The Establishing Shot: Nicolas Cage talks Ghost Rider & comics with us, he sets the record straight on his comic obsession, lets us know his favourite comics & favourite film, reveals secrets behind the Ghost Rider as well as no regrets about Tim Burton’s Superman, ideas for a Wicker Man sequel and much, much, much more


Posted by Craig Grobler on Google+ On Monday, February 20, 2012

Ghost Rider Spirit of VengeanceA couple of weeks ago I went along to the Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance Press conference. I went mainly to get a better understanding of Nicolas Cage the man behind the tabloid headlines whose films have made close to £3 Billion and hopefully get the chance to talk comics and films with the actor.

During the 30 minute discussion which included some baiting and frankly bizarre questions asked of Nicolas Cage I did indeed get some of the way to understanding the man - as well as talk comics with Cage.

Since watching Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (my review of which can be found over here!) and this press conference my enthusiasm for some of Marvel's less well known and older original comic titles from it’s Curtis brand imprint has been reinvigorated and I have set about scouring London's comic shops and online auctioneers for titles like; Deadly Hands of Kung Fu, Doc Savage, Kull and the Barbarians, Monsters of the Movies, Rampaging Hulk and Savage Sword of Conan.  All classic stuff that never carried the Comics Code Authority seal and has subsequently been forgotten. But there is a wealth of imagination and untapped source material waiting to be re-discovered and hopefully with time permitting over the months I’ll post about some of the titles I find.

Although Nicolas Cage did not jump on the table shouting LULU as I was hoping - he came across as a dedicated professional, who takes his work very seriously and throws himself wholeheartedly into every project he is involved in - as is with the case of  Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance  showing in cinemas now. Cage was surprisingly open and frank about many aspects of his career and the making of Ghost Rider: Spirit of VengeanceNicolas Cage was very entertaining and had the room laughing out loud on more than one occasion - so it probably worth noting that some of the comments below may read a bit strange or off the wall when removed out of the context of the fairly jovial atmosphere of the room that they were made in.

The Establishing Shot: Nicolas Cage at The Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance Press Conference – London
Craig Grobler: Mr. Cage as we know, you are a comic fan and collector, can you tell us some of your favourite comic characters?
Nicolas Cage: Firstly, there may be a bit of a misperception about my love of comics - blowing it out of proportion, Yes, I am loyal to them and like Rosebud in Citizen Kane I love the influences of my childhood but I’m not up at 4 in the morning with a stack of Spider-Man comics with milk and cookies.  

Now we’ve got graphic novels for adults but I have always liked the monsters like The Hulk I feel bad for him or I at least did when I was a child. Doctor Strange, The Silver Surfer and Batman. Those were the character. The ones a little scary to look at and also had some edge.

Chris Hewitt: So Batman aside you are very much a Marvel guy?

Nicolas Cage: Yes. I would say that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby had the biggest effect on my childhood. 

Craig Grobler: As a comic fan I have been horribly disappointed over the years with big screen adaptations of comics but this Ghost Rider gets the character so right and is one of the best adaptations of a character I have seen, particularly the Ghost Riders mysterious movements. Without demystifying your methods could you explore your inspiration behind the Ghost Riders movements?
Earlier Nicolas Cage had said: I remember the movement of cobras. At one point in my neighbourhood I had a couple of them. The the neighbours didn't like it so I gave them to a zoo. But I would study these cobras and how they would move back and forth in a rhythmic motion. On the back of the snake was the pattern of an eye, like an occult eye, and it would try to hypnotise me and when it felt it had hypnotised me, it would strike. So I thought 'why doesn't the Ghost Rider move like that, with that sort of hypnotic, rhythmic motion?' 

Then there was something else I saw in a Trent Reznor video, where he was levitating and revolving in circles, so I said - so why don't we have the Ghost Rider levitate and revolve in circles. We called it the compass where he would find his next victim and then attack. So a lot of thought went into it and a lot of imagination and improvisation; sometimes I would talk in what I thought was a Norse dialogue or some sort of Enochian angel speak or something - who knows what was coming out of me, but it was a fun experiment.

