Of course, the big star of Neveldine and Taylor’s Ghost Rider Spirit of Vengeance is Nicolas Cage himself, reprising his role as Johnny Blaze, and we had a lot of questions for him. Thankfully, we got him fairly early on in the set visit, though he came over to talk before they’d actually set up any sort of lighting in our interview area, so basically we had a group of journalists sitting in the dark throwing questions at a barely-visible Nic Cage. For some reason, that seemed strangely appropriate, because he was reticent to say too much about the nature of Ghost Rider or compare the new movie to the previous one.
Question: How happy are you to be on the set of a “Ghost Rider” sequel, knowing how much you love the character?
Nicolas Cage: I’m thrilled and very happy to work with Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor and experience their vision of the movie, which is a completely original take on it.
Q: This movie probably wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t decided to do another movie, but I’m curious if there’s any other connection between this movie and the other one besides you.
Cage: I feel that Mark (Steven Johnson) and I got up to something really interesting with the first movie and I’m very happy with the first movie, as I know he is and even Brian (Taylor) likes the first movie, but it really ends there. It’s a completely different experience. For me, John Blaze, his head is already ignited so when you meet him, he’s in a much different place in this movie than in the other movie. It’s almost a completely different character in many ways, a much edgier, almost cynical interpretation than the original “Ghost Rider” movie. In that movie, John was trying to keep everything at bay, so he was trying to almost pacify himself with these kind of absurd habits that he was forming to keep things from erupting. In this one, he’s already been living in isolation in Romania. When you meet him, he’s a much different kind of persona.
Q: Would you say this is a reboot as much as it is a sequel?
Cage: No, I don’t see it as a sequel at all. The other movie was “Ghost Rider.” This is “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.” I see it as a different movie.
Q: We know you’re a big comic book fan, but now that you’ve played Ghost Rider twice, it’s the one you’ll be most identified with, so can you talk about your passion for that character and that comic?
Cage: Well, he was always interesting to me. Ever since I was a child, I gravitated towards the monsters, be it The Hulk or Ghost Rider. I couldn’t understand the complexity of something that looked that scary but also was in some way “good.” To me that already gave it a level of depth that seemed to missing in some of the other characters. For someone who was interested in becoming an actor that made sense that I would gravitate towards that. I’m very happy with the way this worked out. This was the character that Marvel and I teamed up on.
Q: Is this more of a “monster movie” than the first one and is that something you wanted to convey in this second movie?
Cage: I don’t want to compare too much between the two movies, but I will say that this movie is going to have some genuinely scary and wild moments that are going to make you wonder what you just saw. Moments that are for lack of a better word: “freaky,” where you’re going to be like, “Did I just see that happen?” Hopefully it will mess with your mind, which is what I’m excited about with this movie.
Q: Can you talk about Neveldine and Taylor’s approach to this film? Based on their previous work, they do crazy cinematography and have a darker style, so will we see that carried onto this film?
Cage: You are going to see a lot of it in terms of that style. I just want to talk about Mark Neveldine for a minute. What’s fascinating about him is he’s not like any other director I’ve worked with. He’s literally 40% stuntman. He’s on rollerblades with the camera hanging on wires. He’s getting shots that no other director can really get. I think he’s smart to have put a patent on this whole thing because he’s the only one really doing it. He’s routinely risking his life to get these extraordinary, high adrenaline shots, which is perfect for the modern age of extreme sports and high-octane adrenaline junkies who go out and do bungie jumping and skydiving. Mark is that guy; he’s bringing it into cinema. And then Brian, I owe this experience completely to him in terms of the Ghost Rider and that character. When I worked with Mark (Johnson), for whatever reason, we didn’t work on that because it was a separate entity. With this one, it was very important to Brian to tap into what he thought I could lend to the Ghost Rider character in itself and not just John Blaze. A lot of thought went into that together and continues, even though we are only four days out (from completion); it continues to develop. I don’t want to talk too much about it, because I want to keep it in the abstract for you. I don’t want to explain any of it away or label it.
Q: Is it a more violent, blacker vision of Ghost Rider now?
Cage: Again, I don’t want to label it, but there is a kind of elegance, dignity to this Ghost Rider character within the violence, and that’s all I want to say about it. (chuckles)
Q: Can you talk about the look of the character in the movie? You seem to be wearing a leather coat…
Cage: Yeah, there’s nothing really fashionable about it. It’s more form following function. This is a real biker jacket, it’s more like someone who really rides would wear, and I really just played it more like my own personal look.
