Interview By: Rocco Passafuime
Over his 25+ year career, Nicolas Cage has seemingly done it all from comedies (Raising Arizona, Moonstruck), dramas (his Oscar-winning performance in Leaving Las Vegas), action (Con Air, Face/Off, The Rock, 8mm) to even horror and exploitation (the Grindhouse fake trailer Werewolf Women Of The S.S.). And with every new genre, he has showed himself as one of Hollywood’s heavyweights in acting with always intense, focused performances.
Now Cage takes his skill to the more overlooked genre of science fiction in the new thriller Knowing. The 45 year-old actor first discussed with us what has made him embrace the genre at this point in his career.
“Well, good science-fiction is intelligent, it asks big questions that is on people’s minds. It’s not impossible,” Nicolas explains, “It has some sort of root in the abstract, so automatically, you are getting closer to more potentially divine sources of interest, because it’s abstract. And it’s one of the only ways a film actor can express himself in the abstract and have audiences still go along for the ride. They don’t contend it, they accept it, they’re going to go places that are a bit more of the imagination or out there. And that’s more and more where I like to dance. The other thing is I got a little tired of movies where I had to shoot people. I got to thinking about the power of films and what is that power is in the fact that it really can change people’s minds.”
“And I had that experience with The China Syndrome, it made me aware,” he continues, “So I thought if it is this powerful, the power to change people’s minds, then perhaps I should just be a little more responsible with that power. And that’s not to say I don’t believe in freedom of speech, I do. It’s just that at this point in my life, in my interests, I would rather entertain
However, Nicolas says what ultimately motivated him to do Knowing was the chance to work with director/screenwriter Alex Proyas.
“Just that, without coloring your own opinion or personal connection with the movie, that I had gone through various thought processes at the time that the script came to me, where I felt that I was in sync with Alex and with the story,” he says, “It was one of those rare opportunities where I felt the filmmaker and myself were completely on the same page. Philosophically and in terms of style, Alex is an artist. He is an original and he can make a movie look beautifully designed in a way that has a signature, his signature. But having said that, we both agreed that the characters should be almost cinema verite. They should be almost like a documentary style to the performances so that it would make the experiences more terrifying and perhaps even more visceral for you in some way.”
“Alex is the sort of the director that is open to suggestions and makes you feel comfortable and relaxed enough to be able to create,” Cage adds, “It’s quite liberating and he was open to various ideas. He has this enormous capacity to design shots and design effects in a way that you know it’s him that’s doing it. They look beautiful. They’re also scary and they have his signature. It’s like a painter from any era of painting. He has the same abilities. He has an original voice and I don’t think he’s copying anything else.”
Cage claims though that the research needed for him to play
“As you may know, I grew up with a professor, so that’s all the research I really needed. It’s just my own recall of what that experience was like. Quantum physics is hard,” Nicolas claims.
However, he says another aspect of the character that hit close to his home was his being a single father.
“Well, I dedicate the movie to my first son because that’s what the relationship was, really, me and him,” Cage says, “It was those experiences that I had as a single father. I just have memories and the script came to me at the right time. I had the life experience and the emotional resources to play John Koestler and indeed, some of the lines came out of direct memories of my times with Weston. I had been looking for a way to express those feelings for a long time.”
“I don’t think I would have been able to play the part twenty years ago,” he adds, “I know a single father out in California, that there is a gender bias with every psychiatrist and every family lawyer that when a full moon is out, the father wants to see his son and that’s just not true. Fathers, just because they are men, doesn’t mean they can’t raise their kid. I think families should stay together, but if you are a single father, you don’t give up no matter what they say. So I wanted to have a chance to express that, to show that archetype in a movie that you can have a devoted, positive relationship between a father and a son.”
Cage says he was able to bring life to his character’s role as a single father through his on-screen chemistry with Chandler Canterbury, who plays John Koestler’s son in the film.
“Chandler has this enormous depth for his years and he’s so truthful and it seems effortless,” Nicolas believes, “Often you hear stories
Equally as intense was Nicolas’s chemistry on-screen with Australian actress Rose Byrne, who plays Diane Whelhan in the film.