Nicolas Cage: Well look, the key is to be enigmatic. My favourite movie is 2001: A Space Odyssey because it doesn’t answer all the questions and it keeps you guessing. That’s what gives movies, or a performance, a greater shelf life. So, I don’t want to answer specifically what those gestures mean. But I will tell you that both the directors saw Ghost Rider as an ancient Egyptian Pharaoh of sorts. So I hope that helps. But even that I shouldn’t have said. I shouldn’t have said anything about the Cobras!

Chris Hewitt: So no DVD commentary then?

Nicolas Cage: I try to avoid those at all times.

Nicolas Cage on what the Ghost Rider means to him
Nicolas Cage: I felt I had more to say with Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. Ghost Rider was a character that had an enormous influence on my childhood. I was eight when I discovered Ghost Rider and in fact I had the very first comic. I would stare at that picture of that cover and I couldn't get my head around how something so terrifying to look at, who was in fact using forces of evil, could also be considered good. How is this a superhero? So it was like my first philosophical awakening - here's a character that's literally inspired by Goethe and this is a Faustian contract.

The Establishing Shot: 1973 Ghost Rider Issue #1 by Craig Grobler

But of course it's really all just a metaphor; this movie isn't sanctimonious at all, it's about pop art, it's about having fun, it's about going along for the ride.

But in my opinion a deal with the devil happens every day. Everyone sells their soul everyday. So for me the movie and that character is just a metaphor for life, and if you want to compete in this day and age where every other movie is a comic book movie you have to provide an alternative, and Ghost Rider does that.

Nicolas Cage on playing both the roles of Johnny Blaze and The Ghost Rider in Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
Nicolas Cage: It was an opportunity to experiment with movement and with my state of mind - to really believe I was this character. It was actually Brian Taylor who had the idea for me to do that, he was an enormous advocate of it.
The first thing I said was can I wear a mask so as not to feel totally ridiculous as I would walk on the set and play this part?
There is a writer named Brian Bates, who wrote a book called The Way of Wyrd and as well as The Way of the Actor. In that book he put forth the notion that all actors whether they know it or not come from a long distant pre Christian past of medicine men and shamans. These shamans would do is go into an altered state of consciousness to try and find answers and solutions for the village people. In this day and age this person would be considered psychotic. But when you think about - it was a way of channelling the imagination to either talk with spirits to give answers to the village.

So, they would wear masks, or they would gather objects that had some magical relevance, and so I thought, well I’m dealing with this supernatural character why don’t I try a little bit of that and see what happens? So, I would paint my face with black and white make-up, so it looked like a skull, like some sort of Afro-Caribbean voodoo icon, or a New Orleans voodoo icon by the name of Baron Samedi, or Baron Saturday, who looks like a skeleton but he’s very finely dressed. He’s the spirit of death. He’s also a spirit that loves children and he’s a very lusty kind of voodoo icon.

Ghost Rider Spirit of Vengeance
Image: Brian Taylor & Nicolas Cage filming Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance - pic from http://www.cinecomics.fr/

So, I would paint my face and I would put black contact lenses in my eyes to look more like a skull, so you couldn’t see any pupils or any white in the eyes, and I would sew some ancient Egyptian artefacts into my costume, get some rocks that had alleged frequencies to who knows if it works or not

Ghost Rider Spirit of Vengeance

Image: Mark Neveldine & Nicolas Cage on the set of Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance - pic from http://www.cinecomics.fr/

But the point is it stimulated my imagination to think I really was this character. And then I would walk on the set projecting this kind of aura of horror and I would see in the eyes of my co-stars they would light up. The fear was there and it was just like oxygen to a fire. And that led me to believe that maybe I really was this spirit of vengeance. The problem is if you have a Christmas party in Romania and you’re shooting until 2am and you’re invited to go to the Christmas party and some Schnapps is involved, and you’re still in character, all hell can break loose and it did. I’m lucky I’m not in a Romanian prison.

