The Frozen Ground is a serial-killer movie that puts you up against John Cusack. It's an unofficial Con Air reunion, for all intents and purposes.
It's really nothing like Con Air. It's quite a different kind of approach to filmmaking. Con Air is a popcorn adventure film in the best sense of the word, whereas this is a more of a docudrama, more of a cinema verite approach. It's dealing with a real situation and real tragedy.
You've made quite a few dark films.
Does the subject matter affect your mood during production or do you find it easy to shake that off? The Frozen Ground is based on a true story and it's quite disturbing to watch.
Yeah, it can affect me. It gets under my skin, almost subconsciously. I'll either start acting a little differently or I'll have trouble sleeping or my mood will get a little melancholic. But this movie really explores some of the horrible things people are capable of doing to young ladies, and I hate violence. I just hate it. I read the paper every day - the New York Times, The Guardian - and I feel it, you know? It gets inside. I'm amazed that people are capable of those kinds of things to children and women.
Is there a form of catharsis in doing a film of this and dealing with those things?
|"I don't listen to pop-gossip criticism. What difference does it make how many properties I've bought and lost?"|
There is catharsis. You take the negative and try to do something positive with it. This isn't in any way a message movie - I don't believe in that - more of an attempt to hold a mirror to society and [get] a reflection. "Look at this, it's happening." Scott Walker, the director, was very emotional and compassionate about the victims, and he made the movie as an homage to them victims. It came through deeply in his research and commitment to the screenwriting, as well as the directing.
Roger Ebert once said of you: "He's daring and fearless in his choice of roles, unafraid to crawl out on a limb, saw it off and remain suspended in air." Does that ring true with you?
Roger... well, he was at the vanguard of film comment, not unlike Pauline Kael or Paul Schrader, who's the only one that came out of that movement and became a bona fide filmmaker in the best sense of the word. So I'll listen to people like that, but I don't listen to this kind of pop-gossip criticism. What difference does it make how many properties you've bought and lost? What does that have to do with Bad Lieutenant, you know? It doesn't have anything to do with it. These people are so attracted to the gossip side of it that they don't pay attention to the movie anymore and it corrupts the film comment. That never would have happened with Roger Ebert or with Pauline Kael or Paul Schrader, when he was a critic.
Ethan Hawke has said that you do something new with acting, something that very few people push boundaries into, which he described as "presentation acting". Is this what you've called "Nouveau Shamanic"?
I did use those words and I'll get to that in a minute, but a word about Ethan. First of all, he's a novelist. The man is a novelist. That's something I've never been able to do, and I hold him in incredibly high regard. And we did Lord Of War together and I'm very happy with those results. He's also not afraid to take chances and it's worked out well for him. I mean, look at The Purge. He's not a snob, in that he's explored all the genres and it's served him well. And that's served me well, too. But I have yet to write a novel, so I mean my hat is off to Ethan.
With "Nouveau Shamanic" I was trying to say something about the history of acting, but in a modern context. I read a book called The Way Of The Actor by Professor Brian Bates. He also wrote The Way Of Wyrd and he's a practicing, modern-day shaman. It's his thought that village shamans in pre-Christian times were actually actors and would go into flights of imagination and get answers that help people sort out their problems. He puts forth the notion that it's no different today: if you see a movie and you see an anti-hero who is struggling with some sort of inherent flaw but who overcomes it and manages to do the right thing, in some way that gives comfort to audiences. So the shamans would use power tools to augment their imagination, and if you think about it, it's healthier than using chemicals. If you give yourself over to the belief that that object will stimulate your mind in such a way where you do not have to act - and I'm not giving you any tricks to my trade unless you take my master class and you go shamanic - you are committed and you give yourself over to your dreams. You put yeast in your imagination. That magic works, you know, and that's what this is all about anyway. Acting is about imagination.
You've famously gone to some extreme places with your performances - and we'd be thinking here about eating the cockroach in Vampire's Kiss. Are you the same person that did that or have you grown away from that?
I'm up for anything that will get me to the truth of a performance. That was in the '80s and Vampire's Kiss is a movie I'm very happy with. I knew I didn't want to do it, and there was no muscle in my body that wanted to eat that, but I knew that the shock, the gasps, in the theatre would be like spending $50 million on CGI and tearing apart the White House. But it was just a man eating a bug. I saw great value in that.
Have you seen Oldboy? It has a similar scene with an octopus.
