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INT: Nicolas Cage

Dec. 7, 2006by: JimmyO

Nicolas Cage has become a cult figure and has also found critical and box office success. This dude has made some great flicks including WILD AT HEART (my personal favorite), LEAVING LAS VEGAS and RAISING ARIZONA. And now he takes on a classic Marvel Comic character which is something hes wanted to do for a long time. I was a little unsure of what to expect with him in this role, but after getting a glimpse of GHOST RIDER, I feel confident that the quirkiness he tends to add will work very well for Johnny Blaze.

And lucky for us, the dude is a great guy. He is very open and has a positive out look on this film. He also spoke well of the recent SUPERMAN RETURNS; not the movie he would have made, but he liked the nostalgia of it. Its great seeing him take on Ghost Rider. His excitement for the project and his love of his work make for an interesting conversation.

Nicolas Cage

Everyone knows that you love this genre, comic books, obviously since your son's name is Kal-El. Then you're doing this movie. How much of the tone did you set for this project?

I was with the project when Steve Norrington was still attached to it and that was a much darker interpretation. David Goyer wrote that script and it was a good script, and I'm sure that Norrington would've done an amazing job, but I think that when Mark [Steven Johnson] came onboard and he wrote this version I think that it opened up the character to a wider audience. I wanted the kids to go see the movie. So, yeah, there are some scary moments in it, but more scary like a 1950's Vincent Price B-movie which is fun. I didn't want them to be too scared.

So, the spirit of it is that I wanted to be very playful. There's a lot of humor in the movie. This character is absurd. He's an absurdist character and I think that's a good thing because that gives me a chance to bring comedy to it as well. He's not a chain smoking, hard drinking bad ass. What I wanted to contribute was that Johnny was trying to keep the devil away because he really is in trouble with the devil. So if that's the case then why bring him in. So he's trying to deflect and stay relaxed by listening to Karen Carpenter and eating jelly beans out of a martini glass and just trying to stay calm because he knows at any moment it can creep up on him.

Every Marvel character has a theme. Do you think Ghost Rider's theme is fighting personal demons?

Yeah. That's what is really exciting about it. In a way I could argue that the responsibility here is bigger than even the responsibility that I had with WORLD TRADE CENTER . You could pick or chose whether or not you could take the kids to that film, but in this case the kids are going to want to go see GHOST RIDER and their minds are so impressionable. So what I wanted to make clear was that no matter how much trouble you get into you can always take a negative and turn it into a positive.

That's the spirit of Johnny Blaze. He's a man who's dealing with the worst kind of trouble. His soul has been abducted by the devil. I mean, that's as big as it gets and yet he's figuring out a way to turn it around and turn it into something positive. I was thinking that with kids who might be going to the principal's office and they know that they're in a world of trouble they can find some way to make the best out of it and do something good from it no matter how bad it gets.

Aside from the superheroes to think about, a lot of Marvel characters are monsters. Were you into the monster books?

Yeah. Those were my favorites. I don't know why, but I just gravitated towards the monsters. I like The Hulk and I liked Ghost Rider the best. That's really where I got into reading. I just thought that it was such an exciting and complicated universe. I didn't know how something so scary could also be good. That appealed to my own complicated way of seeing things and made it unique. Even when I became a film actor I'm always gravitating towards characters that are grey. They're not just black or white. They're beleaguered and yet they're trying to do something good with whatever the trouble is.

Can you talk about your first experience with GHOST RIDER, when you first happened on it?

Yeah. I was living in Long Beach, California and I was about seven years old and I went around the corner to the market in the neighborhood and I saw it on the stand and there was this flaming skull and it was really comfortable. It was the first one. He was on the bike and he was coming right at you. I bought it and I took it home and I remember just staring at the cover in my room by myself for like hours. My older brother was like, 'What's the matter with Nicolas? He's been staring at this comic book for hours.' I don't know why, but I just thought that it was trippy and scary and cool. It appealed to me.

Did you stick with it through the '90's when the character was resurrected and gave it a whole new look and stuff?

I did not. No, I didn't. Mark Steven Johnson did though. He was really aware of all of the different versions of the character. I was really about the '70's character that I read as a boy. That's what had stayed with me. I really like the iconography, the flaming skull and the leather jacket. That's the coolest image of all. I knew that when technology got to a level where it could become visually palpable that 'Ghost Rider' would translate really beautifully to film.

What was your initial reaction when you saw the final cut of this with all the CG inserted?

I was thrilled. I thought that Kevin Mack did a brilliant job and his whole team as well. It could've been really goofy, but instead it's gorgeous. I think that what he did with the fire, which we all know is the hardest thing to create with digital FX, is excellent because it's more real, and yet it's more than real. It's abstract and larger than life. Then to make a skull expressive is also difficult because there are no lips to move with. So you have to find ways of also making that expressive and he did a great job with that.

Mark said that was actually your skull they used for the CG. How was that?

[Laughing] Yeah. They had to do it digitally. They put the censors on me and they graphed my skull somehow with x-rays or whatever. I don't know how they do it really, but that's me which is kind of weird.