Nicolas Cage on regret about not playing Superman
Nicolas Cage: None. The only regret that I have is to have not worked with Tim Burton, I hope that some day we will work together because I know it will be special. As for that particular character I have no regrets, I think Ghost Rider is a far better match for me.

Tim Burton Superman
Image: Mold suit of Nic Cage in Superman Lives costume for Tim Burton’s unmade movie - pic from http://screenrant.com/

Nicolas Cage on working with the genre cast of Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
Nicolas Cage: Idris Elba and I hit it off. Idris is someone I consider a friend.I like him as a person, we had some good conversations. I admire his film presence - he's got a larger than life presence that was interesting to me. So we had a good connection.

Mark and Brian have a great appreciation for all things cinema and they really know their movies. They did all the casting; Christopher Lambert, Ciarán Hinds. How brilliant to cast those two and Ciarán in the Rome series - so to think of him as the devil, to me is very inspired. I was lucky to work with Violante Placido and also Johnny Whitworth is, what can I say? He’s Johnny Whitworth! He’s full of surprises!

Nicolas Cage on Mark Neveldine & Brian Taylor’s directing style
Nicolas Cage: They're daredevils. They're literally risking their lives to entertain you. You have Neveldine with a camera in one hand and a motorcycle in the other on roller blades being pulled at like 60 miles an hour to get a shot and - at any moment he could break his neck. Or flying off a cliff with a wire and a camera where he could collide into Idris’ stunt man - they're the only guys doing it.

Video: The Establishing Shot: Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance Behind The Scenes Featurette

There are a lot of young poetic filmmakers out there, but only Mark and Brian are poetic and risking their lives. It's like daredevil extreme sports film-making and you have to give them credit for that.

Nicolas Cage on Mark Neveldine & Brian Taylor trying to cast him as Chev Chelios in Crank
Nicolas Cage: I never even heard about it. But I can’t imagine that movie without Jason Statham in it. That’s his part and he should be the only one to do that.

Nicolas Cage on playing other comic book character films
Nicolas Cage: Well - I don’t want to play any other comic book characters.

Ghost Rider Spirit of Vengeance
Image: Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance

Nicolas Cage on the progress of adapting Voodoo Child the comic he has created with his son Weston 
Nicolas Cage: Voodoo Child would be great to see either as a TV series or a movie. I’ve tried and tried to get that to happen and talked to different directors who seem interested and then suddenly aren’t interested. So, I don’t know where that’s going to land.

Nicolas Cage on choosing roles
Nicolas Cage: Well the anti-hero role choice is probably largely to do with Ghost Rider and that influence. Looking at my filmography you are right to point out that I am attracted to characters that have some obstacle to overcome whether internal or external because to me that’s drama, that’s the human experience we all have that but within that I’m attracted to characters that allow me to realise my more surrealistic and abstract dreams for film acting.

I believe in art synthesise I think that acting need be no different than painting or music.
If you can get very outside the box - or as critics like to say over the top - in a Francis Bacon painting, why can't you do it in a movie? But In order to do that as an actor, you have to find characters that provide an engine to have that behaviour make sense within the context of the movie. So I'm attracted to characters like, Terrence in Bad Lieutenant – his drug habit s allowed me to make those sounds and those moves and do crazy things with old ladies and hand guns. 

In Ghost Rider you see my face morphing into a skull and there's pain in that so I can do things like [the demon] scraping at the door, scraping at the door and make those notes come to life.

So I look for characters that allow me to realise my more surreal and abstract dreams in cinema.

