Ghost Rider - Nicolas Cage interview
Interview by Rob Carnevale
NICOLAS Cage talks about his passion for comic books and why Ghost Rider is the ideal character to play on the big screen (for him).
He also discusses getting in shape, stamping his own personality on the character of Johnny Blaze, his views on World Trade Center and his forthcoming cameo in Were-Wolf Women Of The SS (part of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s Grindhouse project).
Your name has been attached to many possible comic book adaptations over the years. Was this the one you were destined to do because it means more to you?
Nicolas Cage: No question. I was going to play Superman for a bit there and for whatever reasons the movie fell apart. When I saw the new Superman I realised that, while I liked the movie and I really liked Brandon Routh in it, it was a much more traditional, nostalgic portrayal. I was going to turn the character on his ear and try to do something new with it.
So, with Ghost Rider, being that he was the comic I was reading as a boy – along with The Hulk – and I was really more of a Marvel aficionado, it was the right choice. Plus he’s a character that I was able to really introduce to people, and put my own twist on it to bring it to life. I wasn’t in any way constricted like I might have been with a character like Superman.
Mark [Steven Johnson, writer-director] was very open to allowing me to try to make it funny and somehow real. How would this character try to keep the demons at bay? I could have fun with that.
What would your younger self have thought of playing this role? Nicolas Cage: I played it a million times already as a boy. I had all the rehearsal I needed [laughs]. I brought that comic book home with me, I bought the comic, and I would sit in my bedroom and stare at it. My older brother thought there was something wrong with me.
I would just look at it for hours, tripping out on the imagery, wondering how something so scary could also be good. I think in a weird way it gave me control over my bad dreams. It made it so that I could have my bad dreams work for me instead of against me. That not all that looks scary is evil. Ghost Rider, in my opinion, is all good.
You’ve done your bit to turn Johnny Blaze on his ear what with jelly bean cocktails and listening to Karen Carpenter… Did you come up with them?
Nicolas Cage: I was trying to figure out a way that I could have fun with it and not take it too seriously. But also, believably, what would someone do if they were trying to not succumb to dark forces? He sure wouldn’t invite them in, he wouldn’t be drinking gin out of a Martini glass. He wouldn’t be listening to Black Sabbath, he’d be listening to the angelic voice of Karen Carpenter. And he wouldn’t be watching violent horror films, he’d be watching chimpanzees doing karate, and trying to be in his own little bubble so the Devil can’t get to him.
Did you spend a lot of time getting in shape for Ghost Rider?
Nicolas Cage: It was awful. Every break I was in the gym maybe four or five hours a day on shooting days and then all day on the weekends. The day I shot the mirror scene I’d had nothing to eat and I started to have candy corn sugar, which makes you more vascular, so I was going a little crazy. I was trying to be nice on the set but I was starving and I didn’t know what I was saying anymore! If there is another Ghost Rider I’m dreading that kind of workout again.
Did you have to drop your weight a lot?
Nicolas Cage: I did for that. I wanted the character to be really lean and look like a super-hero. One of the things that makes a comic book come to life on film is if you can approximate the physique that they draw. Eva had it too – she presented herself like a comic book heroine. She’s very voluptuous, like Jessica Rabbit, and she’s very flirty. It was amazing.
Given the motorbiking theme in the film was it fun to be working with Peter Fonda?
Nicolas Cage: Peter Fonda is the reason I became a motorcyclist. I saw Easy Rider and I bought a motorcycle the next day, and I rode it all the way from LA to San Francisco. I almost had an accident on the Golden Gate Bridge, with a gust of wind. I turned around and rode it back home, and I became Easy Rider in my own mind. So he was a perfect choice.
As a motorcycle enthusiast yourself, how much bike riding could you do in the movie?
Nicolas Cage: With every action oriented or adventure film, there’s going to be a moment when every actor becomes a stuntman and every stuntman becomes an actor. You try to do as much of it as you can, but inevitably the studio wants you to finish the movie. So you’ve got to slow down and you’re really got to defer to your team to make sure you do.
There are some things I can’t do on a motorcycle, I haven’t been riding bikes since I was a three-year-old like Rob Jones has. But when I saw him in Australia do these acrobatics, really like a dance – front wheelies, back wheelies and all that – I said we had to find a way to put that into the movie and have it be a flirtation. That this is how Johnny would try and court Roxanne, a little bit of showing off, a little bit of flirting with the bike. It really happened almost accidentally and Mark said we should go for that. He put it in the movie and it’s one of my favourite sequences.
How important were those moments of transition between Johnny and the Ghost Rider?