Yeah, I did see that. Wasn't there some talk of remaking that at one point? (Spike Lee's Oldboy is released later this year). I really don't believe there's any way that movie can be remade. I just don't think it's going to crossover with American audiences or even European ones.
Talking of '80s films in which you kind of go for broke, there's Zandalee. Judge Reinhold talked to us recently about the dance scene you have with him. He said you were a terrible dancer.
Yeah, no, that's nice (laughs). I like Judge in that movie. Boy, he was really good in that movie. It was a real fractured, poetic, soulful performance. Judge and I have history. I auditioned for the part he got in Fast Times At Ridgemont High, Brad, about ten times. I went in again and again and again, and finally they found out my age - I was, like, 16 or 17 - and they realised that I could only work a certain amount of hours because I was underage. So they gave it to Judge and I was demoted to 'Brad's Bud Number 2'. If you look carefully at the movie, I think I flip hamburgers in it. Well, that was the last time I was ever going to be Nicolas Coppola. I became Nicolas Cage. But Judge Reinhold is superb in Zandalee.
Well, he spoke of you very affectionately. Do you dispute his claim that you're a terrible dancer?
|"I'm not giving you any tricks to my trade unless you take my master class and you go shamanic."|
I'm sure Judge is a far better dancer than I am. I have no doubt about it.
Speaking of changing your name, Hollywood's gone big guns now for comic-book movies...
... yet still no Power Man.
I don't know anything about the Power Man thing, but what's interesting is that I've had people have attached words to me like "comic-book geek" or "comic-book nerd", but the truth of the matter is that I'm loyal to my childhood. I grew up reading comic books. They're how I learned to read and they stimulated my imagination in a Shamanic way, and I had no doubt that when the time came with the technology that those comic books would translate into some of the greatest entertainment the world has ever seen. Lo and behold, it's a multi-billion dollar industry. So how big of a nerd can I be, you know?
Given your love for Superman, have you had a chance to see Man Of Steel?
No, I heard it was good though and I heard [Henry Cavill] was good in the part. Well, first of all, look, Tim Burton is a great artist and I'm sure he would have done something really magnificent with the story of Superman; I knew I was moving towards something quite unique and different than anything you've seen as Superman. Having said that, in a way it was a win-win for me that it didn't work out. With the power of the imagination, you get to imagine what that might have been like and that might be the more powerful than the finished product. I think it worked out.
There's an image that leaked online - I'm not sure if it's real or not - of you wearing the costume.
There were two images and there's truth in both. The first image looked terrible, although the second one looked pretty good. That was a pretty good suit, I've got to say. I don't know who got hold of it and leaked it, someone in wardrobe or at the studio or whatever, but I don't understand why it happened. I thought there were laws against that sort of thing. The problem is that it's not being judged fairly, because you don't have Tim's lighting and the set and the shade and all of that to build it up, so you're just seeing just this stark wardrobe shot that's not given any affection. It's not a fair assessment of what it would have looked like.
What would Tim Burton's take on it have been, because Zack Snyder has obviously gone for a very grounded, realistic approach? Tim tends to lean more towards the fantastical.
Which is what I like. Tim can invent worlds, you know? We're talking about another planet and what would that planet have looked like. And the characters, what would they have been about? I mean, he's a great artist and he draws these characters and he's going into other dimensions and pulling things back for us to behold. And that movie would have lent itself to that.
You mentioned that you've seen The Purge. I'm guessing that given that you've made such a broad variety of films, you see all kinds of films as well. Are you a big movie watcher? Do you keep up with stuff?
I try to be when I have time. It's important to me to stay abreast of what's happening now. I have different movies for different things. You know, I'll be totally honest: when I want to shut my head off and I don't wanna think, like I'm playing Jack Halcombe in a movie as grim as The Frozen Ground, I'll go home and I'll put on a Ishiro Honda movie like War Of The Gargantuas or Godzilla Vs King Ghidorah. I love that childlike charm of those men in suits playing those characters, and that's a great way not to have to think, you know? That's what I do to shut my head off.
Speaking of those kind of films, did you see Sharknado?
No, I didn't. I didn't see it so I can't judge it, but I'm not going to put Sharknado in the same sentence as an Ishiro Honda movie (Empire apologises). I mean, listen to the music in those movies. That guy's music is incredible.