How long did that take them to do? How long did you have to be still for while they scanned you?

Well, you have to be still for a couple of hours and they have to scan the whole thing and get it.

How was it doing some of the scenes you did with a green hood and the green screen stuff?

There's no sort of way around doing that without feeling silly. It's silly. It just is.

Did you hold onto your original Ghost Rider comic books?

I still have them, yeah. I kept those. I framed them and have them in a certain room in my house because I knew that this was somehow going to happen. So I want to hold onto those.

Have you shown them to your son at all?

Oh, yeah, my oldest son. My youngest son hasn't seen it yet.

Was going to work on this film different from all the other films you've done because of your love for this character?

It was because it was new. It's no secret that I've been trying to get involved in a comic book film for a while and for whatever reason it just kept not coming together and in this case it did. So this was the one that was meant to be. So I was really excited that it was this one because this one was personal for me. I gravitated towards Ghost Rider as a child and The Hulk. So I was thrilled to be doing it. Plus, I grew up watching those Vincent Price monster movies and I really loved the whole Monster Magazine stuff that was out there back in the '70's and I wanted to bring that flavor to the movie as well, where I would get really excited that I was making a monster movie. I hadn't done that before. It was something that was funny and scary.

In one of Mark's video blogs called you a Lon Chaney. How does that feel?

Well, Lon Chaney was a genius and I don't compare myself to him, but I do aspire to want to use different looks things. I think that it's important to try and transform your face like Lon Chaney, or your hair or anything that you can use as an actor to create a new look. That's all part of your craft your voice, the way that you move. A lot of times, many people, actors and it's a choice get stuck in one persona which has been proven to work for them. That's okay, and its fun even, but it would really bore me. So I think that what he was saying about Lon Chaney is that I want to try and create the whole character both physically and emotionally.

Has this quenched your desire to do a superhero movie or has it only fueled it to do more?

No, I'm satisfied. I think that this was the one, and I've done this now. So unless there was a really great script to a sequel I've probably done what I've wanted to do in terms of doing a comic book movie. I would come back and do another one if there was a great script attached to it.

Isn't there a comic book out there now that you're attached to in some way?

Oh, yeah. Well, my son Weston has developed a character called Enigma. That deals with spiritual elements also in New Orleans back during the Civil War. This is something that we went to Richard Branson's company with and Deepak Chopra who got excited by it. So they've committed to doing five issues of it. It's really Weston's character.

It's a comic, but is it being shopped around as a feature film?

Well, that's my hope for it. We're going to start with the comic book and then maybe a graphic novel of it, and when we get that and if it works then I would try to develop a script from it. That's the idea.

How much of the motor biking is you?

I did a lot of it, but I didn't do all of it.

You're a big motorcycle rider too, right?

Yeah, I enjoy riding. I haven't been riding for some time though, since my youngest son has been born. I really want to try I don't want to be the kind of role model that inspires him to get on motorcycles. I'm looking more towards him hopefully trying sailing or something like that. But I do enjoy riding motorcycles.

Was there ever a point where Mark was saying, 'No, you can't do that?'

No, it wasn't like that. The only thing was that my character was most only on Grace, the chopper, and that bike isn't really my kind of bike. I prefer more of the race bikes like Ducati's or Yamaha ones. I like that whole cyborg thing where you become man and machine and the bike does exactly what you think, but Grace is a '70's chopper. It has a front rake that is really rigid and it doesn't corner and it's just a point and shoot bike. That doesn't turn me on. I want to get into corners and I want to drag my knee and do all of that.

Did they give you the Ghost Rider bike at all?

They didn't. They were supposed to give me that Hell Cycle and I was going to put it in New Orleans and I never got it. So I don't know what happened.

Do you still collect comic books?

I don't, no. I do not. I still like them and I still like the idea of them, and as you know Weston and I are developing that character. I want to be more involved with the creating of them as opposed to the collecting of them.

So do you see yourself writing something for Marvel or DC or something?

Not in the immediate future, but I wouldn't rule it out.

Did you ever write your own comic books as a kid?

I did. Yeah. I did do that. It's really kind of horrible, but I used to destroy my comics with scissors and cut all the characters out and then glue them onto my notebook and then write what they were saying and reconfigure them to make my own comics.

What were a few of the characters that you remember?

I had a character that was based on The Spirit which I just called Spirit. He was kind of a superhero with a boomerang, weird.

Did you save any of those?

I wish I had them. I don't know where any of those are, but that would be a good one to pull out of the closet right now.

Some of the behind the scenes footage showed a take where they actually set your feet on fire during one of the transformations. How was that to do? Did they pad you up from the feet to the knees?

Yeah, and they put that sort of chemical on that burns without burning you.

You mentioned doing a sequel if the story was good enough. Where could you see Ghost Rider going in a second film?

Well, I think there's a line in the movie somewhere where Johnny Blaze says to the police force that he really admires the job that they do and that when he finishes his stunt cycle career he intends to apply his skills as a motorcycle policeman. So I can sort of see Johnny Blaze as a super-bike cop.

There's a lot of stuff that you're attached to. Can you clarify what you're working on?

