It’s not every day you get to work with your idols. For director David Gordon Green, moving from stoner comedies like “Pineapple Express” and “Your Highness” back down to his inspired independent roots has opened unlikely doors to working with some of the most interesting actors in the industry. In “Joe,” Green directed Nicholas Cage, and now in “Manglehorn,” the youthful director with a slight southern drawl sat on the opposite end of a camera from Oscar winner Al Pacino.
But approaching Pacino with a script was not so easy. “It was written for Pacino,” Green shared with the International Business Times. “I met him to do this commercial campaign, but ended up doing it with Clint Eastwood because Al didn’t want to do it,” the director laughed. “It was a magical meeting, pretty intense. It was two hours of how you would negotiate in an agent boardroom.” The 40-year-old filmmaker noted how the room seemed packed with advertising agents, Pacino's agents and team. “Then it was just me and this artist across the room.”
The pieces of his character began to develop in front of David Gordon Green. “It was this man who had these great vulnerable qualities and emotional accessibilities. I saw little notes of what I had seen in his earlier work.” Green paused his story to interject his favorite Pacino roles. “’Scarecrow’ and ‘Panic in Needle Park’ are two of the best movies ever made.” Like Green’s deconstruction of Nic Cage’s persona, he knew he would have to do the same with Pacino. “We’ve got the bravado and that canon of his voice that can come out, but let’s go back a couple of notches and find the little boy in the man.”
And so they did. As the pair started working on the character of Manglehorn, a love lost man incapable of moving forward, Green said they channeled an immature spirit, that of an 11-year-old boy. “We designed that character so that he hasn’t really evolved. He didn’t get over that first love.” The script even included the occasional temper tantrum.
David Gordon Green recalled working with Pacino was like a dream. “For a filmmaker sitting down in a room with one of his idols and get these intimate personal details, it’s just extraordinary. It’s a creative wellspring to talk about that.”
Centering his movies primarily on male protagonists, Green has moved through various stages of life through his characters. A common theme in his work is “coming-of-age,” but how does a character with Al Pacino’s years still manage the need to grow up? “I always look at every new phase of my life, which happens about every year and a half, is the next coming-of-age. We’re constantly coming-of-age.”
He described his storytelling method as such: “I’m always looking at these characters in these emotionally vulnerable points in their lives and then studying the transition from point A to point B.” David Gordon Green even praised the genre of Reality TV for forcing a trend to more nuanced acting and filmmaking. “I think it gives us an appreciation for narrative storytelling. Those shows are a lot more scripted than they pretend to be, and then you see a degree of performance.”
“You put the movie stars in place and then you find real charismatic people who have a voice and are confident in front of a camera, people will want to look at them,” he said. As in several of his previous movies, the star of “Manglehorn” weirdly fits in the sea of rustic oddballs and everyday folk just naturally. Who’s acting in front of David Gordon Green’s camera is the real question. “Reality TV has changed the way movies can feel, and that’s a positive side effect.”
“Manglehorn” opens on June 19 in limited release and to VOD.