Steven Spielberg would famously watch Seinfeld box sets while he was making Schindler's List, because the subject matter was so bleak. Are there comedies that are kind of escapism for you as well?
|"After Leaving Las Vegas I wanted to zig when everyone thought I should zag."|
No, comedy never really lends itself [to that]. There's very few things that make me laugh. Mike Myers as Austin Powers makes me laugh - that was genius - and Daffy Duck makes me laugh, but I like odd behavior. I don't like hip dialogue and one-liners and all that sort of cool, sophomoric comedy. It's just not for me.
Your performance in Raising Arizona was a little inspired by Daffy Duck, wasn't it?
Well, Woody Woodpecker.
Yeah, the hair and all that. I would rub my hand on my head to get static electricity into the hair so it would stand up and I could look like the tattoo I have in the movie, which is like a hard edged Woody Woodpecker, the thrush muffler of a woodpecker with the wind in its feathers and its hair and a cigar. I wanted to look like that.
I want to ask about Expendables 3. We asked you about it last year when you came in for a web chat and you didn't know anything about it.
Yeah, I still don't. I'm not in that movie. I'm not in Kick-Ass 2 and I'm not in Expendables 3.
Somebody out there really wants you to be in it.
I guess, yeah. That's okay. I mean, I like all those guys and I know the producer very well - he's a great guy and I made good movies with him - but I haven't read a script and I haven't had any formal offers, so I don't know. It's a little premature.
|Nicolas Cage as Stanley Goodspeed in The Rock (1996)|
It's a celebration of the action genre. You've been in two of our favourite action films, Face/Off and The Rock, which is all kinds of awesome.
I read that The Rock was written initially with a serious bent and a lot of the comedy came out of ad-libbing - "Zeus' butthole" and stuff like that. Was that essentially your improv?
Yeah, the thing I enjoyed about working with Bruckheimer was being given some rein to improvise. And, you know, all the stuff like "I'm 16 and I'm angry at my father", "I just wanna find some rockets", "she was the prom queen", all that stuff was just improv. Even the Beatlemaniac aspect of the character, that wasn't in the script. The thing about working with Jerry is that you have to serve the formula and get the scene out quickly, so you have a very finite amount of time to build a character. So the idea that that character listened to vinyl and not CDs and would pay $600 for a Beatles album, Meet The Beatles, to me that made him interesting. That wasn't in the script.
When we spoke to Arnold Schwarzenegger last year he was saying that he had very early conversations with Don Simpson about that character. It's hard to imagine Arnold Schwarzenegger as Dr. Stanley Goodspeed. That's a different movie entirely.
Yeah, I'm sure it is. I wasn't a part of them obviously, but I'm sure those conversations took place. Goodspeed was a, should I say, A plus action/adventure invitation. I had just done Leaving Las Vegas and then The Rock, and they were both in the can. They hadn't been released yet, but they were two forms of expression that I wanted to experience. Popcorn adventure and thought-provoking drama. And I thought, "Why not do both?" That wasn't popular in those days.
Tonally, they couldn't be more different.
That's what made it interesting to me. After Leaving Las Vegas came out and that good stuff was happening from that, I wanted to keep doing what people thought would be the wrong thing for me to do: to go against the grain; to zig instead of zag. I know it pissed a lot of people off, but for me it was the right move and I still stand by it.
As you mentioned earlier, the press does tend to come up with some weird rumours about you. Can we run a couple past you?
Is it true you're fascinated by hang gliding?
Yes, but I'm not allowed to do it. As soon as I declared it on David Letterman, I was barred from doing it. There's people in my life that legally have barred me from any dangerous activity unless I'm working.
When we met you on the set of Lord Of War, you'd just been in a cage with a shark.
Yeah, and that was something. That was amazing - and my shark was nice. Some of my colleagues got in the next cage and, boy, it was like they'd come back from 'Nam. I mean, the shark was ramming the cage. It had tuna meat in its teeth. These Great Whites were just tearing up the cage, which was very terrifying. But my shark was nice.
You had a kind of affinity with it?
Yeah, my shark must have been a female. There was a connection, like love there. I felt romantic. You know, we were like looking at each other (positions Empire as the shark) - you're the white shark. You're the baddest of the bad. But, yeah, I love sharks.
You have dinosaurs, too. A Tarbosaurus skeleton?
|"After Leaving Las Vegas I wanted to keep doing what people thought would be the wrong thing for me to do: to go against the grain; to zig instead of zag."|
Zoology has always been interesting to me. Nature is fascinating.
Let's segue into another rumour... which is that as a child you once cooked and ate a rattlesnake.
Having beaten it to death first.
