Nicolas Cage has not done traditional press rounds in at
least the five years I’ve been a journalist. He’s always pleasant on the red
carpet, answering a question or two if he makes it to your spot on the line,
but no roundtable interviews. Only for Sonny,
the film he directed, did he do three roundtables paired with his producer on
There are always some actors who just don’t like doing the
grind. Some major, established stars do press conferences to get it all done in
one shot. A lot of comedians refuse to do any print press at all, because they
can’t be funny on paper. We don’t really know why Cage avoided print press, but
it was a treat to get him for a press conference for National Treasure.
He gave a fine interview too, so there’s no discernable
reason why he’s avoided this. He had clear reasons for making decisions on this
film, and shared stories about his childhood inspirations. It was a pleasant
talk with a truly interesting actor, whether you like his Bruckheimer films or
Q: Are you still able to find the challenges you were able
to find in your early career?
Nic: Yeah. I’ve always maintained that I see myself as a student. There’s
always something to learn and be challenged by and hopefully grow from. So
Q: Of all the action films you get offered, what was it about this one that
struck your fancy?
Nic: think that the very thing that made
me trepidatious was the same thing that intrigued me, which is the idea of a
man going in and stealing the declaration of
very plausible, and how can this actually be pulled off. I met with John
Turteltaub and he said, “But that’s what’s interesting. He’s audacious. He’s
bold.” And Jerry Bruckheimer always brings in a great group of technical
advisers who do the research and try to figure out exactly how to make it
within the context of the film seem as believable as possible. And I got to do
it in a tuxedo, so that was interesting to me as well.
Q: Wearing a tuxedo, did James Bond come to mind?
Nic: Well, I think that always comes up whenever there’s a
tuxedo. Cary Grant comes to one’s mind. It’s interesting because in the
beginning, during the rehearsal process, I wasn’t exactly sure what the tone of
the movie was going to be. And it was Jon Turteltaub to his credit who kept
sort of pushing it towards a stylization not unlike what maybe Cary Grant or
Jimmy Stewart might have done in the ‘30s and ‘40s, where they seemed to have a
very playful touch during these caper movies.
Q: How did you get along with Diane Kruger and Justin
Nic: Justin and Diane both have wild senses of humor.
They’re both very mischievous and kind off the wall in their sense of humor, as
am I. As you can imagine, we got along great and had a lot of laughs on the set
as well as off the set. We’d go and karaoke from time to time and sort of blow
it out and be completely ridiculous, which helped, I think.
Q: What did you sing?
Nic: I think it was some Rage Against the Machine, AC/ DC
and some Sex Pistols. I think what we did, again in the rehearsal process,
tried to discover the tone of the movie. With all of Jerry Bruckheimer’s movies,
you sort of tinker things and tweak things on the way, which can be very
nerve-wracking, but it can also be very electrifying and spontaneous. You might
come up with an accidental discovery that works. And you can also fall off the
high wire on your face and completely embarrass yourself. But fortunately with
Jerry, he surrounds you with people who really are about as good as it gets in
the business — great actors, all the best writers, that sort of tweak it as you
go along, terrific editors. So you’re pretty safe.
Q: How has your relationship with Bruckheimer evolved over
Nic: I think over the years we’ve cultivated a shorthand.
We’ve discovered what each of us bring to the table. He’s a producer who very
much encourages his actors to come up with ideas and then he goes through a
selection process to see what he feels will work or not work within the context
of keeping the train moving. Jerry has a vision which is an honest one. He’s a
terrific movie fan. He loves going to the movies and he likes films that I
think are very entertaining to himself and to many other people. So it’s a
vision that a lot of people share. But what’s unique about Jerry is that he
really does look in interesting places for his actors, and even writers. He’s
always looking for someone who might come up with an unexpected choice,
something a little bit outside the box which you can see in Con Air.
He used a lot of the independent film actors in that with John
Malkovich, and with Johnny in Pirates.
And then he has a sense of nostalgia for veteran actors like Duvall or Jon
Voight or Hackman. He does have a terrific amount of taste for talent.
Q: And Harvey Keitel?
