The Directors: David Gordon Green Teams With Al Pacino in “Manglehorn”

Whether you’re a fan of filmmaker David Gordon Green’s visually sprawling, voiceover driven explorations of humanity (George Washington, All The Real Girls) or simply love his flair for comedy (Pineapple Express, The Sitter, Your Highness), it’s safe to say Green doesn’t mind changing things up. With Manglehorn, Green may have shot near his own residence but he still traverses a new path thanks to his collaboration with Al Pacino.

Manglehorn - (IFC Films)
Manglehorn – (IFC Films)

Lonely, bitter, and occasionally volcanic in temper, A.J. Manglehorn (Pacino) is a locksmith who’s perpetually stock in the past. Even the attentions of a charming bank teller (Holly Hunter) or sycophantic praise from a tanning salon owner (a surprisingly affecting Harmony Korine) won’t snap our protagonist out of his funk. The only two people who Manglehorn truly has patience for is his constipated cat and granddaughter, which means his inner circle is more like a small, suffocating triangle.

Now available on VOD and playing in select theaters, Manglehorn is a resonant drama about a man who, though still battling his personal demons, may find greener pasture if he simply takes a look at the wonder around him (and like all of Green’s dramas, the movie is beautifully shot).

I participated in a conference call with several other writers to discuss Manglehorn with David Gordon Green. Here’s what he had to say:

How did you come up with the idea for Manglehorn?

I was evacuating from a hurricane when I was working on the show “Eastbound and Down” in North Carolina. I was lost and confused, and I was trying to find my buddy and he asked me what street I was one and I said ‘I am on Mangle Horn street’ which was out int he middle of nowhere. I thought that would be a cool name for a movie.

I met Al Pacino the next week and I was seeing this kind of strange, very gentle, funny side to him. He was more of the Scarecrow than Scarface (side) of Pacino. I thought that it would be cool to make a movie with him called “Manglehorn.”

And then I went home and I was getting my locks changed and I went to the locksmith’s shop and I thought, ‘I should make a movie at this locksmith’s house, it’s just a couple of blocks away from my house.’

I gave that idea to my neighbor (Paul Logan) and he wrote the script. (laughs). It was a little unconventional but it worked out really great. I just wanted to use it as an exploration of a strange man who, on the surface is not very lovable, but when you peel back the layers you find a little bit more of a complex and emotional human being.

 Al Pacino (A.J. Manglehorn) in David Gordon Green’s MANGLEHORN.  Courtesy of Ryan Green.  An IFC Films release.

Al Pacino (A.J. Manglehorn) in David Gordon Green’s MANGLEHORN. Courtesy of Ryan Green. An IFC Films release.

How much thought and planning goes into the visual design of your films, especially with Manglehorn? Do you have all the images in your head before you start production with everything set in stone, or does that process change during filming?

Nothing is ever set in stone, but I was making a movie in a neighborhood that is significantly gentrified. And so I wanted to film in places that I knew were barely surviving (and) had a rich history and texture in a neighborhood that is being bulldozed as townhouses are being built.

Literally, all of the locations I could walk to. They were all remnants of a small town and lower income properties in the neighborhood of Austin. And Manglehorn’s house isn’t there anymore – it’s a duplex. The locksmith shop has just been sold – it’s going to be a strip mall. We were filming in dying locations that I thought were beautiful and said a lot about Austin’s history and character. And they were a great backdrop for a story about characters that are a little bit out of time and trying to struggle and keep up with the world around them.

Most of where we filmed the movie is a 10-minute walk from downtown, and yet we feel like we’re in a small town. (For example) when we went in for a shot, a guy on a horse walks by. That was unplanned – and perfect. I asked if him if he’d ride by one more time (laughs).

We do a lot of work with the production designer and the costume designer to create a palette, but I think it begins with the inspiration of real places.

Your work has often been compared to the work of Terrence Malick (Days of Heaven, Badlands). How do you feel about that comparison?

The Malick reference came early in my career where I was making movies kind of about – I’m not really sure why – just kind of lyrical, Southern dramas. And I think he was the easiest comparison.

I will say that it was fun, during the production of Manglehorn, I had dinner with Al Pacino, Terrence Malick, and Holly Hunter. It was incredible to go to a restaurant with those rock stars. It was totally bizarre – I was getting stories of how Malick tried to convince Al Pacino to be in Days of Heaven and things like that. Oh man, it was so juicy for a guy like me to be in on those dinners. It’s just inspiring.

Malick was certainly a very big inspiration and has become a friend. And I’ve departed considerably from that, and I think this may be a return to those strange, lyrical, thematic movies.

But i really just look to a movie that strikes my interest almost like a character actor would. Something I could disappear in and a world I want to live in for a year.

Sometimes it’s a movie with a crew of 15 people like “Prince Avalanche” – I just wanted to leave, get the world off my back and just relax in the woods and make a movie that literally had one location and two actors in it. Other times it’s to do something ambitious and comedic and blow s**t up like Pineapple Express. 

I’m just finishing up a movie (“Our Brand Is Crisis”) with Sandra Bullock for Warner Bros. about a Bolivian presidential election because I’ve really gotten into Latin American politics.

I just shake it up and confuse my mother as best as possible.

To Hear David Gordon Green talk about having lifelong friend David Wingo and Explosions in the Sky create the score and soundscape for Manglehorn, click on the media bar below:

What have you taken from your experiences working with Al Pacino and Harmony Korine?

Volumes. I was just e-mailing with Harmony yesterday and Al I was talking to last week. Those guys have become good friends but they’re also creative and psychological resources. As creative people that don’t necessarily go with the grain of an industry, we’re constantly there to reassure and challenge each other and call each other on our bulls**t. The more friends you have from a diversity of backgrounds and countries and cultures and generations, the better (it is to) navigate (and find) what you really want.

We all get kind of confused on what we want. You get so driven by what money will get you or what celebrity will achieve for you and how it makes your life easier or more complicated. But sometimes it takes a reminder from these strange friendships that “get it.” They get the pressures of a creative process that has become a massive industry.

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