Well, the sad truth is that I didn't have any choice. I'd been fishing with my cousin and I found myself in a rattlesnake patch, surrounded by very large rattlesnakes. I didn't know how I was going to get out, but lo and behold, there was a stick there with a nail through it, so I took it - and please don't be mad at me animal rights people, because my safety and my cousin's safety was at stake and I did beat this snake that came up and started hissing at me. It was about to strike and I managed to get control of it, but immediately felt bad about it. I put it in the bucket of water that I had for the fish and got it home. Knowing that anything you kill you've gotta eat - it's a cycle of life - I did the right thing, got the head off so the poison didn't go into the meat and cooked it. It was actually very, very good. Interestingly, I have another snake story. They're always the best stories.
We can hear another snake story.
Every great story seems to begin with a snake. But anyway, yeah, I was doing a movie called (David Gordon Green's) Joe, which has a coppermouth snake in it. There were two - one had venom, one didn't - and there's a scene where it's in the grass and I suggested using the one with venom. David Gordon Green said, "If you get bitten, you're gonna die and I'm gonna look like the biggest idiot in Hollywood. Why do you wanna do it?" And I said, "Because I think it will relax me." I'm one of those guys where the more coffee I drink, the more stunts I do, the more relaxed I get. I had a four page dialogue scene with Ty Sheridan, I picked the snake up and David loved it because the fangs on that animal are enormous and I'm playing with the snake in the scene. Then I put it gently into the grass and I say, "Yeah, don't kill it. That snake's a friend of mine." I'm very proud of that scene.
Even more terrifying that an encounter with a snake is the rumour that you were stalked by a mime while you were making Bringing Out The Dead. Is that true?
Yeah, for a while there was a mime stalking me. It's always strange, though, because I tell these stories and inherently no matter how terrifying they are, people find humour in it. The fact of the matter is I had a stalker. Not only there, I had that guy in my house. Remember that story?
That was horrible. I mean, that's as bad as it gets: 2am and there's a naked man standing in front of your bed watching you sleep. It's not funny, but somehow people find it amusing.
If he'd been pretending to try to get around an invisible wall, that might have been easier to cope with.
(Laughs) Well, that could have been funny, but, you know, this was out of bounds.
Given your love of zoology, do you have a lot of pets?
Well, I have dogs, and it's no secret that I find reptiles interesting, but the thing about reptiles is that they really just wanna be left alone, and I understand them. It's "don't pick me up, stop holding me, don't look at me, just leave me alone". I have to admit, sometimes I feel like that.
You can relate to that?
I can. I think I meet people 'well' and it's important to meet people well. I don't want to hurt anybody's feelings, you know? If a girl wants to take my picture and she's eight years old, absolutely I'm gonna take her picture. I'm not gonna put her down or ruin her day. But if it's just that if I'm feeling more reptile, then I just stay home. I don't go out.
What do you do when you're home? Are you a video game fan, for example?
No. I realise that they're an undeniable part of our culture, but no, I don't play them.
|Cage in the 2007 comic-book film Ghost Rider. He returned in the sequel Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance in 2011.|
You do a lot of supernatural type movies. Are you into Halloween?
Oh, yeah. It's a very important holiday. Great holiday.
Harrison Ford celebrates it and there always seem to be photos of him the next day wearing some extraordinary Halloween costumes. I'm not sure if you've seen them?
Oh, really? I haven't seen that. But Halloween is a great holiday for any actor if you think about it. It's all about dress-up and playing characters. So yeah, it's always had a special place for me.
Can you reveal any costumes that you're particularly proud of?
I think the first costume I wore was when I was about six. It was a mask of the Devil. Then I did Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde - with Hyde, I had the top hat. Then I was a werewolf and I was Ghost Rider before the movie. I decided to be Ghost Rider for a big Halloween party and I got a top make-up artist to do it, which was fun.
Have you ever gone as Fu Manchu? I've wanted to ask you this since seeing Grindhouse.
You have that amazing cameo.
I think it's the Rob Zombie trailer.
Yeah, Rob did it.
How did that come about?
Well, Rob and I were pretty good friends at one time. He asked me to do it and I like Rob and I didn't take any money for it; I just did it because he was my friend.
Did you bond over your love of horror?
|"It's no secret that I find reptiles interesting. They just want to be left alone. I sometimes feel like that." |
Yeah. I was married to Lisa Marie Presley at that time and there were a lot of musicians around the house and Johnny Ramone was a very good friend of mine. Through Johnny I met Rob and we all used to hang out together. It just turned out that Johnny and Rob both had similar interests to mine. We liked horror films, we like horror comics and horror posters, and so we had a lot to talk about.
