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National Treasure - Nicolas Cage Q&A



Compiled by: Jack Foley

Q. I read that you enjoyed the classy, classical elements of your character, such as wearing the tuxedo?
A:
Absolutely. When I was determining whether or not I was going to do National Treasure, at the time the script came to me there was another project I was considering. In one, the character was working in a gas station wearing overalls, and the other character was wearing a tuxedo. So I thought I’d rather wear the tuxedo and steal the declaration of independence.
It kind of helped me understand the tone of the movie, because I did think of pictures like To Catch A Thief and Charade, and the stars back then who had this lighter touch with these incredible caper movies. They’d be dressed very elegantly, and they’d be very playful and comedic.
That’s when everything came into focus for me, because I met with Jon in Jerry’s office and I said I was a little apprehensive it, I wasn’t sure if it was too far fetched. But they said the very thing I was worried about was what would make it exciting, because he’s audacious, he’s bold and he gets to wear a tuxedo.
It all came into focus, you give yourself over to the ride, to the fun of the movie and try not to take it too literally. Just get caught up in the adventure of it.

Q. Given the success of this in the States and books such as The Da Vinci Code, which tackle similar themes, what do you think is the appeal of these kind of stories at the moment?
A:
I think this is just something that’s happening in the culture round the world. But the genesis of this was seven years ago, so it’s even before things like The Da Vinci Code, so there must be something in the cultural zeitgeist that people are interested in codes and possible conspiracies, more interested in the mystery perhaps.

Q. How similar is your character to yourself in terms of his ability to problem solve? Do you possess the same skills, especially when it comes to determining what roles to take?
A:
I’m not a very good problem solver, so I don’t think I shared much of an ability there with Ben Gates. I do know how to turn a negative into a positive. I’ve been doing that all my life, but the way I approach characters is – first and foremost – I try to stay stimulated. I never want to get too comfortable in anything I’m doing.
I see myself as very much a student of acting, and I always see the chance to grow in some way. I’ve taken chances that have been uncomfortable for me, and I think at times for audiences, and I think that’s a good thing.
Even my idea to go into action adventure was uncomfortable in the beginning, but it’s something that’s kept me on my toes. As long as I stay fresh with it. If I can stay interested – and I have – then I think I can keep audiences interested as well.

Q. Is the action stuff getting easier, despite getting older, because you're such an old master of it?
A:
Yeah, I think so. I guess even though I am a student like I said I feel a bit more seasoned. I feel like I can get from A to B without having to torture myself as much as I did when I was 17-years-old.

Q. And was part of the appeal of this film getting to work with these co-stars?
A:
I think Sean Bean is a great actor, and I can also say that he’s a gentleman, a decent man. He can kick my ass at billiards any day of the week. He’s been to my house and done it.
What I like about our relationship in the movie is that you can see that these are two people who have a shared interest in history. They are intelligent characters and they can talk, they can communicate with one another. It’s sort of a bittersweet friendship when it turns awry.
You can see in Ian’s eyes that he doesn’t want to have to kill Ben Gates, and vice versa when we’re on the opposite sides of the fence I tried to play it like there was still an interest in the map and retain that enthusiasm.
The same goes for Diane, her character is one who shares a mutual fascination with history. That’s so unusual for an adventure film, the idea that you’re playing characters who are enthusiastic for something that’s not normally in them.
It becomes infectious, hopefully. And that’s why I think this movie is great for the whole family.
She’s a great actress, she’s a lot of fun to work with, beautiful obviously but more than that she’s charismatic. She has a playfulness about her which is nutty, like I am, so we had a lot of off the wall jokes off the set as well as on it.
That kind of energy translates to the film, and hopefully to the audience. We kept it playful. We went to New Orleans with Justin Bartha, and we’d go down to Koreatown in Los Angeles and karaoke, and do things like that just to keep it loose. That fit into Jon’s vision, to keep it like a confection, with a lighter touch the way the great old stars used to do.