The things that you read on the IMDB are sometimes confused in the sense that everything that I'm attached to I'm not necessarily attached to as an actor because I have a production company called Saturn Films. It's my job and my partners job to try and get as much material as we can into the company to develop possibly for other actors to produce or to even direct, but there's not really a green light on any of these films yet. That's just stuff that we have in our catalogue. So currently I'm wide open. I'm not sure exactly what the next film would be although it's looking like NATIONAL TREASURE II.

So that is actually going to happen?

Yeah. It's being written as we speak, but the hope is that it's going to be happening.

It's about Abraham Lincoln?

Yeah, Abraham Lincoln and confederate gold and the assassination. It's interesting stuff. What I like about the NATIONAL TREASURE potential series is that it deals with history and it's also entertaining. That's also a good thing. There are worse things to do than to stimulate young people's minds about history as you're entertaining them.

Aren't you doing CRAZY DOG?

Yeah, that's something that I've been developing for a year now. That's an interesting character.

Are you shooting that sometime soon?

That would be in Manhattan and if it does happen it would be in the year coming up, next year.

This is your first time working with Sam Elliott.

Yeah. He was my neighbor for the longest time. He used to live behind me in Malibu.

So you guys got along on the set just fine?

Oh, yeah, Sam is great.

Who does he play in the film, and what's his character do in relation to yours?

Well, a lot and I don't want to give it away, but it is a lot. I mean, Sam's character is the caretaker and he's the one that really understands the mythology and understands the history of the Ghost Rider. He's sort of the mentor to the Ghost Rider and explains to Johnny Blaze what his problem is and what he's in danger of, what can happen to him. There is a reveal that is bigger than that.

Was there any disappointment at all from the SUPERMAN project not working out for you?

From the SUPERMAN project? No, I'm not disappointed in that at all. I'm a big believer that things that are meant to be are meant to be. I don't hold onto things. I let things go when they don't work out and I also believe that the right cast for a movie is the one that usually winds up in the movie. I think that the SUPERMAN movie that came out was a good movie and a very nostalgic movie. But I'm not interested in repeating things. I was going to turn that character on its ear which maybe wouldn't have been it obviously wasn't what the studio wanted because they went with a more traditional approach. GHOST RIDER for me is a better match because it gives me a chance to do a unique approach to something the way that I want to do it and to maybe introduce a character to a wider audience. There is a hardcore group of GHOST RIDER fans and I want them to be very happy, but I also want to introduce GHOST RIDER to the mainstream who don't know who the character is.

So you understand the frustration of fans who say on the web that Mark is screwing this up because he's changing the mythology? Do you understand where they're coming from?

Yeah.

Or do you wish that they would let it go?

No man. That's their identity. You can't tell them to let it go. That's what gives them something to get excited about. Even if it means they don't want to get excited about the movie that makes them excited. They have to complain about something which is part of the fun being a comic book fan. No, complain all you want and have it. Go see it and then complain some more if you want.

What's the message that you want the fans who aren't sure about the character to get?

I think that my message is go check out the whole thing and then lets talk.

Will there be an action figure that looks like you or will it just be the flame?

I have no idea. We'll see. I'll probably get freaked out in Toys R' us one day.

What did you ultimately feel about THE WICKER MAN movie when all was said and done? Did Robin Hardy ever get a chance to see it?

I have no idea. I don't know if he saw it or not. I'm a fan of the original and I'm glad that I made the movie because they don't make movies like that anymore and probably the result of what THE WICKER MAN did is the reason why they don't make movies like that anymore. Again, it's kind of that '70's sensibility, but I'm trying to do things that are outside the box. Sometimes that means it'll work and other times it won't. Again though I'm going to try and learn from anything that I do.

I think that it was a great cast, and Neil LaBute is one of the easiest directors that I've ever worked with. He really loves actors and he really gives you a relaxed feeling on the set, that you can achieve whatever it is that you're trying to put together, but at the end of the day the frustration that I had with THE WICKER MAN which I think has been remedied on the DVD because I believe the DVD has the directors original cut, is that they cut the horror out of the horror film to try and get a PG-13 rating. I mean, I don't know how to stop something like that. So I'm not happy with the way that the picture ended, but I'm happy with the spirit with which it was made.

In spite of your being a star, is it increasingly harder to do movie that are outside the box like you want?

Yeah. I mean, I think it's frustrating for people who work with me, people who try and help me make the decisions because I don't always want to conform. So that can sometimes mean box office disasters, but I'm really of the opinion that there are two reasons why a movie gets bad reviews. One is because it's bad, and two it's because it's so good that people aren't ready for it. So it's important not to get caught up in accolades and things that would have you stagnate as an artist.

It's important to constantly be willing to risk it all because that's the only way that you're going to learn and the only way to have any integrity in what you're doing. That's why I feel good about THE WICKER MAN because I do think that I risked it and so did Neil LaBute and so did everyone else involved with it. So it's there and if it wasn't there, there is a strong change that movies that are independently minded won't be made anymore because everything is going sequel and everything is going hamburgers and sails and that's what people want right now. So I feel like it's my duty to keep rocking the boat good or bad.

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