Written and directed by Josh Trank, Capone centers on the final year of Chicago gangster Alfonse Capone’s (Tom Hardy) life. Suffering from neurosyphillis, Capone’s grasp on reality and illusion is slipping through his fingertips. During the interview, Trank talked about collaborating with an equally passionate collaborator in Tom Hardy, his logical (and insightful) approach to writing, and why, to this day, Barton Fink holds a special place in his heart.
Tom Hardy delivers a tour de force performance in Capone, but he’s also aided by a stellar ensemble cast which includes Linda Cardellini as his understandably exasperated wife Mae and Matt Dillon as his close friend and confidant Johnny. Josh Trank’s visual and storytelling prowess is in peak form with Capone, and whether or not one loves this film, Capone is blessed with a strong and unapologetic point of view. Middle of the road moviemaking is thankfully not Trank’s trademark, and he brought a refreshingly candid approach to the interview.
Below is the audio version of the Josh Trank interview. The entire audio talk (which includes his discussion of Fantastic Four) is up for our Cinemaddicts Patreon subscribers:
Capone is go-for-broke filmmaking and in my opinion that’s a great thing. Has that always been your approach with crafting your stories?
Yeah totally. With this particular movie, I had really nothing to lose because to me it felt like my career had already ended with Fantastic Four. That is libertating in a way because when I was making Chronicle – I am very proud of Chronicle – but when I was making Chronicle I had a lot to lose. I had everything on the line.
With Fantastic Four I had everything on the line but it was a different situation and obviously I’ve talked about that a lot. And there’s a lot there.
With Capone, I didn’t have anything to lose, and I was working with an actor in Tom Hardy who’s become one of my best friends. I’ve known him now for almost four years. When you’re riding along with somebody like Tom, you know they’re going to go all the way. By the way, I’ve seen some of the reviews and there is definitely a lot of people who are on some level offended by the movie or they think it’s too crazy.
So that’s fine. Ultimately I love this movie. I love every frame of this movie. Every frame of this movie I’ve put myself into. Tom put himself into every frame of this and I know there are a lot of people who are deeply connected with it. That’s why we did it this way. We know that if we go in a day of shooting and we’ve got scenes to do, why would we want to walk away from those scenes feeling like we only hit at 50%?
That’s why it makes so much sense that Tom connected with this script. It’s something that as an actor allowed him to jump into so many different places and allow him to deconstruct his own masculinity in a way. Tom Hardy’s acting and the places that he goes – you look at his performance in Bronson, one of my favorite performances ever, he’s the kind of actor who can be both extraordinarily powerful and allow himself to be just as powerless at the same time.
I’m sure you grew up loving not just the films of Tom Hardy but also Matt Dillon. What was it like to work with him on the project and put him in the same space as Hardy for a spell?
Oh my God, to work with Matt Dillon was surreal. When I hopped on the phone with Matt, he had read the script but this was maybe a year before we started filming. We had typical scheduling stuff where you’ve got a bunch of people with different schedules. He read the scirpt and I was on the edge of my seat to get the call back from my casting director. I asked ‘Does Matt like it?” She (said) “Matt really loves it, he wants to talk to you.”
Matt calls me up and it was just crazy because he was so casual. You can hear it in his voice. He’s so down to Earth. Talking to Matt, I felt like I had already known him my own life on some level and that’s what was so fun about getting to role up my sleeves and work with Matt. He has always been an inspiration for me. And to be able to have somebody like him at my disposal in that ensemble and really see him go for broke in a lot of very interesting ways in different scenes was nothing short of surreal.
Josh do you have a daily approach to writing your screenplays, or is it pretty much free flowing and open from project to project?
I try to keep writing every single day. I do work as a writer on rewrites on different things. Professionally, it’s something as I do as my job every day. For instance, stuff that I’m (writing) on spec – you’ve got to get your brain in a place where even if you don’t feel inspired every day, you’ve got to just write. Even if you don’t think it’s good because, you know, you never know you may end up coming up with something that is really good when you don’t think you are.
If you miss a day or two and you jump back into stuff, you feel you need to get warmed back into it and it’s kind of hard. I try to stay strict with doing it every single day.
As much as I love Capone, I was a bit frustrated because I realized that I did not give Fantastic Four a shot due to all the negative press it received. In your opinion, is there something that moviegoers and critics missed? I’ll be watching the film with fresh eyes and wondering if you can offer up a different perspective?