Q. Your career choices are very eclectic and you seem to be able to jump from blockbusters such as this to indie movies such as Adaptation? Is that something you've always sought to do, and what helps you to decide?
A:
I have very eclectic tastes, and I have to say that both types of films are organic in me, they’re part of my chemistry. I grew up watching adventure movies. Charles Bronson was a hero, Bruce Lee, Clint Eastwood, and I would fantasise that I was in those movies when I was a boy.
Then as I got older I discovered James Dean and De Niro and I wanted to be that kind of an actor, so I tried to find my way. But the truth is I have very eclectic tastes, I don’t have an identity, I think my identity is that I don’t have an identity. I don’t want to be put in a box – I need to stay uncomfortable, I need to stay challenged to keep interested.
And that means that I like to go from an adventure film and there’s no-one who makes them better than Jerry, which isn’t to say that’s all he makes. The four times I’ve worked with Jerry I’ve been very comfortable, because he gets the best people in the business to write and sculpt the material.
He has very independently-spirited taste with actors, and he encourages actors to explore their characters and allows you as a partner to bring ideas to the table. So when you take someone who has an organic and honest vision, which happens to also appeal to many people, and you combine that with actors who have unpredictable and unusual tastes you get a pretty unique spark.
So to answer the question, I feel like I’m allowed to explore and challenge all the characters, whether it’s in an adventure film or in a smaller, independently driven movie where the characters are perhaps more uncomfortable, dealing with more difficult subject matter. It just keeps me fresh, keeps me interested. And both are honest.

Q. Which of those action movies have you enjoyed working on the most?
A:
I’m not one who likes to compare movies, I had good experiences on all three. I had a lovely relationship with Sean Connery, we got along great. But on this one specifically, I had a terrific time working with Diane and Justin [Bartha]. And I also had a chance to work with Jon Voight and Harvey Keitel, two actors who have inspired me and contributed to my ultimate decision about becoming a film actor. So each and every one of these experiences I’ve learned from, and had a good time with.

Q. Is this is a film that speaks to the times we live in now? And is it likely to stimulate an interest at home in American history?
A:
I can’t pretend to know what other people are going to be stimulated in or not, but I think one of the things that comes to mind immediately is that this is a world treasure. My character says it belongs in the Cairo Museum, the Louvre, it belongs to the world. So it is an international treasure, and that’s something people have picked up on when I’ve done interviews in Spain and Rome and now in London.
There are clues in the movie which are based on American history, which are fascinating in themselves. I like to think that people around the world will be interested in that. Like what is the all seeing eye doing on the dollar bill? And what are these mysterious symbolic images?
I certainly think that people have responded to it in such a way that it certainly does work in these times we live in.
Turteltaub: Also, what made this film different from other treasure map films is that it takes place in our times. Most adventure films take place in the past, looking for treasure from the past. The Da Vinci Code is present day I think, so maybe it’s more about the fact that we are looking to history and finding answers from history to the problems we’re facing today.

Q. On the subject of National Treasure, you seem to be wearing some of your own on your fingers. Can you tell us about those rings?
A:
[Laughs] I just like them. This is a Carnellian stone, they’re not expensive but they’re supposed to do incredible things for your sex drive.
So all the men, forget about the Viagra, get into the Carnellian. You can get them anywhere. It’s a nice looking stone. I’m interested in that, in my sex drive and in stones.

Q. Of the upcoming projects you are most associated with, can you let us know about the status of Ghost Rider and Wicker Man?
A:
I had a very successful conversation last night with Neil LaBute, who is the writer and director of The Wicker Man. It’s something that I think may happen very quickly.
Ghost Rider is a project that I’ve been linked to for about four years now it seems. I love the character, I think he’s a fascinating character, complex.
As far as superhero films go, cinematically he’s going to be the most interesting character ever in a movie. He’s cinematically the most natural fit. But it’s still something we’re talking about.

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