Ghost Rider Spirit of Vengeance
Image: Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
Nicolas Cage on physically demanding roles and stunt work
Nicolas Cage: I feel that I have to jump in when I’m doing a movie that has a high level of risk. The odd thing with me - which you might notice with all the caffeine here is that it calms me down. Caffeine makes me go the other way. It relaxed me. I can meet all of you and feel very comfortable with you because I drank a Red Bull.

 If someone puts a bit of fire on me or asks me to drive extremely fast in a car chase everything slows down and it gets my mind off of everything else - emotional, whatever baggage may be happening. It all goes away and I relax. So, I like doing stunts.

This movie, though, I knew with Mark and Brian that it would be a whole other level of extremity with the stunts because their motto is if you break a bone that shot is going in the movie. So, I was like – OK! this is different, but my way of handling it was to say give me more. With everything if I’m working with a director who likes to do a lot of takes, I’ll say give me more. I’m not happy with 20 takes, let’s do 40! It’s my way of psychologically reversing that.

Previously I’ve had two concussions. It’s funny because in American Football they say things like - if you get two concussions in six months you’re out of the game. And I did have two concussions in six months working stunts on two movies with the same company. Thankfully, I’m OK. One of them was ridiculous and should never have happened. An actor was really just in his moment and he grabbed my head and he smashed it on the marble floor and then I just couldn’t speak right for a couple of days and things were very dizzy for me. But I’m OK. It was just an unfortunate accident and it wasn’t even a stunt or meant to be a stunt.

There were moments for example with Mark Neveldine the inevitable dinner conversation where he’d say - Well, Nic we can’t have you doing that stunt because we need to finish the movie. I know you’ll do it if I ask you, so please don’t. So, we’re going to have to let Rick English - who I do want to give a lot of credit to. 

He’s one of your countrymen and he’s a mystic on a motorcycle, an acrobat. I don’t know how he does what he does, but he does the endo the stunt whether you get the whole bike on the front or the back and he can spin it with a child on the bike and nobody gets hurt. He’s a poet on two wheels.

The Establishing Shot: Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance Trailer

Nicolas Cage on playing biographical roles
Nicolas Cage: Not that I wouldn’t - but generally my instinct is not to do biographical movies. I want to build characters and not be locked into playing a part in history. For me what’s interesting is creating somebody and introducing you to that person. I don’t want to play other people that you know, per se.

Nicolas Cage on the motorcycles of Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance and bike riding
Nicolas Cage: The truth is I was blessed to work with a Yamaha V-Max. I’m not a sponsor for Yamaha, I don’t have a contract with Yamaha, but I have had my experiences on several different motorcycles and they’re the best because if you think something that you want the bike to do, it’ll happen. 

So, I could go impossibly fast on that motorcycle and tell it to stop safely and it will. I totally trusted that motorcycle. I never got hurt. Now, my insurance today tells me that I’m not allowed to ride motorcycles in my own life, so I have to do it when I’m working. I’m legally unable to ride motorcycles. It’s a contract that I have with my life insurance, so whenever I get a chance to do a movie and ride a bike I go for it.

Nicolas Cage on Wicker Man references in Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance and the return of The Wicker Man
Nicolas Cage: Oh, now I never thought of it that way! But I do have fantasies of doing another Wicker Man, having another go at it, but this time I want to take it to Japan. Get your head around that one! 

Chris Hewitt: Weren't you slightly burnt at the end?

Nicolas Cage: Yes! I’m going to have to re-think of all of it. But in Japan, they make great ghost stories, so we could do a great ghost story out of The Wicker Man.

Nicolas Cage on whether he is insane or not or rather his response to Idris Elba saying Cage is funny and gracious and Brian Taylor saying Cage seems insane.
Nicolas Cage: Well, I think Brian also said - but there’s a method to his madness - in that particular quote. Seems like a lunatic?