We have a few questions from readers, if that's okay?
Yeah, love to.
James Beacham asks what's the most haunted place you've ever been?
Well, without going into too much detail, there's a house I used to live in called The LaLaurie Mansion on Royal Street in New Orleans, and it's notorious as the most haunted house in the United States. I spent time in there alone in total darkness to get some inspiration to write the great American horror novel, but I didn't get far. I'm not gonna go into detail.
But you saw some things?
I'm not going into detail. I'm just gonna keep it there.
When you came for the Empire webchat, you talked about your Hoia-Baciu staff. Do you still have it?
Yeah, it's in England. It's in my little cottage out in Somerset.
You've spent a lot of time in the West Country. Are you a tea-and-scones man now?
I do like tea and scones. If you're asking what it is about England I'm drawn to, you know, as an American - and I'm happy to be an American - I can't help but feel that my country really belongs to the Native American, and their history. We came as immigrants and part of what makes America great is that there's cultures from every different part of the world in that melting pot. I know it's a stretch because I'm a foreigner in your beautiful country, but with an Italian father and full-blooded German mother, it's hard for me not to feel some ancient connection with ancestors from thousands of years ago. That's my private little affinity with it.
Do you find people in England less likely to bother you than in the States?
It's funny you should mention that. I live in a tiny little villa down in Somerset - I won't mention its name, but it's close to Glastonbury - and a couple of times I've traipsed into Glastonbury and had a good time there. It's different, like walking into a pack of Tarot cards. On one side of the street you've got some of the oldest Christian churches in Europe, on the other you have all these cult shops, and somehow they're co-existing. It's wild. I love it. But, you know, there's been paparazzi. I'm like, man, what is this? I came here for quiet and for peace, to do some soul-searching and read some books. I might as well be in Beverly Hills.
|Nicolas Cage on stage in Bath before turning on the Christmas lights in 2009.|
You turned the Christmas lights on in Bath.
I enjoyed it. Some stupid people, whose names I won't mention, said I did it for money. Absolutely not. When Bath invites you to turn on the Christmas lights and you live in Somerset, you don't say no. You do it and you enjoy doing it.
A question from Tim Portis. He says that you've done almost every genre except a musical, and would you like to do one?
Yeah, I would. I think it'd be a lot of fun for me, and a chance to challenge myself. I sang two Elvis songs in Wild At Heart. I know I could do it, I just haven't been invited to.
Are you a karaoke fan?
Not any more but I enjoyed it at one point. I've married into Korean culture and it's very popular in my wife's culture. They take it very seriously. It was interesting, when I met Alice (Cage's wife Alice Kim) - and this was before internet dating - I was going through a very painful divorce and I wanted to get a drink. So I went downtown to K-Town (Korean Town) in Los Angeles to this bar that does something I didn't know anything about called "booking". It's not sleazy. It's for professional people, so you have dentists and lawyers there. How it works is that you pay for the bottle or food you want and it's good, but it's more than that because the waiter will say, "This one lady thinks you're attractive. What do you think?" So he takes the rejection out of it. If it's not on, you're not humiliated; but if it is, it's a nice liaison. So yeah, it's quite genius. I met Alice that way. I was like the only white guy in the club, but we hit it off. And we've been together ever since. It was like a gift.
|Nicolas Cage as Cinderella - visit the site to see more Cage Disney princesses!|
You're worshipped as a god in many cultures, especially online where you have a particularly fervent online following. This week's Nic Cage meme has your face animated and put onto different Disney princesses. Have you seen that?
I did see it.
Who brought that to your attention?
I brought it to my own attention, sadly. Here's the thing: it's all very ironic and I don't take it personally... whether it's genuine or ironic, if it makes people happy, go for it. But I don't know how they got away with that without being sued. Those princesses are very, very important to a lot of young ladies around the world and I am sure that's gonna vanish very quickly.
But it's a sight to behold for the time being.
Well, I mean, someone put a lot of work into it. It's pretty good actually.
The Jasmine, especially.
I know, it's good. I love it. I think they did a great job - I like the princesses myself - but I just think they're in dangerous water.
So have you seen this Reddit website which declares that you're a god?
No. I'm not going on there. It's gotta be ironic. I mean, come on, you know?
Interview by James Dyer and Nick de Semlyen