Josh Trank, the once indie filmmaker who subsequently fell into the Hollywood blacklist. Not entirely through his own will though. The writer and director made a name for himself with 2012’s Chronicle. The film’s unique blend of a “found footage” narrative carried by super-powered teen dramatics was unlike anything playing in theaters at the time. Trank proving to be successful and talented, soon found himself in a unique yet well-exploited pool – young artists ready to be swept away by the next studio with their fresh industry clout. Considering his line of storytelling, Trank seemed like the perfect fit to reboot Marvel’s Fantastic Four for 20th Century Fox. The rest is, of course, now history.
The would-be dream project escalated into a nightmare. Despite having valued work under his belt, many came to know Trank only through the press fiasco associated with 2015’s Fantastic Four. Studio leadership stripped Trank of his creative leadership, for various accounted reasons, and released a film that obviously felt like two projects in one. Unlike the majority of countless artists who have faced the same fate, Trank refused to stay silent. He tweeted the nefarious words, “you’ll probably never see it”, in reference to his original cut shortly before the film’s release. Little did he know that it would be the next step in an unprecedented path.
After losing deals on certain big projects (such as a new Star Wars film), Trank took time to reflect within the silence of this pseudo-exile. Out of the ashes rose Capone, an out of the ordinary biographical film lead by non other than Tom Hardy. Focusing on the last days of the notorious Al Capone’s life does not make for a generic gangster film. In fact, this meditative and reflective nature stems from what Trank himself experienced in the industry. An unlikely return to form for those who fell in love with Chronicle all those years ago.
We were fortunate enough to have Trank for an exclusive interview. We focus more on the origins of Capone; where Trank has been these last years and how he chose to hone his creativity. The writer/ director welcomed an honest conversation, opening up from everything between the fight in the Fantastic Four edit to his new beloved friendship with Capone star Tom Hardy.
DF: Thank you so much for joining us Josh. We want to start off by asking, with your latest film Capone, what made you choose a specific moment in Al Capone’s life to focus on for this story?
JT: When I began working on this movie, it didn’t come from a desire to go make a movie about Al Capone. I wasn’t thinking about what would be the most interesting take on Al Capone. I wasn’t thinking about making a gangster movie. It never came from anything like that. It was purely like an accident. This organic thing that I fell on, the places my brain was going at that point in my life. It was very much pain from these quiet days that I spent sitting outside in the months following the release of Fantastic Four. I went through an experience that was very new to me.
Although, this was mid-2015 and the experience of seeing my name out there and being involved in projects with people who were famous and having press centered around either me or things that I was involved in – that wasn’t necessarily new to me. Because from the time when Chronicle was first announced, that was like mid-2010, I believe when I had sold the script. Right, so I had like a good five years of knowing what that’s like, but what was new to me was getting dragged and mischaracterized for five, six months in the press. In the months leading up to Fantastic Four being released, I first started to see these really extreme, negative, erroneous tales being spun about the person named Josh Trank.
JT: Articles being posted to Twitter and just like you, I mean we’re all a part of film Twitter you know? So if somebody in our Film Twitter community post stories – we all see it. Now I’m seeing stories that are about a person that has the same name as me, doing things and being involved in situations in such a way that I myself remembered very differently.
DF: I imagine it was like an out-of-body experience where you’re seeing all these things being said about you, but it has no reference to the truth.
JT: Yeah it was just like, because there were elements of things within those stories that were familiar, but all of the details were not familiar to me. They were some consensus. These were stories that were created by a consensus of other people who had all agreed on that being the story without me. Without my point of view involved in it. Once those started to come out, my first reaction to it was like anger and confusion. “That’s bullsh*t”. That was what I was thinking in my head. Then more of these stories started to come out and I’m just sort of sitting there. And this was still five months before the movie came out, where I was still very much deeply embedded in this kind of battle over the cuts of the movie.