Nicolas Cage: It’s a really good question because a lot of thought went into it. Even before principal photography I was with Kevin Mack, who is a genius at CGI, working out the different levels of expression that I might get up to in the sequence. The whole sequence was very collaborative.
I decided early on that Johnny would, for about two or three seconds, be having more fun than anybody else in the whole world. Then at some point the pain and the agony would be replaced by ecstasy with the surge of power running through his body. But it was a confused, painful kind of ecstasy.
So you worked on delivering a performance of this?
Nicolas Cage: Yeah, I would go through these expressions with Kevin of joy and laughter and then agony and pain, and he would put them into the computer and correspond the skull’s image with those expressions of my own to make the transformation work.
On the day, Mark and I would talk about what he wanted to achieve with the camera, so it became like a dance and a choreography where we literally knew where the camera would be, where my movements and my points of expression would be. But I wanted it to be operatic, I wanted it to be like an aria of pain. I kept thinking about Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange, and his screams in the chair. I wanted to put that in there, so it got kind of musical too. But that’s one of my favourite sequences in the movie, I really felt like we did something there.
What do you think attracted you to the characters of Ghost Rider and The Hulk as a kid?
Nicolas Cage: The way that you could make friends, instead of enemies, with something scary. That maybe not everything that looks scary is evil or bad. That some things that may be scary at first are actually quite good.
The Ghost Rider, if you look at it, is a skull. We all have one. How bad can it really be? It scares us when we see it, but it’s actually quite beautiful when you understand what it is. In my opinion, he’s all good, he’s honest, he doesn’t lie about anything, he has nothing to hide. He doesn’t have a face to smile with and lie to you and say everything’s alright when it isn’t. He lets you know who he is and what’s he’s there for. I respond to that. I think he’s very truthful as a character.
Is it true that you’ve now sold your comic collection? Or have you kept any back?
Nicolas Cage: Well, at one time I had one of the great comic collections in the world. I’m not the sort of person who likes to hide things away in a safe, I like to share them with people. When they come over to my house they could see them on the wall. But I had Action 1: Detective 27 and Detective 14 and they were stolen from my house. I can’t imagine what those comics are worth now but it occurred to me that I wasn’t meant to have them anymore. So I sold my collection because I didn’t want to draw that kind of attention to my home. I only kept the horror comics and my Ghost Rider comics. They’re in a special room. And I have not since bought any comic books. I don’t really read comics anymore, if I’m being honest, but I’m very loyal to them because they are how I learned to read and they stimulated my imagination so much as a young boy. They really cultivated my abilities as an actor because I would play act these characters as a child.
Given how much this character means to you, is this the one and only time we’ll see you in a comic book adaptation?
Nicolas Cage: I’m done. I’ve done what I’ve had to do, I always wanted to be in the genre and I knew from the beginning that comic book movies would be enormously successful entertainments and they would make a lot of people happy. Batman, Superman and Spider-Man were the big three and they need no introduction. But the one I feel very blessed to have done was Ghost Rider because he is the most personal to me, and the most interesting. I really have nothing more to say about comic books or comic book movies. Unless we come up with a great script for a sequel, this is who I’m going to be in this genre.
Away from the world of Ghost Rider, can you tell us about your cameo in Were-Wolf Women Of The SS? And are you disappointed that World Trade Center hasn’t featured in the awards season?
Nicolas Cage: I just love the question and the polarity! [Laughs] I’m just so happy about my career! Were-Wolf Women Of The SS is a trailer for a movie that doesn’t exist. Rob Zombie is my friend and I like him a lot. He asked me if I would be a Nazi in the movie and I said I wasn’t comfortable with that. So then he asked if I’d be Fu-Manchu in the movie. I said I’d do it if he didn’t make me wear goofy Oriental make-up out of respect. I didn’t take any money for it, it was a handshake thing from one friend to the other. I showed up and did it and then Bob Weinstein wanted me to do some press for it but I told him that I did it for Rob and that was it.
I’m absolutely not upset about World Trade Center being shut out from the Academy Awards. If – and I mean this sincerely – I’d been nominated I wouldn’t have gone. I don’t think it’s the kind of movie you can make for awards. It’s a very personal, tragic situation that happened in the US and I wanted to make it for the right reasons. Let’s look at the situation cautiously and see if we can help out in some way. So, to get paid a lot of money or to get an award would have been a mistake.
Have you personally had many reactions from people about the film?
Nicolas Cage: Oh yeah. Some people quite honestly said they couldn’t go. And I said: “Nor should you go.” I wanted to make that clear with everybody involved. I said: “If they don’t want to go, don’t go. No one’s saying you have to go and see this movie.” It was more about people that maybe wanted to work something out about the experience, or get some strength from it to see how these people survived it – how that can be applicable in their own lives in some way.