Mark Steven Johnson Brings Ghost Rider to Life

The actor discusses his love for the character, playing a superhero, and why he isn't upset about not playing Superman

As one of the most diverse and gifted actors of his generation, Nicolas Cage has a way of making every role he does his own. Wanting to play a comic book hero for many years now, Cage finally got his chance in director Mark Steven Johnson's Ghost Rider.

In order to save his dying father, young stunt cyclist Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage) sells his soul to Mephistopheles and sadly parts from the pure-hearted Roxanne Simpson (Eva Mendes), the love of his life. Years later, Johnny's path crosses again with Roxanne, now a gogetting reporter, and also with Mephistopheles, who offers to release Johnny's soul if Johnny becomes the fabled, fiery Ghost Rider, a supernatural agent of vengeance and justice. Mephistopheles charges Johnny with defeating the despicable Blackheart, Mephistopheles' nemesis and son, who plans to displace his father and create a new hell even more terrible than the old one.

We recently caught up with Cage at a sneak preview of some Ghost Rider footage held at Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

Is it true that a few Halloweens back you dressed up as Ghost Rider?

Nicolas Cage: Well, it was very brief. It was a good time. I always liked the character.

What was it like to finally make this film and play this character?

Nicolas Cage: When Mark came on board, he wrote this version, I think it opened up the character to a wider audience. I want the kids to go see the movie. Yeah, there's some scary moments in it but more scary like 1950s, Vincent Price, B-movie which was fun. The spirit of it was I wanted it to be very playful. There's a lot of humor in the movie. He's an absurdist character and I think that's a good thing. That gives me a chance to bring comedy to it. He's not a chain smoking, hard drinking badass. What I wanted to contribute to it was Johnny can keep the devil away. He's trying to stay relaxed by listening to Karen Carpenter and eating jelly beans out of a martini glass. He knows at any moment that could creep up on him. You can always take a negative and turn it into a positive. I think that's the spirit of Johnny Blaze. His soul has been abducted by the devil, that's as big as it gets, yet he's figuring out a way to turn it around.

How did you first come across Ghost Rider?

Nicolas Cage: I was living in Long Beach, CA and I was about 7 years old. I went into the market around the corner in the neighborhood and I saw it on the stand. This flaming skull and it was really colorful. It was the first one. He's on the bike and he's 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 hours. My brother was like, "What's the matter with Nicolas?" I don't know why, I just thought it was trippy, and scary and cool. I think I was trying to comprehend how something scary could also be good. As a boy, I grappled with nightmares and things like that, so I was trying to get control of the nightmares by maybe making friends with them. Ghost Rider was like the perfect way to do that. Here was a nightmare who was also a friend.

What was your initial reaction when you saw a final CG'd Ghost Rider?

Nicolas Cage: I was thrilled. I thought they did a brilliant job, the whole team. It could have been really goofy. Instead it's gorgeous. I think what they did with the fire, which we all know is the hardest thing to create with digital effects, is excellent because it's real and yet it's more than real. Then to make a skull expressive is also difficult to do. So you have to find ways of making that also expressive.

How was it having your skull captured for the movie?

Nicolas Cage: They had to do it digitally. They had to put the sensors on me and they graphed my skull somehow with x-rays... I don't know how they did it. That's me, which is kinda weird.

Was doing this film different than all the other films you've done, simply because of the character?

Nicolas Cage: It was because it was new. It's no secret that I've been trying to get involved with a comic book film for a while. For whatever reason it just didn't come together, in this case it did so this is the one that was meant to be. I was really excited that it was this one because this one was personal. I would get very excited that I was making a monster movie, you know? I had not done that before, something funny and scary.

Did this movie quench your desire to do a superhero film? Or, has it only fueled it?

Nicolas Cage: No, I'm satisfied. I think that this was the one and I've done this now and, unless there was a really great script to a sequel, I'd probably feel like I'd done what I had to do. I would come back and do another one if there was a great script for it.

Did you do a lot of your own motorbike stunts in the movie?

Nicolas Cage: I did a lot of it but I didn't do all of it.

You mentioned if the story to Ghost Rider 2 was good you would consider doing a sequel? Do you have any idea where you see that going?

Nicolas Cage: 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 could see Johnny Blaze as a superbike cop.

You have a lot projects that you're attached too, can you clarify where some of them stand?

Nicolas Cage: I don't know exactly what the next film will be but it's looking like National Treasure 2. It's being written as we speak. The hope is that it's going to be happening. It deals with Abraham Lincoln and Confederate gold; the assassination. It's interesting stuff. What I like about the National Treasure potential as a series, is that it deals with history, and it's also entertaining. That's always a good thing. There are worse things to do than to stimulate young people's minds about history as you're entertaining them.

Everyone's still attached from the first film?

Nicolas Cage: Yeah.

What about Sean Bean?

Nicolas Cage: I'm not sure how it's going to work just yet.

Can you explain what your character has in relation to Sam Elliot's in Ghost Rider?

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

Did this project take away any of your disappointment about Superman not happening?

Nicolas Cage: No, I'm not disappointed by that at all. I don't hold on to things. I let things go when they don't work out. I also believe that the right cast for a movie is usually the one that winds up in the movie. I think the Superman movie that came out was a good movie, it was a very nostalgic movie but I'm not interested in repeating things. I would rather, and I was going to turn that character on it's ear, which 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 the chance to do the unique approach to things that I want to do. And to maybe introduce the character to a wider audience. There's a hardcore group of Ghost Rider fans and I want to make them very happy, but I also want to introduce Ghost Rider to the mainstream.

Ghost Rider opens February 16, 2007 from Columbia Pictures.