this is Manglehorn. It sounds like that. Then Paul wrote it.
I’ll have that a lot. A title and an idea and then I get writers on it. This one turned out lovely when I was reading it. I couldn’t stop laughing, but in a sentimental way. I just think this is a guy who you just want to smack him, but you can’t because he can’t get his shit together. He’s doing such frustrating things. Talking to Al about it when I gave him the script, it was literally the quickest I’ve ever had an actor read a script and say yes. Ever.
He’s a captivating character for sure. Why a locksmith?
Green: You know, Pinocchio has his Gepetto or a woodcutter in a fairy tale. I just wanted him to have something traditional. And my buddy Tom McCarthy was already making a movie called The Cobbler, so I couldn’t do that. I wanted it to be an old-school trade. Some sort of lonely technician, but in another world. He’s a black and white character. Even the way he looks. He wears these fabrics of wools. They’re formalities of another day. I wanted him to feel like he was plucked out of a fairy tale. He had to be something magical.