Nicolas Cage on Ghost Rider

Superhero Hype! talked to Nicolas Cage about the highly-anticipated Ghost Rider on Thursday, November 30, 2006 at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery:

Superhero Hype!: Obsession I think would be a reasonably way to describe your feelings about this character – tattoos come to mind, you’ve been in love with this character for a long time, where does that come from?

Nicolas Cage: Because it’s unusual, it’s not standard superhero fare, it doesn’t follow any of those traditional rules. As a boy I was really attracted to the monsters that were in the Marvel universal, the Hulk and Ghost Rider, because I couldn’t understand how something so terrifying could also be good, and it appealed to whatever complexities I was feeling about life, that paradox to me is inherently interesting.

SHH!: How old were you when you first read it?

Cage: I was like seven or eight and I was reading Ghost Rider and The Hulk.

SHH!: The very first?

Cage: Yeah, the very first ones, and I would just sit in my room and stare at the covers, I liked the way they looked. But there’s something about the iconography of the flaming skull itself, even going beyond Ghost Rider, I think it’s been around for thousands of years, there’s something about the flaming skull I think depicts honesty, it’s like there’s no mask, you can’t hide, there it is, it’s the truth, and I like that. If you’re speaking about my tattoo, I mean I would say it’s more akin to that than necessarily the Ghost Rider itself.

SHH!: Could you ever have imagined playing the role?

Cage: I must of because I think I willed it into happening, because here we are and we’re talking about it. I think I was always excited by the idea of the comic books going to film, and I knew that when the technology was at a level where it would be palatable visually to the audiences, it would great entertainment. And I had no doubt that Batman was going to be enormous, and Superman and Spider-Man, and all those characters would be wonderfully successful because it’s entertainment that is wholesome, it’s full of excitement and action but there’s not a huge body count, there’s not a lot of gunfire, and you can take your whole family to it. Ghost Rider is different in that he’s really the only character that I know of that is in the supernatural arena, and he walks through both worlds. And I thought it was time for a character like this – I mean, rather than me playing Superman, which at one time was talked about, I think this is more appropriate for me because I like the enigmatic and paradoxical quality of it.

SHH!: Did you bring the humor to it – it’s your kind of humor? Was that in the comic books?

Cage: No, no, no. It was really important to me that it had humor. One of my favorite movies is American Werewolf in London, and one of my favorite tonalities is horror and comedy. If you can get those two together it’s a great buzz, and I wanted to see if we could get that, or aspire to some sense of that. The character is absurd, it’s an absurd situation, you can’t take it too seriously, you’ve got to have fun with it, and that’s why I really wanted to make sure that we were playful, so I took the chain-smoking and the hard drinking out and I said, “Wait a minute, he’s trying to avoid the Devil, he’s running from the Devil, he doesn’t want to invite the Devil.” So instead, he listens to Karen Carpenter and he eats jellybeans, which is fun. And I like both.

SHH!: In terms of Clark Kent and Peter Parker, what makes his alter-ego stand out?

Cage: Well, that he’s really grappling with what we talked about, these dark forces and how he’s dealing with it and trying to avoid it makes him separate from the other characters. Plus he really is a daredevil, he’s a stunt cyclist and he’s got this sort of seventies aura about him like George Hamilton in the Evel Knievel movies. I wanted to have that kind of fun with it.

SHH!: How about dealing with the special effects aspects of this, writhing on the ground imagining that there are all these flames around – did you ever feel a tad silly, or did you take it very seriously?

Cage: Oh no, no, no, I felt great, I loved it. I was so excited to do it, I felt like I was a kid again. I wanted to get that spirit of like a B movie, B monster movie like with Vincent Price, I was going for it, like oh there’s bugs on my face, I’m screaming ahhhh, and then I would look at playback on the monitor with Mark Steven Johnson and I’d be like, “Yes, monster movie, monster movie,” because that’s what a I want to make, I want to make a movie that eight year olds and thirteen year olds can get excited about, like the way they used to about Vincent Price and The Fly in the fifties.

SHH!: Did it remind you why you became an actor in the first place?

Cage: Yeah, absolutely. It’s the fun of that is the child, wanting to bring out that abandon back to a character is very liberating, because doing World Trade Center you’re really in a box, whereas in this case I could be more external and have more fun.

SHH!: How did you prepare for the transformation scene?

