Josh Trank on ‘Capone,’ and What Really Happened With ‘Fantastic Four’

Josh Trank on ‘Capone,’ and What Really Happened With ‘Fantastic Four’

Josh Trank on ‘Capone,’ and What Really Happened With ‘Fantastic Four’

Josh Trank on ‘Capone,’ and What Really Happened With ‘Fantastic Four’

The director Josh Trank was hailed as a Hollywood wunderkind upon the 2012 release of his debut, Chronicle,” a sleeper hit about a group of telekinetic teens. “Sometimes a movie arrives out of the blue that announces the arrival of considerable new talents,” the critic Roger Ebert wrote of Trank, then just 27, and his collaborators, including the screenplay writer Max Landis and the actor Michael B. Jordan. “Chronicle” earned $126 million globally, more than 10 times its production budget, and landed Trank some plum rewards: the chance to direct a reboot of the Marvel property “Fantastic Four” and a planned “Star Wars” stand-alone movie about the bounty hunter Boba Fett.

Fantastic Four,” however, proved catastrophic. During production, Trank lost creative control of the Fox superhero film — there were reshoots, and the final cut was not his — and subsequent press accounts said that he behaved erratically on set. He said those reports misrepresented the shoot. What isn’t in question is that Trank publicly disavowed “Fantastic Four” on the eve of its 2015 release, saying in a quickly deleted but much talked-about tweet that he’d made “a fantastic version” of the film that audiences would “probably never see.” The movie, with a reported budget of $120 million, opened to a measly $25.7 million domestically and got brutal reviews.

As for that never-made “Star Wars” movie, he wound up exiting, he said, before he could be fired because of the “Fantastic Four” reports.

Trank, now 36, said he didn’t regret that tweet or any of his professional missteps, for that matter. “I’m so glad that I did ‘Fantastic Four,’ and I’m so glad that it turned out to be a disaster because I learned so much about myself,” he said by phone from his Los Angeles-area home, where he’s sheltering in place with his Boston terrier, Eugene. “If it had just been a big success, like ‘Chronicle’ times 20, who knows if I would be this self-aware? Maybe I’d just be living in a bubble of success, like a lot of people that exist out there.”

Now, after considerable therapy and an amicable divorce, Trank has returned with his third feature, “Capone,” which he wrote, directed and edited. With most theaters closed due to the coronavirus, the film premieres Tuesday on Amazon, iTunes, YouTube and other video on demand platforms. It stars a heavily made-up Tom Hardy as Al Capone, suffering from dementia in the last year of his life.

Trank discussed why he wanted to tell the notorious gangster’s story, what did and did not transpire on the set of “Fantastic Four,” and how his “Star Wars” gig came to an end. Here are edited excerpts from the conversation.

What drew you to Al Capone’s story?

After “Chronicle” came out, I went from sleeping on friends’ couches to meeting with people like Tom Cruise at his house and being told by everybody that you’re a genius. I had this nagging desire to see if I could quickly get to the top of the mountains and do a “Star Wars” movie and reboot “Fantastic Four.” The smartest thing I could have done after “Chronicle” was take a couple of months to tune everything out and find my center. But I just went full speed. When “Fantastic Four” bombed, it went from my phone ringing all day and getting emails to just dead silence in a really jarring way. I was left with a lot of confusion, and I felt really numb.

I sat still outside, chain-smoking cigarettes for a good two months without speaking to anybody. At some point during my internal meditative state, I started to think about the story I knew from years of reading about Al Capone. I kept thinking about Capone at the end of his life, sitting outside, smoking a cigar, not knowing what’s going on, dying from syphilitic dementia. It was a place that I went to in my head to reconcile with the things that I was feeling.

How did you get out of “directors’ jail”?

Two producers named John Schoenfelder and Russell Ackerman were rooting for me right in the beginning, which was a really nice feeling, because it was purely based on my writing. Lawrence Bender [another producer] paid for an option. Within a few months, Tom Hardy [responded] to the script. Tom called me, and we were on the phone for about six hours. We just clicked. Now Tom’s one of my best friends. We talk and play video games almost every day.

Press reports said that you were difficult and uncommunicative on the set of “Fantastic Four.” How much of that was true?

I was overly communicative of my needs and my thoughts and my vision. It’s just what I was communicating ultimately didn’t line up with what the studio wanted it to be. I’m not trying to paint them as the bad guy. But I think what was going on with those stories was a concerted effort to engineer an image of me to discredit anything that I could have said [against the studio] when the movie came out. When it came down to things like I wasn’t communicating or I was running away into a tent or me and [the film’s star] Miles Teller almost came to blows — which is ridiculous — it’s very easy to take details and exaggerate them into something that they aren’t.

You’ve said you dropped out of directing a planned “Star Wars” spinoff film, but there was a report, citing unnamed sources, that you were fired. What actually happened?

I was juggling “Fantastic Four,” in that period where I had pretty much lost any control or say over the destiny of that movie, [and] flying up on the weekend to San Francisco to work at Lucasfilm. Then one day, I got on a conference call where it came down from Disney that they had heard all of these rumors of things on “Fantastic Four.” This was in the lead-up to the Star Wars Celebration, where we were supposed to announce onstage that I was doing the Boba Fett movie, and we’d made like a 10-second teaser. [The Lucasfilm president] Kathleen Kennedy wanted to talk to me and find out what was up with all these things that she had heard. So I went up to San Francisco, confused and scared. We had a conversation, and she really seemed to believe, or wanted to believe, what she was hearing over what I had to say. I could tell that if I didn’t walk away, I would be forced out.

Given your experiences with Hollywood, would you ever take on another blockbuster again?

Sure. With “Capone,” I wrote it, I directed it, and I edited it. It’s a pure representation of exactly who I am as a filmmaker. If studio X or producer X takes “Chronicle” and “Capone” into account, and they think to themselves for whatever reason that material they have fits in alignment with the kind of weird, dark, idiosyncratic things that I’m compelled to be part of, then by all means, of course, I’d be interested. There’s one thing about me, I’m not scared of challenges. I love a challenge.

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