Nic: And there’s another example of Jerry Bruckheimer
casting somebody who we’ve all sort of grown to know in more independent
material and challenging, edgy material. Harvey and I work extremely well
together. We both have an odd angle and take on life. I don’t know if insane is
too harsh a word, but it’s sort of a playful and unusual perception which I
think mixed well for the two of us.
Q: Why was
can model for so many other locations. Lord
of War is a world stage. It takes place in many different areas. You have
And so there’s so many locales that you can actually use
convenient. It’s much less expensive to shoot there and now I believe even
Dreamworks is going to be building a studio out there. The way the tide is
going now, it’s becoming increasingly rare to shoot a movie here at home. It
just is the way it is. It’s simple economics. If you can do a $120 million
movie for $80 million in
Q: What is your character in that film?
Nic: It’s one of those characters that I guess if you were
to take Scarface and replace the
drugs with guns, he’s a gun runner and he’s always figuring out where the
political climate is in the world to get rich and sell the right amount of
guns, and really has no ethics as to picking sides. He just has got his
calculator. And needless to say, it’s a politically charged movie.
Q: Do you ever think about slowing down and working less?
Nic: I always think about that. I took a year almost off
after Matchstick Men to find my next
picture which was National Treasure,
so I just sort of hit a spurt where there were screenplays that seemed
interesting enough and diverse enough to me to want to continue working.
Q: How do you look at genres and roles for yourself?
Nic: I have eclectic taste. I wouldn’t want to be on one
steady diet of any type of movie and so I think that informs my choices as
well. I have eclectic tastes in the movies I want to do. I think it’s dangerous
when you get trapped in an identity that is one way. I mean, it can work
because then the audience knows what they’re going to get, and they can rely on
that person to do that type of movie every time. But that would be very boring
for me and I would be calcified by that. I love keeping myself guessing and
keeping you guessing. I don’t want to just do independent movies and I don’t
want to just do adventure films. I enjoy both, and I think both are cogent. I
always have. I’m the first to admit my memories at least of going to Clint
Eastwood movies or Charles Bronson or James Bond. Bruce Lee, I always forget to
mention him. He was a huge inspiration for me and when I was a kid, I was Bruce
Lee in my mind. And what I like about it is it makes me happy and I think it
makes a lot of people happy to go to the movies and to not think about the
problems of the day or the problems of tomorrow or the yesterday and just go on
for the ride and have the fun of losing oneself in a fantasy.
Q: Will you try directing again?
the one area that I am slow to pull the trigger on because I feel that I am
still cutting my teeth in that area and I’m still sort of finding myself as I
go along. I’m very happy with Sonny
and it was a challenging move. It was, I think a movie that was difficult
for people to grasp because the subject matter is somewhat taboo, but that’s
the very thing that I think is stimulating to me and I have to look very
carefully to find the next script that I think would fit in that. In that
regard, I think I am trying to find my identity.
Q: Have you tried on your Ghost Rider costume yet?
Nic: I haven’t. I’m very curious about that. However, I ‘m still in talks about
that particular movie. It’s not a definite at this point.
Q: Are you attracted to comic book films in general?
Nic: Comic books for me as a young man were one of the ways
I learned how to read. There were other ways too, but I was always fascinated
by the mythology of them. Because I used to Greek myths, so I discovered a kind
of kindred spirit in the mind of Stan Lee and also DC Comics. And I always felt
that they would be successful in film as well even before they became
successful, and I knew the big three would be Batman and Superman and
Spider-Man. I guess the reason I responded to them was that they had the
fantasy of the child’s mind, and they’re a wonderful alternative world to sort
of lose yourself in.
Q: Would you try out for any other comic book roles?
Nic: I can’t think of anything. I think if this doesn’t
work, that’s pretty much it. I’ve never made a comic book film and I’ll just
sort of enjoy my nostalgic memories of them as a boy. I don’t read them any
more. It’s something that really came from the past.
Q: You’ve been attached to Ghost Rider
for so long, what the problem?