Cage: I had to imagine what it would feel like and also I knew where I wanted to go with it in terms of performance, in that I wanted it to be operatic, that was the style I was choosing was opera, and I’d been working on that for quite some time, my earlier works like Vampire’s Kiss or Face/Off even there’s imagery that’s like that, and I wanted to get back to that, which is that sort of wide-eyed excitement, ecstatic pain, ecstasy and pain.

SHH!: You laughed at one point.

Cage: Oh yeah, yeah, I wanted there to be a moment or two where it seemed liked he was really enjoying it, like he was having more fun than anybody else in the world, and it’s really scary and awful, but it feels really good because it’s so powerful. I wanted that kind of energy coming out of that transformation scene.

SHH!: How many of the stunts did you do, and how many did the stuntman do?

Cage: I try to do as many as I can, but the thing is we did want to bring in some real excellent motorcycle stunt specialists for the jumps and things like that, and also for some of the road work, there’s some really cool effects that came out of it.

SHH!: Did you enjoy working in Australia?

Cage: I did, yeah. Are you Australian?

SHH!: I’m from a better city than you were working in.

Cage: I was in Melbourne, yeah. What I have to say about Australia is the people are quite remarkable to me when you consider the history. Like the British had said – oh these are all -they were taken to the penal colony in Australia, and then all these people are there and they’re living in this beautiful wilderness, and no one’s committing any crimes. It’s like the ultimate ‘f you.’

SHH!: Were you involved in the production design?

Cage: Well I worked closely with Kevin Mack and he really did an amazing job painting the character, but we would talk about different comic books and try to look at different drawings from the seventies, and also I wanted to – they would put all these sensors on me and try to capture the different expressions for the transformation sequence, and that was even before we started shooting the film, that was really early on.

SHH!: Motion capture?

Cage: Well, not motion capture but more like trying to really understand digitally the different expressions and then program that into the transformation sequence as well so it would match.

SHH!: Did you guys out-geek each other in terms of the knowledge of the comics?

Cage: I think Mark is more knowledgeable about the lore and the history itself about Ghost Rider. I really was just interested in, in the Faust-like mythology of the character, and then also the iconography of the character, and then I wanted to bring whatever I could bring to it. For me, because the character is not as well known as Spider-Man or Superman it liberated me to bring a little of my own twist to it and introduce this character outside of the hard core fans of Ghost Rider -and there are many, and I want them to be happy too – but beyond that I wanted to open him up for, for mainstream audiences as well and give them something that they could enjoy. You know, something that would be funny and also scary.

SHH!: It seems like they’ve taken bits and pieces from different parts… it’s gone through many incarnations, the comic book, and it seems this is sort of an amalgam of the different eras of it.

Cage: Yeah, well Mark would know more about that than I would. But, yeah, he did pull from different eras really, decades of Ghost Rider and his back story. I mean Blackheart is from later issues, whereas the origin of all that naturally is from the 70s, and the fact that he was a, you know, in a carnival atmosphere and all this is from the 70s.

SHH!: Are you still into comics? Do you collect any still?

Cage: I don’t, no. No. I will always have a soft spot in my heart for them though because they stimulated my imagination as a child and I think it’s great entertainment, but no I haven’t been collecting them for many, many, many years.

SHH!: You sold your collection.

Cage: I did. I did. Well…

SHH!: Why was that?

Cage: Well it’s not a secret, I was robbed. Three of my best comics were robbed – and it was Action One, Detective 27 and Detective 14, and those books today would be worth, I don’t know how much, more than the whole collection itself was at the time. And it occurred to me that I didn’t want that in my house anymore because I didn’t want that sort of temptation for people to do that so I sold everything.

SHH!: Now is there a release for you as an actor then to go from… to go to acting extremes like, as you mentioned, World Trade Center which was such a contained performance, versus something like this where you really have to let yourself go?

Cage: Yeah. I just… I’m always trying to stay interested in the work, and that means I don’t want to get stuck in one style. I want to be natural and I also want to be abstract. I want to be operatic and I also want to be ballad. You know, I don’t want to just do one kind of character and I don’t want to do one style of acting.

SHH!: So what challenges are there for you at this stage in your career to find material that really does speak to you on those levels?

Cage: I have to stay interested. And if I’m not interested enough I shouldn’t do it. I don’t know how much longer I am going to do it, you know, so I want to keep trying to find new ways of expressing myself and this is one of them, I’ve not done a comic book movie before and so that’s fun, and I think kids are going to love it. I want, you know, all ages to go but I really have a soft spot in my heart for the kids that go see it with their families, and I haven’t done that before. But I have to just keep finding things that appeal to me.

