The actor talks about his latest role in this Pang Brothers film, Ghost Rider 2 and much more
Nicolas Cage has been entertaining us for years and years. From his early days in Valley Girl and Raising Arizona to Oscar-winning performance in Leaving Las Vegas up to his latest franchise with the National Treasure films, and so many more in between. Cage ventures into new territory in his new film Bangkok Dangerous, both in playing a downtrodden hitman looking for a way out, and in working with Hong Kong directors Oxide and Danny Pang. I was in on a conference call today with Cage and he had much to say about this film and other projects like the possibility of a sequel to his comic-book film, Ghost Rider. Here's what Cage had to say.
As a producer on the film, I'm sure you understood the reasons behind making your character have lines, as opposed to being a deaf-mute, like in the original film. But, as an actor, were you disappointed that you didn't get the opportunity to have that challenge?
Nicolas Cage: No, not at all. I actually thought it worked out better to have the leading lady have that aspect to her behavior. It made it more emotional, somehow. Also, my interests were more about this white man in this entirely Asian world and trying to fit in and trying to connect, some way, with the culture.
I understand the film was interrupted by a military coup. Can you explain what happened and did you fear for your safety while you were on the set?
Nicolas Cage: I was on the set. I was outside, it was about 1 in the morning. The manager in charge of the weapons said we couldn't fire the guns because there was a military coup takeover happening right now and if we fire the weapons, they may start firing back. I didn't know what to make of it. It was completely abstract. There was nothing in my world that could relate to that. One of the Chinese directors, there were two of them, Danny and Oxide Pang, one of them looked at me and said, 'Hey, it's Bangkok Dangerous!' I realized then that I was going to do whatever I could to get my family safe. So I walk over to the river, walk off the set, got on a boat, took a boat to the hotel, woke my wife up, my kid, my father-in-law was staying with us, and I said, 'We're going.' I took them to the airport, got them on a jet, dropped them off in Seoul, got back on another plane, flew back to Bangkok, all the while having visions in my mind of things burning. I gave myself 50/50. I didn't really know what could happen, but then I did go and finish the scene and the next morning people were putting flowers on tanks and I realized I was out of the woods. It was nothing like anything I'd ever experienced before.
I was just wondering how the idea to remake this film came about. Were you approached by the Pang Brothers or did you approach them or how did that really come about?
Nicolas Cage: Jason, one of the producers, brought it to me and the Pang Brothers were already attached. I was aware, very loosely, of the original film, but what happened was I was thinking about being more global in my work, which means trying more foreign countries and working with foreign filmmakers, hoping they would give me a new take on my work, a new point of view, reinvent me in some way. That's largely why I made the movie.
I just wanted to ask if there's been any talk of developing a sequel to Ghost Rider?
Nicolas Cage: Yes, actually. I had a nice meeting with the studio about a month ago, actually more like three months ago, and we talked about even going international with that character, taking him into Europe. Have him go on a motorcycle tour through Europe and be connected with the church, if you can believe that. It sort of has elements to it that are very much in the zeitgeist, like The Da Vinci Code and things like that.
This character is pretty merciless. Do you think it's important to maintain likeability in order to stay connected to the audience?
Nicolas Cage: I don't really think about it in those terms. I just think about whether or not there's something organic in it for me, something sincere. If I can tell a story of a character in a way where he's honest, and in this case I could because I had my own feelings of enchantment and bewilderment in my life, being married to a Korean lady. I didn't really know how to fit into her culture. There were feelings of wanting to do the right thing but fearing of making a mistake. All that kind of connected with Joe in Bangkok Dangerous, those feelings of isolation. I think that the best characters are the ones who both manage to be attractive and repulsive at the same time. Because, if you do that, you're in the center of the universe. You can speak to everybody with characters who are more ambiguous or raise more questions than answers.
Bangkok Dangerous is one of several remakes that you've done. What is it about re-telling stories either from older films or foreign films that appeals to you, and, secondly, what was it like working on The Ghost with (Roman) Polanski?
Nicolas Cage: I'll answer the second part of your question first. I never got a chance to do The Ghost with Polanski. Something changed in the schedule. I hope that will still happen, but as of now, it's not on the calendar. Remakes are always a challenge and they always are sitting ducks, but, in this case, this remake has the same filmmakers. I felt that they were probably going to try to improve on their movie, or at least introduce new elements in the movie because they felt that they could. I really didn't factor in the original film at all. To me, this is a much different film because it's a story of a white guy in the middle of an Asian culture and that automatically gives the movie an inherent dramatic tension that you find when you have pictures with different cultures and different races interacting. On top of that, this movie, the female lead, Charlie (Young), is the one that's deaf so that gives it even more of a tenderness that was perhaps not in the original. This movie is very independently spirited. It's not like anything I've ever done before. I have no expectations. I just know that I connected with the character's feelings of isolation and enchantment.