Well, first of all thank you Idris. The thing is that I play characters, largely because of what I said earlier about finding characters where I can realise my surreal dreams in film acting. I’m not insane, Damon Macready from Kick-Ass is insane. He’s the one who is 48-years-old and dresses up like Batman and goes out and tries to seek vengeance. He’s the one that probably watched a lot of Adam West and tried to talk like him. Not me.

That’s a character. I don’t do that in my life!  I’m attracted to characters who are different, who are flawed and I love them for it. That’s what I find interesting as a movie-goer.

Nicolas Cage on supernatural happenings taking place in Romania (Yea! Some one actually asked) and the general experience of filming Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance in Romania
Nicolas Cage: If you mean anything outside the realm of the natural occurred while filming the Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. No nothing like that happened.

The were a lot stray dogs everywhere, just running around, and I didn't know where they came from or where they were going to go.I would near them at night and it was impossible not to think of Bram Stoker and the Children of the Night howling at the moon as the dogs were barking. 

So Romania was kind of a spooky, cool place to make the movie, and the fact that the alleged Vlad Tepes’ castle was there just added to the charm of that. To ride my motorcycle out there and to be around all those scary energies but beautiful, just stimulated for making this kind of a movie.

Ghost Rider Spirit of Vengeance
Image: Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
Nicolas Cage on 3D
Nicolas Cage: I see 3D as a tool to be used when it suits the character or the storyline. I think it’s not something that you should use all the time; it’s just another paintbrush to work with and Ghost Rider is a character that I think matches well with 3D because the chain can go near the audience, and the fire and the motorcycles and all that I wanted to see with Spirit of Vengeance.

Nicolas Cage on the Directors that have influenced him
Nicolas Cage: I think that they all had enormous affects on me. But because I started acting at such a young age I began as a 15-year-old, which makes me a child actor of sorts, I’ve been doing it for 33 years, which is hard to believe at this point.

Because I started so young I think some of the filmmakers that I worked with at a young age had a bigger effect on me because my mind was still learning and it was still impressionable. So, I would say David Lynch, Martha Coolidge on Valley Girl, they had enormous effects on me. Yeah, those two come to mind.

Nicolas Cage on how important fun is
Nicolas Cage:  I think you have to have fun and that’s going back to what David Lynch once told me as one of my influences. It’s very important to have fun while making a movie because if you’re not, then the audience won’t. With something like Ghost Rider, which is in no way meant to be a sanctimonious thing that everything’s going to forget about, it’s got to be fun, it’s got to make you have fun with it. So, the only way to do that is if you’re having fun. I mean, it sounds trite and I've probably said too much again but it is essential.

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance is in cinemas today Fri 17 February 2012.

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
Renowned stunt motorcycle rider Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage) did a deal with the devil that saw him transformed into the legendary vigilante known as The Ghost Rider.

Now in an attempt to keep his soul sucking alter ego at bay, Blaze has isolated himself in the remotest of locations, but, when Moreau, a spirited monk (Idris Elba) implores him to save a young boy from the devil himself (Ciarán Hinds), Blaze must put aside his reluctance to bring out the Ghost Rider in order to face his own demons and possibly rid himself of the curse forever.

From the writers/directors of Crank, Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, comes the adrenaline filled GHOST RIDER SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE, loaded with action and incredible 3D special effects.

Based on the Marvel comic book and a story by David S. Goyer (The Dark Knight Rises, Man of Steel), GHOST RIDER SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE IN 3D sees Nicolas Cage return as Johnny Blaze alongside British talent Idris Elba (Thor), Ciarán Hinds (The Debt), Christopher Lambert (Highlander), Johnny Whitworth (Limitless), Violante Placido (The American) and introducing Fergus Riordan.

The Establishing Shot: Nicolas Cage talks Ghost Rider & comics with us, he sets the record straight on his comic obsession, lets us know his favourite comics & favourite film, reveals secrets behind the Ghost Rider as well as no regrets about Tim Burton’s Superman, ideas for a Wicker Man sequel and much, much, much more

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