With “The Croods,” an animated family film from DreamWorks (our review here), premiering at the Berlin International Film Festival, lead voice actor Nicolas Cage was in town over the weekend, and we got to speak with him in a small group of journalists. About the experience of working on the film itself (“It’s like ‘Avatar’ meets ‘Yellow Submarine’ with these people who look like Neanderthals” he summed up) he had nothing but good things to say: “I feel like this is the best chance I’ve had to perform in an animated movie.” But he was also frank and forthcoming about other areas of his working life.
While some of his recent film choices have smacked of cash grabs necessitated by his fairly public financial troubles, the Cage we met was adamant that he stood by all his “experiments,” but also that, much to the anticipation of fans like us, he is right now steering his career in a new direction, that should hopefully see fewer derivative thrillers, and more work with the auteurs he admires. The conversation ranged far and wide, from future projects, real and potential to an overview of his approach to his career to date (and it does all seem to have been part of a plan), to the actors who excite him today, to the films of his that he believes have been the most wilfully misunderstood. Here are a few things we learned.
His next film, David Gordon Green’s “Joe” marks a return to darker material after the family friendliness of “The Croods.”
Nicolas Cage: Last night I had dinner and David Gordon Green came by, and we just did something together called “Joe.” And there was Jeffrey Katzenberg [of DreamWorks] who has entertained the world with these very positive and artistic and colorful movies and there we are together and I said to Jeffrey, “I think David and I just made one of the darkest dramas that might come out next year.” And Jeffrey’s like “Oh, you went dark again?” I love that dichotomy, that diversity. I have been blessed to be able to play both sides of the coin.
When we spoke to David Gordon Green earlier this year, he described “Joe” as “Nicolas Cage in a movie that’s not like anything Nicolas Cage has done before.” What does Cage make of this?
NC: Well, I haven’t seen the movie yet. I hope it is, and I’m sure he is right, my feeling is that David is an original and he is free as an artist. I loved “Prince Avalanche” [which won DGG Best Director in Berlin]. I thought it was just a remarkable film with just two actors… and I sometimes I didn’t even know why I loved it so much I just did. I think David had a vision of me for this movie, and he’s a young, enthusiastic artist who knew what to do with me and I think he found a new way of reinventing me. So if he’s says it’s a Nicolas Cage movie that Nicolas Cage has never made before… I’m excited.
In fact, Cage believes youth and freshness are valuable commodities in a director.
NC: I love enthusiastic, adventuresome filmmakers, not that older filmmakers can’t be that -- they can. I think Werner [Herzog] and I worked well together on ‘Bad Lieutenant’ and I have some excitement about possibly doing something with some of my other heroes, but by and large the younger ones are the ones that haven’t had their dreams kicked out of them yet, and they’re still willing to take the chances.
[Later he talks about the upcoming “Tokarev” in these terms]
[Director Paco Cabezas is] another young, enthusiastic filmmaker who isn’t afraid to take chances. The movie of his that I saw was very brave with the storytelling and the camerawork, and I think he has an original vision. What’s frustrating about the internet is they judge a movie before they even know what it’s about, but the thing is there are elements in [“Tokarev”] that are very relevant today, especially in my country, and I don’t want to get into that because it would give it away, but there is something about the movie that I think is relevant to society.
Cage’s erratic, eccentric career path has been a result of wanting to challenge himself, and now he’s taking things in a new direction.
NC: If you look at the work carefully, there’s a ‘Bad Lieutenant’ and then there’s a “Knowing.” And there’s a “Lord of War” and a “National Treasure”…I’m always trying to make things eclectic. It’s just that now I want to really go back to my roots and reinvent myself again, and go back to “Leaving Las Vegas” or “Vampire’s Kiss” and do these smaller, independently spirited dramatic movies. That’s the direction I want to really zero in on right now.
I stand by my work, I like all my experiments, I like “Season of the Witch,” I like “Drive Angry,” these are all opportunities for me to explore and not get trapped in one style… But I do also like the dramatic work of the past and I want to go back to that too and maybe put that more at the forefront. A few years ago it was horror, and that’s what I wanted at the forefront, now I wanna go back. I’d like to do a Paul Schrader movie or another movie with Werner, I’d like to dig deep with David Gordon Green or Scott Walker of [the upcoming] "Frozen Ground." It would still be a reinvention anyway, even though it’s a return, because what would it be like now for me at 49?
One of the reasons why I frustrate critics is because they don’t know what to do with me. I don’t get stuck, I actively go against it. When I won the Oscar I made a point of actively going against that and doing adventure films like “Con Air” and “Gone in 60 Seconds,” not what would be expected….I’ve been very blessed to get the roles that I wanna play and to be in movies that coincide in some way with my interests.