Knight and Day - Tom Cruise and director James Mangold
Tom Cruise and director James Mangold review a scene on the set © Twentieth Century Fox and Regency Enterprises

Director James Mangold has made a career of taking creative, edgy approaches to classic genres, helming such critically successful movies as the Johnny Cash biopic Walk the Line and the remake of the western 3:10 to Yuma.

He’s now taking on the action-comedy genre with Knight and Day, which stars Tom Cruise as a secret agent on the run, and Cameron Diaz as the unfortunate woman who crosses his path and is forced to join him on his whirlwind adventure.

Were you hoping to make something classic new again?

The Poster © Twentieth Century Fox and Regency Enterprises

I was thinking about the days when an action sequence was one of the special effects the movie had to offer, but the other one might be charm, romance, travel or even comedy. (And I was) trying to balance action against the other attributes that also are equal and strong in this picture.

One of the things important to me, as a director who has done both dramatic and comedic films, was not to let Knight and Day become a James Bond movie. We wanted to do something more fanciful, more like Charade or North by Northwest; a modern action picture with a light heart.

Raiders of the Lost Ark was an original film. It wasn’t a comic book retread, or a remake or a sequel or a TV show previously. It was a completely original world, you had really good actors playing in an action environment and there were laughs, romance and other aspects besides just relentless action. And I think that’s what we were after. I think what we were doing was going, ‘What would North by Northwest look like if we made it now?’

How important is it to cast a movie like this?

You need the right people. With Tom and Cameron, I knew it could happen. One of the things I’ve really missed about Tom’s movies in the last several years, and what I really wanted to see again in Knight and Day, was Tom in a role that is both human and funny.

I was really excited by the opportunity to take that step with him playing Roy Miller, a character who is suddenly second-guessing everything that he wants in life.

Then into Roy’s world walks Cameron Diaz, as June Havens, who puts him in a position to do things and feel things he’s never done or felt before. A major interest for me was the humor of mixing together their romantic squabbles and confusion with high-scale action.

One of the fun questions the movie asks is, ‘Even if you are a spy capable of bringing down a plane or saving the world, can you handle a relationship?’ You have these two wonderfully opposite characters – a woman who has always had a fantasy of going somewhere but has never let go enough to do it and a man who has been absolutely everywhere, but has never let himself know love.

It’s a collision of opposite desires from the moment they meet.

What makes Tom and Cameron so good together on screen?

Tom and Cameron have this incredible vibe together, perhaps because they have such different styles. Tom is all about precision. He’s laser-focused and very intense. Cameron is loose and wild and emotional. There’s a natural oil-and-vinegar reactions that happens between them and it makes for an incredible cinematic combo.

When you do a movie that is heavily laden with stunts, do you look around to see how you can up the ante?

Roy (Tom Cruise) and June (Cameron Diaz) prepare for the ride of their lives, as they flee pursuing assassins – and bulls – through the streets of Seville, Spain © Twentieth Century Fox and Regency Enterprises

I was working on the script a year ago, and we were trying to figure out where we would end the picture, and you get into this mold where you’re trying to think of new kinds of action that you’ve never seen before. And you literally start going, ‘Okay, a cable car in the Alps,’ and (they) go, ‘Seen it, they did it in this movie.’

You suddenly go, ‘A motorcycle chase through the running of the bulls.’ I woke up in the middle of that night with that (idea). I started calling everyone, going. ‘Have you seen an action sequence with the running of the bulls in Spain?’ They were like, ‘No.’ I was like, ‘This is too easy, there has to be a movie where someone did something like this.’ Now there is!

As a director do you juggle can we do the stunt, can the actors do it and how much will it cost?

That’s my job. The other thing I’m juggling is tone. You want to make sure you hit the right tone with the movie. Different decades, different periods of time, everyone has a different way they do an action picture. Right now most action pictures are super intense, lots of cuts, lots of noise. It’s really cool but sometimes I come out of one of those movies and I feel like I’ve been hit in the head with a hammer for two hours.

Tom and Cameron did many of their own stunts – how did that make you feel?

You have to adjust as a director to seeing the stars of your movie seven stories in the air leaping from buildings. The saddest thing to me is that, in this age of CGI, many people won’t believe that Tom and Cameron really did these things.

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter. More by Judy Sloane