I was extremely stubborn at that point about admitting, on any level myself with my own voice, that I had lost control over a movie that I was making. So I didn’t want to voice my opinion into the world to be like: I was still trying to fight for control of the movie. By the advice of my own reps and by my own attorney: just don’t engage. Then at a certain point, it was more stories and it was more stuff. Then I leave Star Wars and just every time that I did anything, a story would come out that was somebody else’s convenient story about what they want people to think it really was. I couldn’t fight that because like I was saying, like in the Matt Patches piece, these are massive corporations. Like you can’t fight them. You’re one person, right?
I started to see that suddenly, this isn’t just about stories that are being put out there that I disagree with. It’s an identity of a person named Josh Trank that everybody else is agreeing is the person that they think I am. And I don’t feel like I’m that person. Then I started to be confused because my identity is all I have at the end of the day. Like your identity is all that you have. Now my sense of my own identity is being warped and I felt like I didn’t have control. The same way I didn’t have control over the movie anymore.
Anyway, once the movie came out and that was that. The only piece of truth that I was able to drop was just that tweet. That was the only real sort of knee that anybody had actually heard from me. Then I deleted it. And then it was silence for months. I was sitting out there in my backyard chain-smoking cigarettes. I was up to about two packs a day, doing absolutely nothing. My bank account dwindling and nobody’s calling me. It was an eerie silence that I just will never forget. While I was sitting there one day, I couldn’t tell you what day it was, but at one point I just started to remember something I had read years ago about the last year of Al Capone’s life. Well after he had been released from Alcatraz, he was just sitting outside puffing the cigar doing nothing.
I was just thinking about how and what that experience would be like for him? With the kind of memories he must have had of this massive bombastic life that he was the star of. All of these big situations with clubs, famous people, and being the King of Chicago and the juxtaposition to me. Just being surrounded by a couple of people from your family and that’s it. I was having trouble sleeping. I felt like I still heard the voices in my head, all the people that I was talking to every single day that suddenly were not there anymore, but I still felt them. There was this residual energy of my past that I still felt present and I just kept thinking about Al Capone for a couple of days and just what that would have been like. What really struck a chord for me was the thought of – what would have happened if you flipped on the radio and heard a radio play about Al Capone?
Then it reminded me of when I was reading stories about Josh Trank and not agreeing with who Josh Trank is. You know, Al Capone’s identity didn’t belong to Al Capone – it belonged to the world. His identity is a commodity. His identity is a product. A product that the world wanted to have at their disposal – to be either the bootlegger folk hero or the Edward G. Robinson bad guy. All of a sudden, without even being overly conscious of it, I began writing. It wasn’t, like I said, me writing a movie about Al Capone. I was writing about a person who was Al Capone. It brought me such therapy and to be able to synthesize these feelings, that I didn’t know what to do with, into the productivity of creating this piece of cinema that was evolving every single day the more I continued working on it. So that’s why I chose that last year of his life. It wasn’t just out of me wanting to make an Al Capone movie.
DF: That actually links quite well into this next question. You mentioned the Matt Patches feature that’s come out. You were quoted as saying that you envisioned Fantastic Four as a film version of how you saw yourself at the time, the metaphor of these characters crawling out of hell. We were wondering, are there any aspects of this or how you saw yourself in the past, which you feel made their way into the character of Al Capone?
JT: Well, you know it’s interesting. It was funny, I read the Matt Patches article the same time everybody else did. I didn’t want to get a sneak peek. I very consciously told Matt early on that I was really happy to be an open book to him while this process is going on. For him to get this inside look at whatever it was that I had to say and whatever it was that was going on that I didn’t have any perspective on yet. I didn’t want him to think that anything I would say to him would be sugarcoated or any self-made propaganda. I wasn’t expecting any kind of fluff piece. So I was definitely nervous when I opened it up to read it.
It was funny reading some of the things that I said because this is all obviously true. I meant it and it was honest. I read that same quote that you said about like these four characters crawling out of hell. That’s definitely where my mind was when I was making it. But the difference between that and this in a very significant way is how I was imposing my own relatability to the characters. Fantastic Four was me very much bending those characters in such a way that was not organic to who they were, and who they were created to be in the comic. What I mean by that is, it was a stretch (laughs) no pun intended, to take Reed Richards as some kind of a prototype for my own – as a vessel of my own emotional experience. Because there’s not a lot in the Fantastic Four organically that really was meant to be something that I should have made.
