Nicholas Cage on National Treasure!
Known to many as an eccentric off the cuff type, Nicolas Cage has carved an impressive career few actors have been able to accomplish. He easily moves from funny to dramatic to action-adventure roles without missing a beat, you could say Cage is a chameleon of the silver screen. His latest metamorphosis is treasure hunting Benjamin Franklin Gates in "National Treasure," due out this Friday November 19th. This role is sort of a throw-back to his "Face/Off," "Con Air" and "The Rock" action years. A couple of weeks ago the delightful Mr. Cage discussed his latest film, his changing career and other upcoming projects such as "Ghost Rider," at a press conference in Los Angeles.
Are you challenged by your recent role choices as you were in your early career?
Cage: Yeah. I've always maintained that I see myself as a student. There's always something to learn and be challenged by and hopefully grow from, so absolutely.
Of all the action films you get offered, what was it about this one that struck?
Cage: I think that the thing that made me trepidations was the same thing that intrigued me, which is the idea of a man going in and stealing the Declaration of Independence. I thought: this doesn't seem very plausible, and how can this actually be pulled off. I met with John Turteltaub and he said: ‘But that's what's interesting. He's audacious. He's bold.' And Jerry Bruckheimer always brings in a great group of technical advisers to do the research and try to figure out exactly how to make it within the context of the film seem as believable as possible. And I got to do it in a tuxedo, so that was interesting to me as well…For example, I have eclectic taste. I wouldn't want to be on one steady diet of any type of movie and so I think that informs my choices as well. I have eclectic tastes in the movies I want to do. I think it's dangerous when you get trapped in an identity that is one way. I mean, it can work because then the audience knows what they're going to get, and they can rely on that person to do that type of movie every time. But that would be very boring for me and I would be calcified by that. I love keeping myself guessing and keeping you guessing. I don't want to just do independent movies and I don't want to just do adventure films. I enjoy both, and I think both are cogent. I always have. I'm the first to admit that I like going to--or my memories at least of going to Clint Eastwood movies or Charles Bronson or James Bond. Bruce Lee, I always forget to mention him. He was a huge inspiration for me and when I was a kid, I was Bruce Lee in my mind. And what I like about it is it makes me happy and I think it makes a lot of people happy to go to the movies and to not think about the problems of the day or the problems of tomorrow or the yesterday and just go on for the ride and have the fun of losing oneself in a fantasy.
So did wearing a tuxedo bring James Bond to mind?
Cage: Well, I think that always comes up whenever there's a tuxedo--comes to one's mind. Cary Grant comes to one's mind. It's interesting because at the beginning of the rehearsal process, I wasn't exactly sure what the tone of the movie was going to be. And it was Jon Turteltaub to his credit who kept sort of pushing it towards a stylization not unlike what maybe Cary Grant or Jimmy Stewart might have done in the Thirties and Forties, where they seemed to have a very playful touch during these caper movies.
Do you ever see yourself as bold as this character?
Cage: Without going into too much detail, I have had my obsessions, and he certainly is a character who's obsessed about this treasure, this marvelous Templar treasure, and has devoted his entire life and groomed himself to figure out exactly what he needs to do to find it in the face of great ridicule. And I think I've been obsessed over the years with where I could go with acting, or how I could challenge myself with that, if that answers your question.
Your character in the film does something that he knows is technically wrong for the greater good, is it something that you would ever do?
Cage: Not now. I mean if you had checked with me when I was 18 oh yeah. I mean I did it, didn't I? I mean that horrifying cockroach in Vampire's Kiss. But now I don't think it's worth it. I want to keep the happy balance between life and work.
What inspired you to believe that you could become a famous actor?
Cage: Well, at a very early age, I'm talking six, seven, eight, I would watch television and I would see Charles Bronson in Once Upon a Time in the West or I'd see Sean Connery and Clint Eastwood and be fascinated by the magic of filmmaking. And would walk to school and actually have crane shots worked out in my mind where the crane would be pulling up and looking down at me as a tiny object in the street walking to school, so I guess it was something that was very pure and organic in me that I wanted to be a film actor. I just loved it more than comic books, I loved movies. I loved watching the TV and getting lost in films, anything that stimulated my imagination. My imagination in those early years was really what inspired me and protected me.
How did your family support you?
Cage: I kept it pretty close to the vest. I don't think a lot of people knew that I wanted to be an actor. I mean, there were little hints. I enjoyed Halloween and liked disguising myself, wanted to be a disguise artist, thought I was going to be a detective. I remember there was a TV show on where there was a disguise artist detective. So I was into that. I was always transforming myself and play acting, so I guess they might have had an inkling that it might lead to this. I don't think anyone--no, I rephrase. I don't think anyone really thought for certain that I would actually become a film actor.
Are you surprised by how successful you've become?
Cage: That's an interesting question that I sometimes get asked. I don't really know that I have the same perception of myself that other people may or may not have. I don't really look at myself as a successful person. I always look at myself as someone who's trying to find the next place to go or the next thing to discover or improve upon. I have a difficult time looking at the cup half full. I always tend to look at it half empty.
Has turning 40 changed you?
Cage: Well, I always add a year to myself, so I'm prepared for my next birthday. So when I was 39, I was already 40, and now I'm 41 [laughter]. It makes me--I'm feeling—I don't want to say happy because that's too fragile a word, but I'm definitely content, and I'm hopeful about the future, although I spend most of my time thinking about the present.