Q: It seems like the movie is going for a very practical look and feel. Would you say that’s what’s happening on screen?
Cage: I think so. I haven’t seen any of the movie, and I’ve seen very little playback but the energy of it feels pretty edgy and gritty.
Q: As an actor who’s made a lot of movies, I think people always look for throughlines to your work, and going by “Drive Angry” and “Season of the Witch” and this, you’d see it as a very set idea of good vs. evil, where evil is the Devil or demons. Can you talk about why this subject matter has been of such interest to you lately?
Cage: It’s no secret that I’ve always had an interest in mythology, whether it’s Arthurian or ancient Greek or even Marvel Universe. I’ve always connected with it on some level. These are like extract archetypes that trigger emotions in people whether they are aware of it or not conscientiously it still has an impact. Somewhere along the way I thought if I’m dealing in some kind of fantastical landscape I can get as violent as I want and give you as many entertaining thrills as I want without resorting to slasher or gratuitous violence for violence sake, because we are dealing in a much more fantastic landscape. That was the other thinking behind it.
Q: You talk about how you are onset performing as Ghost Rider. Is there anything you do to get ready to play the Ghost Rider?
Cage: There is, but it’s almost like trying to set up a borderland between material and imaginary or spiritual or crossroads to create a different character. A completely different aura or energy on the set for myself and for the other actors. The attitude and the presentation are completely different.
Q: Is there something else you are adding to the character that’s different from the first movie?
Cage: It’s more about the interplay between Ghost Rider and John Blaze and how the two of them sort of inform each other and that’s quite a bit different, trying to go into areas that are more enigmatic or abstract. When you’re playing a character like Ghost Rider, and I don’t want to label it but I want to give the impression of, “What was he thinking?” or “What were we thinking?” because I don’t want him to be anything you can relate to. I want him to be a completely alien entity. Anything I say it will take away from that.
Q: Is John more comfortable with his role as Ghost Rider now or there still this turmoil between the two?
Cage: No, it’s still a very painful situation for him to have this spirit in him.
Q: You have a hell of a supporting cast in this film. Can you talk about these great actors you’re working with?
Cage: They are all extremely different and they are all very talented. Idris Elba is a grand actor. He’s very larger than life; he’s got this presence about him, an incredibly masculine energy which he plays to wonderful affect as Moreau, who’s a sort of alcoholic priest. Violante Placido is an Italian actress who has this mysterious, tragic charm about her which reminds me of when I was watching Catherine Deneuve in “Repulsion.” You don’t really know how she’s doing what she’s doing, but it’s coming through. Fergus Riordan who plays Danny, is the consummate professional. He’s not even 14 or 15 and he’s just always on time, totally efficient and really strong in his presence. He’s someone to really watch. Johnny Whitworth, who plays Blackout, there’s just something about the guy that cracks me up! He’s scary, it’s like watching a train wreck or car accident things just come out of him that are full of surprises and quite tragic and funny at the same time. It’s a really good group.
Q: You spent a lot of time with Fergus. Is it very different than other movies you have done?
Cage: I’ve really had good luck working with younger actors. Every young actor that I’ve worked with has really been on top of their game and fascinating to watch. Fergus I think will definitely transition into an adult career that will be exciting to watch.
Q: It seems to be a very physically demanding movie with the bikes and the stunts. Can you talk a bit about that?
Cage: Well, I was blessed with a really good motorcycle on this movie. Without sounding like a Yamaha commercial, but that bike is totally in tune with what you want it to do. Maybe it’s because the company makes musical instruments, but it’s like this artistic relationship, man and motorcycle, and it’s a hell of a lot easier to get that bike to do what I want it to do while filming. On the other movie I had a raked front-end chopper. When you got 400 people watching you making a movie, it doesn’t go where you want it to go. It’s a lot of pressure. This bike performed effortlessly. I’m completely convinced that these are the best bikes in the world.
Q: Can you talk about the action set pieces in this film, comparing them to the first film? What can fans look forward to?
Cage: I think they can look forward to a really trippy, mess with your mind, freaked out, high adrenaline, wild energy in the photography and in what the actors are doing.
Q: It seems like they are doing a lot more practical stuff on camera. Is that the case?
