Josh Trank says that he was so deeply paranoid during the making of Fox’s comic book reboot flop Fantastic Four that he slept with a gun on his nightstand.
In an explosive new interview with Polygon – conducted over four years and published in the week before his new movie Capone hits VOD – Trank has described the nature of his work on the 2015 movie, which suffered from significant studio interference, and the volatile relationship he had with Fantastic Four‘s co-screenwriter, Jeremy Slater, who had seen the success of Joss Whedon’s The Avengers preceding their attempt at the Marvel reboot, and wanted to follow suit.
“I kept saying, ‘That should be our template, that’s what audiences want to see!” remarked Slater. “And Josh just fucking hated every second of it.”
The approach went against Trank’s vision for the project. “The trials of developing Fantastic Four had everything to do with tone. You could take the most ‘comic booky’ things, as far as just names and faces and identities and backstories, and synthesize it into a tone. And the tone that [Slater] was interested in was not a tone that I felt I had anything in common with.”
Trank was already carrying ‘mental baggage’ from working on his previous film, Chronicle, but his paranoia quickly shifted up several gears after he again chose to cast Michael B. Jordan, this time as the Fantastic Four‘s new Johnny Storm. Some of the online backlash to a black actor playing a character who is white in the comics was immediate and unrelenting, and he started sleeping with a gun next to his bed as production on the film rolled on.
“For the world I grew up in, a racially intense Los Angeles where we were used to seeing white superheroes, some of my friends who were black should have seen a black superhero […] so I felt that while being in a position of power, I could change the system a little bit,” Trank explained, adding “I was getting threats on IMDb message boards saying they were going to shoot me. I was so fucking paranoid during that shoot. If someone came into my house, I would have ended their fucking life. When you’re in a head space where people want to get you, you think, ‘I’m going to defend myself.’”
Trank says Fox also got cold feet over the serious tone he’d decided to take with the film, which caused a new rift. “They really do pay attention to what people are saying on Twitter. They look at that and they say, ‘Shit, people are freaked out about how it’s not going to be funny. So we need to spend $10 million to do a comedy rewrite.’”
Pirates of the Caribbean editor Stephen Rivkin was brought in to rejig Trank’s cut, and reshoots were soon ordered. Trank was asked to attend them, and felt like he was “being castrated”.
“You’re standing there, and you’re basically watching producers blocking out scenes, five minutes ahead of when you get there, having [editors hired] by the studio deciding the sequence of shots that are going to construct whatever is going on, and what it is that they need. And then, because they know you’re being nice, they’ll sort of be nice to you by saying, ‘Well, does that sound good?’ You can say yes or no.”
The director remembers saying ‘yes’ as, for better or worse, it seems he didn’t want all the hard work he’d put in on the movie to be for nothing, even if the final product was an unfamiliar beast.
In the interview, Trank also talks about quitting his in-development Boba Fett movie after Lucasfilm got cold feet over him helming the Star Wars spinoff in the wake of Fantastic Four‘s critical and box office mauling – “I quit because I knew I was going to be fired if I didn’t quit” – and also recalls how he set about sabotaging a sequel to his hit indie Chronicle after Max Landis was brought in to write a follow-up screenplay.
“I made it difficult for them to set up meetings. I was dodgy about stuff. I did a lot of shitty things. Because I really didn’t ever want to see Chronicle 2 happen. That was my worst nightmare. First of all, I’m not doing it. Second, if somebody else does it, then you know it’s gonna be a piece of shit.”
The whole interview (it’s a big one) is definitely worth a read, and if you want to see what Trank’s been up to the last few years, his latest flick, the Tom Hardy-starring Capone, will be streaming from May 12.