Nicolas Cage Is Still Moonstruck


nicolas__cage.jpg2006 was a busy year for Nicolas Cage. The Ant Bully. World Trade Center. The Wicker Man. Apparently those offerings didn't sate our yen for Cage. This past weekend, Ghost Rider, in which the Oscar-winner embodies the demon-possessed comic-book hero Johnny Blaze, brought in an estimated $44.5 million, revitalizing a previously tepid Hollywood box office.

If that wasn't sci-fi enough, there's Next (with Julianne Moore), in which Cage stars as a man who can see the future. This is problematic, because suddenly Cage has to impede a pending terrorist attack while also trying to have sex with some unknown woman who will be the mother of his yet unborn child. I think I got that right. To double-check, peruse the Philip K. Dick story "The Golden Man," on which it's based.

Between these arduous film chores, the altruistic Cage found time to donate $2 million to aid former child soldiers worldwide. According to Associated Press, the donation, which is to be administered by Amnesty International, will "provide shelters and medical and psychological rehabilitation services."

Then with some leftover cash (reportedly in the $3 million range), Cage bought a 40-plus-acre undeveloped island in the Bahamas, right next to the island where Faith Hill and Tim McGraw dwell.

But what might be more exciting, especially for those of you subscribing to Netflix, is that the 6'1" former heartthrob, who once opined, "I am not a demon. I am a lizard, a shark, a heat-seeking panther. I want to be Bob Denver on acid playing the accordion," directed a little treasure of a film called Sonny in 2002. If you are into unhappy, steamy studs who vent their angst through boozed-up sex with women who want to possess them completely in a pre-disaster New Orleans, then Sonny is for you, especially since it stars James Franco. This is a DVD find, and what wanted to chat with Mr. Cage about.

BJ: You once said, "As artists we have a different license than other people. We have the license to go straight up the devil's ass, smile at him, and survive." Have you gone up the devil's ass often?

NC: Well, maybe in my life I have. But I just think that what I meant by that was like, well, we get faced with hardships in life that are not going to be pleasant, and it's going to come up. And if you are just an artist, you have one option, which is that you can take the pain that you feel, and you can turn it into a positive, and survive. In other words, it's like being snakebit. When you're snakebit, you can take the poison, and you can turn it into something from that experience, and do something positive with it. That was what I was trying to say. But sometimes I say things on a very visceral, guttural way, and I like using imagery, so I use it.

BJ: Do you find it more palatable to do a huge budget, mainstream effort knowing that you can follow it up with something closer to your heart?

NC: Are you talking about as a director?

BJ: As an actor, a director, a producer.

NC: I think that it's easier to be more honest in a smaller film because there's less concern or pressure from the studio to make you change it a certain way. It gives you a little more ability to stay true to your vision. Having said that, when you do a big studio movie, they have a right to make sure they get their dollars back. It's like a contract that you go into, and whenever I've made a big action film, I take the notes, and I try to make them work because I understand that that movie costs a lot of money. I know that part of that, in the quest of making something truly entertaining and a lot of fun for people, there is still a need to get their money back. So I don't really have an issue with that, but I do think that if you want to really try to – well, having said that, I have taken some pretty big chances in pretty big movies, but it was always with the blessing of the director or with the blessing of the producer.

BJ: Sonny, the first film you chose to direct, which sadly didn't get all the praise it deserved, is reminiscent of the movies of the late '50s, early '60s, that were based on the writings of Tennessee Williams and William Inge. Sweet Bird of Youth and All Fall Down, for example. Were you influenced by those films at all?

NC: I have not seen those movies that you just mentioned. I'm sure I've been influenced in some way by every film I've seen, but those particular ones were not among them.

BJ: Were you nervous about directing, especially about being compared to your uncle Francis Ford Coppola?

NC: That I didn't worry about. The fact is that I come from a family of directors. I actually thought about it the other day. I think I am the seventh director in my family, but that never came up for me. I knew I was going to do this.

BJ: What about Tennessee Williams's plays?

NC: I've always had an affinity for movies that seem to gravitate towards performance and towards character-driven situations, so I'm sure [Elia] Kazan has influenced me in a very large way. But then again, I have influences in all sorts of different areas. I didn't really study any type of film before I embarked on directing Sonny.

BJ: Do you have another movie you'd like to direct?

NC: I have some ideas that it's too early for me to talk about because they're not real yet.

BJ: Same genre?

NC: Smaller dramas, but there is one concept that I have that would be different, but it's still in the works.

BJ: Why did you sell your state-of-the-art comic book collection?

NC: I just feel that I had my time with it, and I went through this period where I was downsizing and getting rid of stuff. I didn't want to turn into Citizen Kane.

BJ: In Sonny, you make a highly sissified cameo. Were you worried about how gays would react to your flamboyant turn? Possibly 20 years ago, homosexuals might have been up in arms, but nowadays it's just a fun characterization.

NC: You know, that characterization is by no means a statement about gay society, but it was really…. I saw somebody like that in New Orleans, and it stayed with me. I also incorporated this jacket that I had, which – actually, I'm a big fan of Liberace's, and I bought his jacket. I knew I'd wear it in a movie at one point, and this was the movie that I wore it in. [Several sources recently announced that Mr. Cage will play Liberace in a forthcoming biopic.)]

BJ: I was just noticing that you have some tasteful necklaces on.

NC: Thank you. That's my cross. This one has Navajo beads to keep bad ghosts away, and this is the all good protecting eye.

BJ: By the way, do you have any tattoos you'd like to reveal?

NC: For that you'll have to pay.

- Brandon Judell

Mr. Judell, who's currently teaching "The Image of the Jew in Post-World War II European Cinema" at City College, has written on film for The Village Voice, indieWire, Detour, and dozens of other publications.