Cage: I don’t want to compare to the other movie. In this movie, they are putting a lot of thought into what they want to do. They are also giving it an improvisational style at times where there would be some surprises and spontaneity. There’s a kind of “Gonzo” attitude and also a very methodical approach as well. They are bringing a little bit of both.
Q: Can you talk about some of the scenes that will have an impact on people?
Cage: There’s a scene called “the quarry scene” where there are some moves that Ghost Rider gets into that I think will have you replaying it in your mind and wondering what was going on like some of the moves within the action.
Q: Will there be a bit of black comedy in the film?
Cage: Anything I do I try to have some sort of humor in it somewhere in some way even if it is tiny.
Q: Can you talk about working and living in Romania for the last few months and exploring the mythology and folktales that are part of this land?
Cage: I didn’t really get to do too much of that. The only thing I did do was go to this forest, which is quite well known. It’s thought of as the Bermuda Triangle of forests. It’s called the Hoya Bochu forest. I did go there to see what it was like and I asked someone who was wandering through the forest “Is this place haunted?” He looked at and paused for about 4 minutes just staring at me and he said “yes.” I said “In what way?” He said, “Have you seen the people who levitate with no legs?” That was the only experience I had like that.
Q: You also filmed in Turkey, which sounds very exciting.
Cage: Well, the location is definitely a character in the movie and also contributing to the energy of the performance for all of us. Turkey was a landscape I had not seen before. There’s nothing like it. These carved out spires with windows with no glass where people would live 10,000 years ago in the Byzantine Empire. You’re overwhelmed by the alien appearance of it and at the same time that people were actually living in these places. That was helpful to a character like Ghost Rider who’s ancient and a little more of that comes out. Hopefully even in a subliminal or enigmatic way that was felt by all the actors.
Q: You shot “Drive Angry” in 3D, but this movie you shot in 2D and it’s being converted. Have you studied the differences and what’s your whole view on the process and how it’s affecting movies?
Cage: I don’t really see that much difference. When I work, I really try to get absorbed in the character, so unless I want to do something playful with the camera, I’m not too worried about where the camera is or positions, unless I think about it in advance and discuss it with the director and say, “How about we do a move like this and see what we can do about spatial relations and the format of 3D?” In some cases, this posed complexity for Mark and Brian, because you have to think about how if one person obscures another person what that does to the 3D and the depth of field, and they have to think it through a little bit. It hasn’t been in any way an impediment to production. I mean, it hasn’t slowed us down at all.
Q: Since you’re also playing the Ghost Rider, do yourself being more involved in post with this one?
Cage: I mean, if they want me there, I’ll be there. I usually let the directors do what they want in post. My instinct is they’re going to have to think about the quality of the sounds Ghost Rider makes and we’ll have to talk about that together, but I have faith they’re going to find something that will really be exciting to listen to.
Q: Do you see this as a different series involving more sequels and do you see the story continuing?
Cage: We’ll see what happens but I can see them going in different dimensions with this.
Q: Is there some mythology that you haven’t tackled yet that you’d really like to?
Cage: As you know or maybe don’t, I’ve always liked science fiction. Jules Verne and such. One of my dreams is to someday do Nemo in “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” I think anything that opens my mind and triggers my imagination I’m reading. I like to read science fiction and imagine the character or even older works, more poetic stuff like Yates. Anything that keeps my imagination flowing. I don’t know how it will come out again, I just know that if I keep reading and keep looking at things it will form in some way.
Q: Do you feel that calling this movie a “comic book movie” pigeonholes it and it’s something more than that?
Cage: I think a good movie is a good movie and whether it falls into a genre or not and that all movies on some level can aspire to be more than just whatever the label is of the movie. “Avatar,” to me, was more than just a science fiction movie. “District 9″ was more than a science fiction movie, but they were wonderful science fiction movies, but I was very upset about what was happening to those characters in “District 9″ and I made parallels to what happens in our world. I think any movie wants to operate on more than one level.
Q: Having done a bunch of genre movies back to back, are you ready to go back and play a normal guy again or are you having fun playing these roles?
Cage: Um, a “normal guy.” (laughter) That sounds kind of boring but possibly fun to do.
Q: Well, it’s been awhile. I guess “Bad Lieutenant” was about as close as you got.
Cage: Yeah, he’s not normal at all. He’s got a lot of problems (Laughter) But I do like characters that have flaws. I do like characters that have some sort of pathos to them that they are trying to sort out.
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