Nic: Again, it’s really just the vision of the movie and how it will be
portrayed. It’s really talks about script and things like that. It’s true that
I was involved with Ghost Rider over
three years ago and was trying to develop it with another filmmaker. These
things are very sensitive. It’s a bullseye and you really have to hit it;
otherwise it may not work. So it’s best for everyone to be cautious and make
sure it’s got the right auspices.
Q: Were you once offered Spider-Man?
Nic: I was never going to do Spider-Man. I know they talked
to me about playing the Green Goblin, but it was at the same time I was offered
Adaptation. And I was wanting to play
twins in a movie, so that’s why I opted for Adaptation.
Also, I like Spike Jonze’s work quite a bit. I also like Sam Raimi very much as
well. But it just seemed like Adaptation would
give me more of an opportunity to learn something.
Q: Did you get to try on the Superman costume with Tim
Nic: Superman, yeah, I did do that. I went pretty far down
the road with Tim Burton on that. And at the time, Warner Brothers just wasn’t
ready to pull the trigger so to speak on the script because it was getting
incredibly expensive and that was at a period in their career, Warner Brothers,
where they were being cautious with the money.
Q: Will you play Skeletor?
Nic: No. I don’t know anything about that.
Q: How about working with Woo again?
Nic: You know, I think John Woo’s a terrific filmmaker and I
would love to work with John again. I think we have a good rapport together.
Q: What inspired you to believe in yourself that you could
become a famous actor?
Nic: Well, at a very early age, I’m talking six, seven,
eight, I would watch television and I would see Charles Bronson in Once Upon a Time in the West or I’d see
Sean Connery and Clint Eastwood and be fascinated by the magic of filmmaking.
And would walk to school and actually have crane shots worked out in my mind
where the crane would be pulling up and looking down at me as a tiny object in
the street walking to school, so I guess it was something that was very pure
and organic in me that wanted to be a film actor. I just loved more than comic
books, I loved movies. I loved watching the TV and getting lost in films.
Anything that stimulated my imagination. My imagination in those early years
was really what inspired me and protected me.
Q: How did your family support you?
Nic: I kept it pretty close to the vest. I don’t think a lot
of people knew that I wanted to be an actor. I mean, there were little hints. I
enjoyed Halloween and liked disguising myself, wanted to be a disguise artist,
thought I was going to be a detective. I remember there was a TV show on where
there was a disguise artist detective. So I was into that. I was always
transforming myself and play acting, so I guess they might have had an inkling
that it might lead to this. I don’t think anyone really thought for certain
that I would actually become a film actor.
Q: Are you surprised how successful you’ve become?
Nic: That’s an interesting question that I sometimes get
asked. I don’t really know that I have the same perception of myself that other
people may or may not have. I don’t really look at myself as a successful
person. I always look at myself as someone who’s trying to find the next place
to go or the next thing to discover or improve upon. I have a difficult time
looking at the cup half full. I always tend to look at it half empty.
Q: Did you make a connection with your
childhood side on this movie?
think so, yes, very much so. I mean, at the end of the day it’s
impossible at certain times not to, on the set, take a look at yourself.
I look at where I’m standing and I go I’m still here. I’m still in the
back yard playing like I’m – you know a treasure hunter. It’s still very
much the spirit of playfulness that children have and it’s a great way not to
have to grow up.
Q: What kind of student were you in American
Nic: I was
more into Roman Empire ancient history. I was fascinated by the Civil War
though, that was interesting to me. And it really wasn’t until much
later, and even on this movie, that I got to go to these very hallowed ground
landmarks like Independence Hall and start to cultivate the enthusiasm that
even the character has. Because even though it’s not a historically
loaded movie, I wanted to make it fascinating on some level to people.
But I would point out that this is a world treasure, this is not just a United
States treasure, this is a treasure that belongs to the world and I believe
it’s even in the movie. I mean these are things here like Alexander’s
sword, I don’t know if that’s in the movie, but artifacts that belong to the
Q: How do
you think a world that is not so enthusiastic about America will react to the
again I would go back to the treasure itself, which is a world treasure.
I mean this is, as I said, is a treasure that contains artefacts that belong
all the way around the world and it’s presented that way in the movie.