“It was refreshing to have a movie that did not have to resort to love triangles or broken hearts, to have an extremely talented actress play something other than those notes,” he says, “Because it’s only fair that actresses get the same shots at playing complex characters as actors do. And Rose is very serious about the work. She’s a real craftsman. That accent is flawless. I couldn’t believe that she’s Australian.”
“She had a very pronounced Australian accent, so that in itself shows you the level of technique and also the willingness to go to places with me that were perhaps more surprising again,” Cage continues, “She didn’t know quite where I would go, but I felt it was important to get that spontaneity and she went along with it, so she’s got a lot of guts, also Chandler Canterbury. Both those actors, the movie wouldn’t work without them because they were phenomenally real.”
The central story of Knowing deals with a father/son relationship in the midst of a possible apocalypse. When asked about whether the film’s message had any impact on him personally, Cage claims what matters most is what individual audience members take away from the film.
“Well, first of all, any opinion that I give is not as important as the public’s opinion,” Nicolas believes, “The public’s opinion is what matters to me, so whatever it is they took from the movie, that opinion is absolutely correct. Any awakenings I may
“I never would have been in that situation before if I wasn’t making movies,” he adds, “It was dangerous, but at the same time, it was fascinating. And it got me thinking about the third rail, the awesome third rail. And so, one of the great bonuses of being a film actor is that I can go to different places and meet inspiring people and learn different things. So all those details add up. But again, with Knowing, I already kind of sorted through philosophies I wanted to or needed to come to terms with before the movie came to me.”
Nicolas also shared with us his belief for why Knowing is a movie worth seeing in a currently perilous economic crisis.
“You can be entertained and you can also be stimulated to think about things,” he says, “And Knowing is one of those movies where you’re going to get the spectacle and you’re going to have the entertainment in the grand science fiction tradition, but also, it will stimulate some discussion to help you sort out on your own where you choose to go in terms of your own needs. Now I say that without preaching or anything like that, it’s up to the audience what they get from the movie.”
Cage is sure to offer plenty of excitement in film during these tough times with plenty of upcoming films he’s involved in that he’s shared with us.
“Well, I have a movie called Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans coming out. Werner Herzog
“We haven’t started filming it yet, but I’d like to say that the take is it’s going to entertain you,” Nicolas continues, “The sorcerer’s going to be good, but there’s going to be moments where he’s going to be a little mysterious and a little perhaps scary to look at. But there’s going to be a lot of fantasy and there’s going to be some amazing effects. I’m working with Jay Baruchel and he’s fantastic. I can tell already we’re going to have a lot of laughs. I can feel it.”
Nicolas even described for us his memories of the legendary Walt Disney masterpiece musical anthology Fantasia that the story, as a Mickey Mouse cartoon, was famous from.
“Wonder and enchantment, awe,” Cage recalls, “It was my first real introduction to classical music and it was married to this beautiful, lifelike animated sequences of dinosaurs and ogres and gargoyles. It was just totally inspiring to me. It’s kind of a big moment for me to be able to play that part.”
While on the subject of Disney, we asked Cage whether or not there was any progress being made in a second sequel to his popular Disney franchise National Treasure.
“Yeah, I’m hopeful,” he replies, “Those movies make a lot of people happy and I don’t know yet where it will go or what the story will be because the auspices are all right here and right now working on The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. There was some talk about maybe going into the South.”
One thing is clear though regarding Nicolas Cage’s career and where it’s currently going: don’t expect him to get off his science-fiction and fantasy kick anytime soon as he’s having a great time with it
“I feel that I want to keep going in this science-fiction and fantasy direction a little while longer because I think there’s some room there for growth in my abilities in that I’ll be a little more liberated working in that landscape,” Nicolas says, ” So I’m happy to be here now. I don’t know of any other genres that I’m interested in.”
“I like dramas, as you know,” he adds, “Comedies, not so much, only because I don’t find the same things funny that many other people seem to might like. I don’t really respond to sex jokes or anything like that, so my friends look at me and go, ‘Come on, Nic! That was my best joke! Why are you not laughing?’ and I’m like ‘I don’t know why I’m not laughing.’ I’m sort of out-of-sync with it, so I have to really find something about the weirdest human behavior for me to laugh.”