SHH!: More directing?

Cage: Possibly. Yeah. I like directing.

SHH!: Can you talk about working with Peter Fonda?

Cage: Yeah, I mean I really wish he had worn the jacket from Easy Rider because I mean to me that would have been like, yes, you… I… Johnny Blaze will give you whatever you want because you’re Captain America. [Laughter] You know I would have loved that. I kept trying to convince Mark to go with that.

SHH!: Who’s idea was it to even cast him?

Cage: It came up out of… Originally I wanted to Tom Waits and…

SHH!: That’d be interesting.

Cage: Yeah. And I really wanted Tom to play the part, and then for whatever reason that didn’t happen, and then someone suggested Peter Fonda and then I thought, okay, well, you know, if there is going to be the ultimate icon of motorcycles it’s Captain America, it’s Peter Fonda. So it was the perfect idea really for…

SHH!: Does he still ride?

Cage: He does.

SHH!: Do you guys talk about riding a lot?

Cage: Yeah, yeah. He loves… he talks about it. We talked about it together. I don’t ride as much anymore. He still rides.

SHH!: Do you make fun of Eva for not having ever seen the movie?

Cage: She still hasn’t seen the movie?

SHH!: She saw it with him apparently.

Cage: Oh, really?

SHH!: Yeah.

Cage: Did she just… She saw the whole thing?

SHH!: In Melbourne she was saying. He had a screening of it.

Cage: Oh, she saw it in Melbourne? Oh, I didn’t know that. I’ll have to ask her about it. [Laughter] Yeah. Yeah.

SHH!: Why weren’t you invited to that party?

Cage: I wasn’t… Maybe I was in Bangkok. I don’t know. [Laughter]

SHH!: You were sort of famously tied to Superman for quite a while. What point did you get involved with Ghost Rider? I know it’s actually been filmed for a while. What stage did you get involved and how involved?

Cage: I was involved early on; I mean when Steve Norrington was still doing it.

SHH!: There was a darker tone. It was darker take on it wasn’t it.

Cage: Gorier, yeah, David Goyer wrote the script and it was much darker. And that was also good. It was a good way to go. But I think that movies work out the way they work out for a reason and I think ultimately this is potentially going to appeal to more people and be more entertaining for more people. I don’t want to tip the scales and have it be too scary; I want it to be still accessible, you know, especially since younger people are going to be going to see the movie.

SHH!: You’ve been linked to Superman, you were cast for Superman, you’ve been linked with Green Goblin, Constantine as well… is this a case of you’ve always been actively trying to get a comic book movie off the ground?

Cage: Well, there were certain movies that were interesting to me for certain reasons. Green Goblin was something I talked about with Sam but at the end of the day I went with Adaptation because I wanted to do a smaller movie at the time. And I think it worked out well because Willem was great as Green Goblin, and Sam is one of my favorite directors. I hope one day we can work together. Constantine just it didn’t happen. You know, it was for whatever the reasons… it just didn’t work out, the timing of it. And then Superman was a situation where the studio lost faith in the project at that time, and Tim went another way and that was that.

SHH!: What did you think of Superman Returns?

Cage: I liked it. I liked it. Well, I liked it because it was nostalgic, and it was clear to me that they wanted to go that way – Warner Bros. – and, which is not the way I would have gone with the character because I would have wanted to do something new with it, and that’s why I think when, for me Ghost Rider is a better match because it gave me a chance to do things with it in my way that would work with the character, whereas Superman I think is so dear to so many people for a variety of reasons that going with Brandon Routh I think was, was a good choice, and I like what he did with it, because I was going to turn the character on its ear. I mean I was going to, you know…

SHH!: How?

Cage: How? Well I was going to have giant black like Samurai hair and… [Laughter] And I was just going to go for it. You know.

SHH!: Is there any influences specifically you can point to for the Johnny Blaze character? You’ve got the southern accent and it seems to me that…

Cage: Well it was very important to me that he wasn’t like the chain smoking, Jack Daniels drinking bad-ass because to me that was a guy that was inviting the devil in, whereas I thought if you were really afraid the devil was coming to get ya you would do everything you can to push him away. And so I said, well, let’s make him not an… he doesn’t drink alcohol, he’s addicted to jelly beans, so I’ve got him drinking jelly beans out of a martini glass. He listens to Karen Carpenter because he’s trying to relax, and he likes chimpanzees and… Yeah, they’re in there too. Karate…. Chimpanzees that practice karate. Yeah. [Laughter]

SHH!: Real chimpanzees?