The Pang Brothers have mentioned that John Woo was one of their influences as directors. You've worked with The Pangs and John, so could you please describe the similarities and differences in working with John and The Pang Brothers?
Nicolas Cage: The only similarity I will say is there is kind of a dream logic that comes out of Asia that is unlike anything that we have in the States, and Europe and really anywhere else in the world. There's a way of being naturally abstract that still somehow has some sort of logic to it that I admire. If I had to make a comparison, which I normally do not like to do, Woo would be more like a jazz musician and the Pangs would be more like marvelous illustrators. The Pangs draw their movies like graphic novels and they do not deviate from that at all. You don't change it, you just stick to what they drew. They've already had the movie made in their head before photography happens, so that's it. It's a very fast process.
Throughout your career you've always sported very distinctive haircuts, from the Valley Girl days all the way up to the present. I was just wondering, with Bangkok Dangerous' haircut, does that help you get into character?
Nicolas Cage: I kind of learned early on that one of the tools that an actor has is to use hair and make-up to try to transform himself, to create new characters, so that you can lose yourself in the character. It does help with believing that you become somebody else. That goes all the way back with Lon Cheney, who was probably the master of disguising himself. It's always an aspect of disguise that I like about film acting. There has been much talk about my hair in this movie, and I think it does require, at this point, some sort of response. I'm playing a hitman who is going to Asia. In Asia, if you're a hitman, you don't want to stand out. You don't want to look like a target, so the jet-black hair look was really from the perspective that the character was really trying to blend into the look of the culture so that he wouldn't stand out. There was a scene where Joe was going to dye his hair on camera and I still wish that we had shot that. It was an idea that had come up where, before he got on the plane, he dyed his hair to fit into that world. What's also interesting to me is the antagonist in this film is an Asian guy with ultra-blonde hair. We have this ying-yang thing happening where the white guy has the jet-black Asian hair and the Asian guy has the ultra-blonde white-guy hair.
Sounds like an identity crisis.
Nicolas Cage: (Laughs) Yeah, exactly.
I was wondering what you felt about working with Shakrit Yamnarm, who played Kong in the film. I loved his performance. How'd you like working with him?
Nicolas Cage: Oh, I adored him. I thought he was a great actor and a really nice guy and I'm hoping that this movie will certainly open some doors for him here in the United States. You know, girls love him and he's got a great style to him. He's somebody who I think would do well. He has a good command of the language, perfect English. One of the things I was trying to accomplish in doing this movie, an all-Asian movie, which is really what it is. This is not an American film, Asian filmmakers, Asian crew. I'm hoping that people will discover these actors all over the world and use them more and more.
You have a big slate of films, both as a producer and as an actor. What's next out of the gate for you?
Nicolas Cage: I just finished The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans in New Orleans and I'm excited about that. I've got Knowing which I've finished with Alex Proyas in Australia. I'm going to work in England with Matthew Vaughn on something called Kick-Ass and they're all very diverse and international kinds of movies.
The Matthew Vaughn movie, Kick-Ass, is based on a comic about a kid who always wanted to be a superhero and you yourself have a lot of passion for superheroes. What made this one click for you?
Nicolas Cage: As I continue working in film, I want to make it as organic and honest as possible. I am that kid. I was that kid who would dress up as a superhero and sneak out of the house at night and snoop around, pretending like I was fighting crime. It was a good match because it's definitely sincere.
So, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who we all know as McLovin from Superbad, plays a younger version of you, is that right?
Nicolas Cage: No, he doesn't. I play a guy named Damon and I'm the father of Mindy, who is Hit Girl and I'm Big Daddy and I'm training my daughter to become a superhero.
Is there a comic book you would really like to see on film?
Nicolas Cage: What I think would make a beautiful movie would be The Submariner. I don't know how many people would go, but it would be a beautiful movie because it would all be underwater. That would be one that would be a great film to go see.
Can you tell us a little about your involvement in Astro Boy?
Nicolas Cage: Well, I play the mad scientist's father, who creates Astro Boy and, yeah, it is an animated movie. Astro Boy was just one of those marvelous, iconic cartoon characters that I grew up with that I fell in love with because the character is so endearing and yet so powerful. It was kind of a science-fiction version of Pinocchio which was always a story that my father liked and would tell me when I was a boy, so it seemed to be a good match.
What was the experience like working with Werner Herzog on that film?
Nicolas Cage: Werner has a unique vision. He comes into a movie with a definite sense of control, an approach that is not like anyone else anywhere in the world. That's what I was looking for. I was looking for somebody to give me an experience that would be new, that would be unlike anything I had ever done before and that's what I got from it.
Bangkok Dangerous opens in theaters nationwide on September 5.