Do you ever think about slowing down and working less?
Cage: I always think about that. I took a year almost off after Matchstick Men to find my next picture which was National Treasure, so I just sort of hit a spurt where there were screenplays that seemed interesting enough and diverse enough to me to want to continue working.
Can you talk about working with Diane Kruger and Justin Bartha?
Cage: Justin and Diane both have wild senses of humor. They're both very mischievous and kind of off the wall in their sense of humor, as am I. As you can imagine, we got along great and had a lot of laughs on the set as well as off the set. We'd go and karaoke from time to time [laughs]. And sort of blow it out and be completely ridiculous, which helped, I think. The playfulness and chemistry amongst the three of us…I think what we did, again in the rehearsal process, tried to work it out--discover the tone of the movie. With all of Jerry Bruckheimer's movies, you sort of tinker things and tweak things on the way, which can be very nerve wracking, and it can also be very electrifying and spontaneous. You might call it accidental discovery that works. And you can also fall off the high wire on your face and completely embarrass yourself. But fortunately with Jerry, he surrounds you with people who really are about as good as it gets in the business--great actors, all the best writers, they sort of tweak it as you go along, terrific editors. So you're pretty safe.
How were your scenes with Harvey Keitel?
Cage: He is, and there's another example of Jerry Bruckheimer casting somebody who we've all sort of grown to know in more independent material and challenging, edgy material. Harvey and I work extremely well together. We both have an odd angle and take on life. I don't know if insane is too harsh a word, but it's sort of a playful and unusual perception which I think mixed well for the two of us.
How has your relationship with Bruckheimer evolved over the years?
Cage: I think over the years we've cultivated a short-hand. We've discovered what each of us brings to the table. He's a producer who very much encourages his actors to come up with ideas and then he goes through a selection process to see what he feels will work or not work within the context of keeping the train moving. Jerry has a vision which is an honest one. He's a terrific movie fan. He loves going to the movies and he likes films that I think are very entertaining to himself and to many other people. So it's a vision that a lot of people share. But what's unique about Jerry is that he really does look in interesting places for his actors, and even writers. He's always looking for someone who might come up with an unexpected choice, something a little bit outside the box which you can see in Con Air. He used a lot of the independent film actors in that, with Johnny in Pirates, John Malkovich. And then he has a sense of nostalgia for veteran actors like Duvall or Jon Voight or Hackman. He does have a terrific amount of taste for talent.
Have you tried on the Ghost Rider costume yet?
Cage: I haven't. I'm very curious about that. However I ‘m still in talks about that particular movie, it's not a definite at this point.
Are you attracted to comic book films in general?
Cage: Comic books for me as a young man were one of the ways I learned how to read. There were other ways too, but I was always fascinated by the mythology of them…so I discovered a kind of kindred spirit in the mind of Stan Lee and also DC Comics. And I always felt they were successful in film as well even before they became successful, and I knew the big three would be Batman and Superman and Spiderman. I guess the reason I responded to them was that they had the fantasy of the child's mind, and they're a wonderful alternative world to sort of lose yourself in.
Would you be interested in playing other comic roles besides Ghost Rider?
Cage: I can't think of anything. I think if this doesn't work, that's pretty much it. I've never made a comic book film and I'll just sort of enjoy my nostalgic memories as a boy. I don't read them anymore. It's something that really came from the past.
You've been attached to project for a long time, what's the hold up?
Cage: Again, it's really just the vision of the movie and how it will be portrayed. It's also about the script and things like that. It's true that I was involved with Ghost Rider over three years ago and was trying to develop it with another filmmaker. These things are very sensitive. It's a bulls-eye and you really have to hit it; otherwise it may not work. So it's best for everyone to be cautious and make sure it's got the auspices.
Did you try on a Spide-Man costume for Tim Burton when he was attached to the project?
Cage: I was never going to do Spider-Man. I know they talked to me about playing the Green Goblin, but it was at the same time I was offered Adaptation. And I was wanting to play twins in a movie, so that's why I opted for Adaptation. Also, I like Spike Jonze's work quite a bit. I also like Sam Raimi very much as well. But it just seemed like Adaptation would give me more of an opportunity to learn something. Superman, yeah, I did do that. I went pretty far down the road with Tim Burton on that. And at the time, Warner Brothers just wasn't ready to pull the trigger so to speak on the script because it was getting incredibly expensive and that was at a period in their career, Warner Brothers, where they were being cautious with the money.
Will you play Skeletor?
Cage: No. I don't know anything about that.
Why was South Africa the right place to make Lord of War? Cage is producing and acting in this feature.
Cage: South Africa is a fascinating location because it can model for so many other locations. Lord of War is a world stage. It takes place in many different areas. You have Manhattan, you have Ukraine, you have Liberia, and so there's so many locales that you can actually use South Africa for, it becomes very convenient. It's much less expensive to shoot there and now I believe even DreamWorks is going to be building a studio out there. The way the tide is going now, it's becoming increasingly rare to shoot a movie here at home. It just is the way it is. It's simple economics. If you can do a $120 million movie for $80 million in South Africa, then that's what the studio is going to do.
What is your character like?
Cage: It's one of those characters that I guess if you were to take Scarface and replace the drugs with guns, he's a gun runner and he's always figuring out where the political climate is in the world to get rich and sell the right amount of guns, and really has no ethics as to picking sides. He just has got his calculator. And needless to say, it's a politically charged movie.
Dont't forget to also check out: National Treasure