Cage: Yeah, because I wanted… I want the character to be absurd because the situation is absurd, and I don’t want to take it too seriously.

SHH!: You invented from whole cloth, it’s not like you looked at different influences and said I want it to be like this guy or that guy or…

Cage: No. I… Actually, to be perfectly direct with you about it, I was resorting to my own life. I drink jelly beans out of a martini glass and…

SHH!: Really?

Cage: …and I listen to Karen Carpenter and I…

SHH!: What about the chimpanzees?

Cage: I saw this chimp doing karate and I said we’ve got to put that in the movie. [Laughter]

SHH!: Is there talk of a sequel? I mean I’m sure you’ve signed for a sequel.

Cage: I haven’t.

SHH!: Oh, really? I always thought with things like this you sign for two.

Cage: No, no. I didn’t.

SHH!: Would you do another one?

Cage: I feel like I really laid it down on this one. It would really be script dependent. I don’t… My instinct at the moment is… You know, it would have to really depend upon a script.

SHH!: What else is going on with you now? Are you signed for anything else at the moment?

Cage: I’m not signed for anything currently.

SHH!: Are you taking a break?

Cage: At the moment I am in the middle of a four-month break.

SHH!: You have Next next?

Cage: Next is next.

SHH!: How is Next?

Cage: I like Next.

SHH!: National Treasure 2 is coming up eventually.

Cage: Yeah. Yeah.

SHH!: Is that a definite go?

Cage: Yes.

SHH!: How is that going to make the, you know, move the franchise forward. Have you talked to Jeremy – have you seen a script of that yet?

Cage: It’s still being developed and still being talked about, but everything I’ve seen so far is really exciting.

SHH!: Is there something you’d really like to see in that movie that perhaps?

Cage: Yeah. I mean the history of it is interesting to me, the historical elements dealing with, you know, Confederate gold and Abraham Lincoln and the assassination. It’s… it’s interesting. Potentially it could be even more exciting than the first one – and that’s the key to sequels. You only do it if it can be as good or better than the first.

SHH!: Have you ever done a sequel? You’re not a great fan of sequels as a general rule of thumb are you?

Cage: No. As a general rule of thumb I have… Well I have never made a sequel. But I… That’s not to say I wouldn’t, you know, especially if it can be… if it can be entertaining and it can be unique, in which case I think National Treasure is unique because it’s dealing with history.

SHH!: What did you do in the four months break?

Cage: I have lots to do. I mean I’ve got my kids and I’ve… you know, I’ve got my hands full. I’ve got plenty of books to read.

SHH!: Can you say a few words about Next?

Cage: Next is… it’s based on a Phillip K. Dick short story about a man who, he has the prescience ability to see two minutes within his own future, and he keeps seeing this girl played by Jessica Biel and he doesn’t know why he keeps seeing her and he’s got to find out, and when he does he realizes he can actually see further ahead when she’s there. And the powers that be, like the FBI and people of that sort, really want this person to help them – Julianne Moore’s character and her crew – to find out where a nuclear bomb has been placed and they’re running out of time, and she’s going outside the box and going to rely on his paranormal abilities to do it. So he’s in that sort of dilemma of do I help and save Los Angeles or do I get to live a normal life and be with this lady who he’s probably falling in love with. And he’s been sort of avoiding the issue for some time.

SHH!: It sounds cool.

Cage: It is cool. It’s… it is… It’s romantic too. And Jessica Biel is great in it.

SHH!: Is it a typical Phillip K. Dick mind-f**k?

Cage: Yeah. Yeah. [Laughter] I think you will… I won’t give it away but I don’t think… If you’re looking for the Phillip K. Dick mind-F you will get it. [Laughter]

SHH!: You mentioned before you’re not riding a motorbike that often anymore. Why is that?

Cage: Well I… You know, it’s about… it’s about the kids, you know. I don’t want to inspire them to do that.

SHH!: Did you not get the hell bike as part of your contract?

Cage: You know I asked for one and I never got it.

SHH!: You don’t think that they’re going to see this movie and think that’s cool?

Cage: Well they might but they won’t see dad running around on a motorcycle. I mean not in real life.

SHH!: Did you ever ride it?

Cage: I never rode that, but… one look at it and you know it would be impossible to ride. [Laughter]

SHH!: It does look impossible to ride, that’s why I wondered. But somebody… did somebody?

Cage: Yeah. Somebody did, yeah. [Laughter]

Ghost Rider hits theaters on February 16.

Source: Heather Newgen