I have so many feelings about it. So many feelings that over the years have evolved into more of a simple feeling which is that there are a couple of movies inside one movie competing to be the movie that you’re seeing. Ultimately, it’s being presented in a way that is not interesting.
They showed me the final cut of the movie basically a few weeks before it was released and I was like “Okay.” Because the second half of the movie is a hodgepodge of stuff that they had rewritten and reshot basically. I was there for some of the reshoots but only out of a courtesy. I wasn’t really directing it so to speak.
It was a hodgepodge of stuff that wasn’t mine and any of the stuff that is mine are edited in such a way where they were using different takes that weren’t my selected takes that I would have wanted to use and in a kind of pacing that I didn’t intend
I had originally hired Philip Glass who is one of my all-time heroes, write the score and he was pulled from the movie by the studio at a certain point when they felt the music that he was creating was comic booky or superhero enough. Which was ultimately the reason I got involved in doing that movie in the first place is I wanted to go in a different direction.
Once I heard what that direction was, they didn’t like it so he was expelled from the situation. So there is a score to the movie that took some elements from some melodies Philip had created with it and in a tone which is more generically superhero.
The best way I can put it is when that movie came out and it got terrible reviews, it f**ked me up because I felt I was being held directly responsible – everything that they were talking about was not intentional stuff on my part. Those weren’t choices I made as a director that you are watching and judging.
Whereas with Capone, all the bad reviews are directly an assessment of choices as a director I made very intentionally. They’re talking about the stuff that I did that I wanted in there. I’m not mad about a bad review talking about something that I literally did. It just tells me that what I made isn’t your cup of tea.
Off the top of your head, can you name one of your favorite movies and what is it about this film that still resonates with you?
Oh of course. One of my favorite movies of all time, which was much very much the inspiration for Capone is a movie called Barton Fink by the Coen Bros. I’ve seen that movie, I don’t even know how many times – probably over 100 times.
I first saw it when I was about 9 or 10 years old. Reason I connected with it as first was as a kid. John Turturro and his hair and his crazy face Growing up in a super culturally Jewish family, I had never seen somebody so Jewish looking in a movie before (laughs). I couldn’t stop watching what was happening and John Goodman was in it and he’s crazy in it.
As I grew up I would just always go back and rewatch that movie and it took on a different meaning for me as I got older. It’s really a movie about a writer who is as frustrated with the system as he is frustrated with his own writing and process. He hears this semi-young playwright from New York who got good reviews off of it from an off-Broadway play that he wrote (and is) given an offer to go out to Hollywood by a big studio.
They roll out the red carpet for him and they basically want him to write the wrestling picture. This is the 1940s. The head of the studio is treating him with all the grandeur of what one would treat a prolific writer; it’s this interesting portrait of ego and ego stroking in Hollywood. It’s very accurate and it’s very authentic. That’s what I realized especially after my career started and I was working with studios because I could go back to the movie and say “this is soooo accurate.”
Once he engages with writing this B-wrestling movie, he’s having a hard time wrapping his head around it because what they want from him is this very simplistic B-movie. And he wants to write poetry. He wants to write this beautiful story looking into the vulnerability of a big man who is a wrestler.
He digs into the bottom of his soul to tell this story and there’s this iconic writer who he looks up to and realizes that this guy isn’t really who he thought he was and discovers more about himself in the process. All this crazy, surreal stuff happens along the way.
Finally, after going through a lot of these crazy situations (a dead body in his room and his neighbor John Goodman is a lunatic who turns out to be a serial killer ), he turns in his script and the studio hates it because it’s a pretentious piece of s**t in their eyes. They wanted a wrestling picture and the head of the studio said “about men in tights, fighting each other.” That’s all they wanted and they gave him this “fruity” script and he’s devasted by this because he’s put his heart and his soul into it.
There’s a great line in the movie where the head of the studio says, “You think you’re the only writer out there that can give me that Barton Fink feeling? I can get any writer in town to give me that Barton Fink feeling. Who do you think you are?”
Understand that at the time growing up watching that movie, I just thought it was funny but then at a certain point there I am and Chronicle came out and I’m working with Fox again on Fantastic Four. In the beginning I remember them saying they wanted the “Josh Trank Chronicle Fantastic Four.”
And then down the line as we got further into it, I realized it was more of a Barton Fink situation where it was. They wanted what they thought was that Josh Trank feeling but to me, that wasn’t what I thought I was doing.
Capone is now available on all major On Demand and Digital platforms.