When Josh Trank announced May 1 that he was dropping out of a planned "Star Wars" spinoff film less than a year after being brought on to direct, it didn't take a Jedi master to intuit that the news would cause a major disturbance in the Force.
But speaking publicly about his departure from the project for the first time, Trank – the director of 2012's sci-fi sleeper hit "Chronicle" and the upcoming "Fantastic Four" reboot – says he wasn't prepared for just how nasty things would get.
"At first I was like, 'I'm just not going to say anything because it will blow over,'" Trank told The Times last week in an interview for an upcoming Hero Complex magazine cover story on "Fantastic Four." "But I was shocked – it just hasn't blown over. People get so excited to raise their pitchforks.
"I knew that this was going to be questioned and it was going to come under skepticism as to why I left 'Star Wars,'" he continued. "And it was hard. It was the hardest decision I've ever had to make in my life."
In the original joint statement with Lucasfilm announcing his exit from the project – which came less than two weeks after he was a no-show at a panel at the Star Wars Celebration fan convention in Anaheim – Trank said he was bowing out of the planned second "Star Wars" spinoff film to "pursue some original creative opportunities."
For her part, Lucasfilm VP of development Kiri Hart said it had been "a privilege to collaborate with Josh" and that the company was "grateful for the energy and love of 'Star Wars' that he brought to the process."
But rumors quickly began swirling that there were deeper, darker reasons behind the parting of ways. The Hollywood Reporter, citing unnamed sources, reported that Trank had, in fact, been fired from the "Star Wars" film due to his "erratic" behavior on the set of "Fantastic Four." Variety alleged that a rift had opened up between Trank and "Fantastic Four" producer and co-writer Simon Kinberg, who is also producing the "Star Wars" spinoff film.
Speaking alongside Kinberg, Trank adamantly pushed back against those allegations.
"None of those facts were true – and any of the facts that were true were spun in such a maliciously wrong way," he said.
The director strongly disputed charges that he was isolated and indecisive on the set of "Fantastic Four." "If you ask anybody by name who I've worked with, from Simon to [producer] Hutch [Parker] or my crew or anybody else, they'd be like, 'We've been working really hard on this movie and we've had an excellent time working together,' " he said. "It's been a challenging movie – for all of the right reasons."
Trank also denied reports that, during the filming of "Fantastic Four" in New Orleans, his dogs had caused as much as $100,000 in damage to a house he was renting. "Please – it's crazy and it's not true," he said. "I have three pugs and a little Boston terrier – that's all I'm saying. They're fine. I've been living in another house for over a year now and there's literally no problem. I love my landlord."
As for rumors that he was behind an angry, defensive rant that surfaced last week on the anonymous Internet bulletin board 4Chan, Trank said that was simply a bizarre hoax someone perpetrated at his expense. "Everybody wanted to go out there and say, 'Josh has lost his mind,'" he said. "It's just been an avalanche of things."
Having spent more than a year working on the development of the standalone "Star Wars" film – details of which are still under wraps – Trank said the decision to drop out was extremely difficult. The director has called the "Star Wars" universe "one of my biggest influences."
But after months of intense scrutiny and sometimes blistering criticism from many in the fan community over "Fantastic Four" – including his decision to change the race of the Johnny Storm character – Trank said he couldn't imagine taking on another giant franchise right away.
"I want to do something original after this because I've been living under public scrutiny, as you've seen, for the last four years of my life," he said. "And it's not healthy for me right now in my life. I want to do something that's below the radar."
"I have a great relationship with everyone at Lucasfilm and with Kiri Hart," he continued. "And they all understood it because this whole experience for me has been very psychologically hard."
In his own first comments on the flap, Kinberg – who is himself no stranger to the intense and unruly passions of the Internet fan community, having worked on several "X-Men" films and other high-profile projects – came strongly to Trank's defense.
"I've been around some version of this for a long time," said Kinberg, who credited Trank's vision for "Fantastic Four" with convincing him to sign on to the project. "This, I would say, is particularly cruel. I haven't really seen this level of vehemence against a filmmaker. And it's surreal and unfair."
"Simon and I have become closer friends through this," Trank said. "To have the rest of the world – other than the people who know us – think that we're in some blood feud with each other over something…" He trailed off.
"It feels sometimes like I'm living in a Paddy Chayefsky script or something like that," he said with a dark laugh. "Every misconception that could possibly be made about this has been made to a hilariously satirical degree. And it's people who haven't met me before. If they met me – I don't know, I feel like I'm a pretty harmless person."
Stay tuned for more on Trank and "Fantastic Four" in the upcoming summer issue of Hero Complex magazine.