I know it’s easy for me to say that now, but it was a reach for me with the Fantastic Four to turn them into that. I mean, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it was much more authentic to me than I think it is now. But with Capone, I truly feel intrinsically connected to the story in the way that I did with Chronicle. Chronicle is very much me. Chronicle was a story that came purely out of my own high school experience and the real feelings that I was having. All three of those characters were composites of myself and the friends that I had. There was no stretch for me to have to bend those characters into something that felt more like me – for me to be able to make that movie about them.
That’s the way that I feel about Capone. I didn’t have to overly adapt that character in order to suit my needs. But with the Fantastic Four, that’s what I was doing. I was overly adapting those characters to suit my needs. And that was a mistake. But it’s a mistake I wouldn’t know to have been a mistake if I hadn’t tried it out.
JT: An expensive mistake, but it wasn’t organic. This was so organic. That’s why I say that to me, although Chronicle was my first movie, I do really feel like Capone is my first movie as an adult. It’s what I have to say as an adult for the first time in a way that’s extremely pure. In collaboration with other adults who I love and who all have the same story eye to eye. The experience of making it together was truly evolved, beautiful, and fun. We all felt like we were on the same level as each other.
DF: Leading on from what you actually said, with how many elements of yourself were in the story of Capone, the fact that he’s such a known and recognizable figure. The casting is especially vital and difficult when picking the right person. So what then made you decide that Tom Hardy was the best man for the role?
JT: The character who I wrote in the script, I wasn’t thinking of any actor while I was writing it. I was writing the character as he needed to be, and the rest of the characters as they needed to be authentic. When you’re creating characters, they’re alive in their own way. The best version of writing a character is not tailored specifically to an actor in mind, to just behave like this fictional person and just bare the qualities that feel the most comfortable to a known actor. When I finished it, it was clear to me that this would be a very difficult character to play because of the way I wrote the script. The script itself is very much what the movie turned out to be.
It has that same balance of levity, absurdity, tragedy, and drama and like I keep saying – this beating heart in the center of it. So my dream was Tom Hardy because he’s the only actor I know of who has that range. To be as equally dramatically tragic as he can catapult himself into absurdity and theatrics that takes you almost outside of the reality of what you’re seeing. Then at the same time, go straight back into that reality. Tom Hardy is ideal for that. His agent ended up reading the script and mentioned to one of our producers that Tom had an opening, this was in mid-2016 or late-2016. They mentioned that he was going to have an opening the next year and his agent felt that Tom would really respond to the material.
Russell, my producer asked me, “Can we send it to Tom Hardy?” and I was like please send it to Tom Hardy! I didn’t assume that anything would come of it, because he’s Tom Hardy. I felt that the script was good and I felt confident in it, but I just didn’t want to hold my breath. The next day I got a call that Tom had read it. So he had read it in basically less than a day, which is crazy because it usually takes a really long time from that. You know, to get a big actor on the script and now he read it immediately. We were on the phone right away and we were on the phone for six hours, within 48 hours of him getting on the script.
We just jelled perfectly, and we shared the same thoughts and the same things excited us and made us tick. Before I knew it, I was flying out to London to get together with him. I spent about a week and a half out there and he came aboard the project. From that moment on, we just became very, very close friends and we are to this day. We talk every single day. We have a lot of great fun together. There was never any moment in making this movie together where he saw something totally different than I did. The thing about Tom is like, he does the opposite of the characters he plays.
He’s a very sweet, very open-minded – just a true artist in every sense of the word. Somebody that I personally just feel extremely comfortable talking to and oftentimes if you’re collaborating with anybody, it doesn’t matter who it is, that slight moment of hesitation is like thinking that your idea might differ from what their idea would be. But with Tom, when you’re working with him, you know that it’s okay to have a different opinion or think that your opinion might be different than his. Because nobody has all the answers. You have to bring your thoughts together to find the answer together. That’s how it’s always been with him. So we’ve just had such an incredible – it’s just the best creative collaboration I’ve ever had in my life.
DF: That sounds perfect.
JT: For everything that could’ve gone wrong on Fantastic Four – everything went right on Capone.