He lived three normal lifetimes rolled into one

He lived three normal lifetimes rolled into one

Universal Pictures26 Jul 2009

Michael Mann talks about John Dillinger, working with his actors and Chicago as a character in his movie, Public Enemies. Q. What drew you to make a movie about John Dillinger? The character fascinated me. He exploded out of prison with one thing on his mind: I want everything and I want it right now!

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What drew you to make a movie about John Dillinger?

The character fascinated me. He exploded out of prison with one thing on his mind: “I want everything and I want it right now!”

And he got it

Well, from then onwards he lived three normal lifetimes rolled into one, which lasted only 13 months. It was a red-hot trajectory of scoring and finding true love and beauty in his life.

And in the process he became the most notorious outlaw in America!

Yes, and with arguably the most notorious bank robbing crew in American History. It was so dramatic and compressed, and the dynamic range of it all from the highs to the lows is huge!

Was John Dillinger a public enemy or a public hero?

He was both; he was a social bandit and an outlaw hero. In his time, the public attitude was of admiration towards Dillinger and of scorn towards the forces of law and order that were hunting him. He promoted that and encouraged it, and did everything he could do to keep people liking him.

Would you have liked to meet him?

I would have loved to meet him. And I think I would have asked him everything.

What do you believe Johnny Depp brought to the role of Dillinger?

This is the kind of role I have been wanting to see Johnny in for some time, because it was emotionally open, which would allow some of the deeper currents within him to express themselves. I think this character spoke to him a lot, and he understood who he was. And I needed a man for the role, because John Dillinger was a man and Johnny Depp is a man.

And you show him falling in love.

John Toland, who wrote a wonderful biography on John Dillinger, explains how he was looking for affection due to his childhood. But, whatever the reason, it was clear that he was crazy for love -which you could read in his letters. So, he was truly in love with being in love.

So, how relevant is the love story between John Dillinger and Billie Frechette in Public Enemies?

Dillinger didn′t have a lot of understanding about courtship as he had been in jail for so long- and didn′t know what to say to a woman. On the other hand, Billie didn′t know much about how men were supposed to treat women. So, when she meets a guy who treats her with a courtesy that seems to be coming out of a movie, being protective and giving which is something Billie is not used to- she responds very well. It′s symbiotic. For me the love story between them is the axis of the movie.

You chose the French actress and recent Academy Award winner Marion Cotillard to play Billie Frechette.

Marion Cotillard is a brilliant artist and actress, with great work ethic. And every single gesture and look of hers is filled with truth. When Marion is next to Johnny she is not pretending to be in the moment, she is in the moment.

Was it clear from the beginning that they would have the chemistry the show on screen?

Well, I looked for someone who could have that chemistry with Johhny Depp in the role of Billie, because he was on board first. Marion came to a meeting in plain clothes, with no make-up, only a few days after winning the Academy Award for Best Actress. And when they met for the first time he was charmingly shy. Believe me, you didn′t have to be a rocket scientist to realize they were both the real deal and that it was going to work.

Michael MannMichael Mann in the set of Public Enemies

And then you have Christian Bale in the role of federal agent Melvin Purvis.

Christian brought a great commitment to the role and understanding of whom he was playing. When he immerses himself in a character he dives deep into the swimming pool and becomes him 24/7. And if there is a movie star who is not a movie star, it is Christian Bale

What kind of a man was Purvis?

He was a well-educated southern gentleman, who idealized J. Edgar Hoover. But I then believe he attempts to abandon those qualities in pursuit of progressive modernism, extolled by Hoover, in order to help build the modern FBI.

Did the FBI cooperate with you?

The FBI gave us complete cooperation, and we met some of their elite agents.

How far apart or close to each other were Dillinger and Purvis?

I think they were both victims of their time and didn′t have that quality to roll and tumble forward in order to survive.

Can you describe the visual style of Public Enemies?

The visual style was determined by my directorial analysis of how I wanted the story to be told and impact the public. If it is removed, because I want you to observe something, then I use a more static camera. But if I want you to feel, not that you are looking at that daily life in 1933 but that you are actually in it, the style is going to be more intimate in order to help the audience have a relationship with the characters. And we were trying to get a strong chroma using colors that at the same time felt very real, to reflect Dillinger′s intense life that burnt so bright but for so little.

Was it important for you to be able to shoot in many of the real locations where the action took place?

It was important only if it did something for us. And you bet it did. For example, you can′t understand the Crown Point jailbreak without going there.

And Chicago is a character in the movie.

Yes, Chicago is a character in the movie, and we had Johnny die on the exact same square foot of alley as Dillinger did.

How was the shoot at the Little Bohemia Lodge in Manitowish Waters, Wisconsin?

Great, because we were able to place Johnny Depp in Dillinger′s bedroom and put his hand on the same doorknob, as a lot of it is unchanged.

How much do you believe all that attention to detail and authenticity helped Depp′s performance?

In that scene it helped him realize what Dillinger must have seen, thought and felt at the time when he woke up in the middle of the night and grabbed the Tommy gun next to the wall.

Were those machineguns difficult to handle?

Not too bad. The Tommy guns were beautifully made and engineered, but at the same time very heavy. And the B.A.R. (Browning Automatic Rifle) was another fierce weapon.

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