Nicolas Cage is mad as hell and he’s not going to take it anymore. The dedicated and sometimes eccentric star appears in a new film opening this weekend called Drive Angry 3D. The title pretty much sums up the premise of the film, which centers on a hardened ex-con hell bent on finding and killing the man who murdered his daughter and kidnapped his grandchild. We recently had the opportunity to attend the Los Angeles press day for the movie, where Cage spoke openly about his love of fast cars, stunts, guns, and more importantly poetry. Yes, the Oscar winner never ceases to amaze. Check out our interview…
What were your initial thoughts on the script, what attracted you?
Nicolas Cage: Well, initially what I was attracted to was the idea that I was going to get my eye shot out. For the movie Season of the Witch, I wanted to get my eye shot out with a bow and arrow, and the producers didn’t go for it. So when Patrick Lussier said to me and just handed to me on a silver platter you’re going to get your eye shot out in a movie, I don’t know why but I just immediately said yes, I’m in.
I was also uncomfortable with the script and I was just going through this phase in my life where I learned that if something makes you uncomfortable or fearful in any way, within reason that’s exactly what you should confront. So it was an experiment on that level that I should confront the violence in the movie because it had been a long time since I’d made a violent movie. It occurred to me that violence is for better or worse necessary, it is part of the human condition and that we all have violent thoughts within us and go through frustration and anger when someone we love is hurt. So I thought why not make a character that could help us express those feelings vicariously rather than go and do it somewhere in real life. Thankfully, most of us don’t act out on our violence but we go to movies because it’s part of life. A character like Milton helps express that.
What kind of challenges did the 3D present to you as an actor? Also, how does it enhance your professional skills?
NC: Well, I was very excited at first to see what I could do with the format. You’re right, it’s my first live action movie in 3D. I was like a kid in a candy store and I wanted to see if I could get my tongue into the fourth row of the audience in one scene. By the second week, it became very clear to me that it wasn’t that different than making any other movie with a 35mm camera. That is really a credit to Patrick Lussier because he is a pioneer of the new wave of 3D. He really sorted out all the bugs that might occur with it on his first film, My Bloody Valentine, with 3D. He knew where to put the camera at any time so that the actors didn’t blow out the effect because you can do that very easily. If you line up in such a way, you blow out the effect and it’s caused a lot of headaches for many filmmakers but not Patrick so he was very confident. He knew exactly where to put the camera and we really got the movie done quite quickly as a result of his expertise.
What’s the visceral thrill of getting behind the wheel of a muscle car, and what’s in your garage?
NC: Well, what’s in my garage is a Dodge Ram 3500 Laramie. I have a pickup truck. I like it. It’s a diesel Cummings engine which is the same engine they use in the trains and it’s actually really good for the environment. Unlike the hybrids which so many people think are good for the environment, you actually have to dump those batteries and it actually pollutes the environment so the diesel truck is a better way to go. Now, back to the movie, I love cars. There’s no secret that the automobile and I have had a pretty good relationship. I’m a good driver. I know what I’m doing in a car. I thought it was just a real opportunity to drive as fast as I wanted and not get a speeding ticket, and that’s what I did. When I drive in a movie it’s not unlike when I act. I go into a trance. I don’t really have skills but I just know what they want me to do and somehow it all works itself out. The only time it’s a problem for me is when somebody else is in the car like Ms. Amber Heard and then I start getting nervous that if something happens to them that I’m responsible and then I’m not quite as effective.
How fast did you go?
NC: Well, Amber’s still raising her eyebrow at me because I said that I’ve been 180 miles per hour on the 405 freeway on a motorcycle and she doesn’t believe me but it’s a true story. I did it coming home from work at 3 in the morning on another movie I made about cars called Gone in 60 Seconds. I bought a Yamaha-1 and I was doing 180 miles per hour home on the 405 and that’s really, really crazy but I did it. In this movie I went about 70 miles per hour at any given moment because we had cameras on the car and that’s about as fast as I could push it with cameras on the car mounted down onto the car. But still, it was mostly me driving and going into oncoming traffic. Those were some pretty fun days.
Did you have to remind yourself not to take this movie so seriously?
NC: I mean, even today the way we’re getting a chance to talk a little bit about it, I think you can see that anyone involved in the movie didn’t take it too seriously. There was a real sense of absurdest fun about it knowing full well that the movie was going to be over the top and extreme and sort of celebrating the fun of that. But having said that even still, there is a heart in the movie and the heart is generated by Amber Heard’s performance and the relationship between her and my character because you see that it’s not really a romance. It’s something even more affectionate that goes into a familial place where it’s almost like an older brother or a paternal situation where there’s kindness towards one another, even though there are these two whacked out outlaws on the road. They still have feelings for one another and I like that aspect of it as well. A good movie has to work on more than one level.
You talk about raising more questions than answers, when it comes to Milton. Do you have answers? What has Milton done, how long he’s been in hell, how did he get out?
NC: Yeah, yeah, I have some answers that I will keep to myself but for me, without saying too much about Milton because I want to keep him in that mystery zone, and he is like a ghost. He’s a living dead man. Whatever a ghost would be like, if a ghost walked into a room, it might be like a vacuum, it might suck all the air out of the room, it might just be very still and you’d probably wonder what is it thinking. I was trying to find ways of kind of giving that aura to Milton at any moment, at least that was the challenge I’d had in my own mind while I was filming it. That’s what I wanted to convey, a kind of otherness to Milton that makes you think that he’s actually motivated by something more than just anger. The anger is from when he was alive. When he was alive, he was probably listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd and Buddy Holly, but after he broke out of hell, it’s all just wind chimes and Ravi Shankhar. No lyrics. Absolutely no lyrics.
You have great chemistry with William Fichtner, who plays The Accountant. Was the rapport there at the beginning?
NC: Well, I really enjoyed working with every member in this cast. Billy Burke, William Fichtner, Amber Heard, all of them lent their own unique style and sense of humor. One of my favorite lines in Drive Angry is from one of the supporting players, Joe Crest towards the end of the movie. He says, “We’re going to live forEVER!!” That was the line that made me crack up the loudest. I laughed out loud with my son and I haven’t stopped laughing since and it was last night. But his delivery was hilarious. So yeah, I hope there’s another Drive Angry not only because of William Fichtner but Billy Burke and Amber as well. Great time working with them and Patrick.
How dangerous were the guns used in the movie?
NC: Well, any time you have guns on the set, they’re dangerous. You have to be careful. We all know what happened to Brandon Lee. You always have to be vigilant about it and remember that you’re around explosive substances. But I find that I work with very thorough stunt people and gun wranglers and they know what they’re doing and I’m also very vigilant and I’m proud to say that no one’s really ever gotten hurt in one of my scenes.
There’s a moment in the film where you drink beer from a person’s skull. Where did that come from?
NC: Believe it or not, I was reading a lot of Walt Whitman at the time, our poet laureate, Leaves of Grass and somewhere in Leaves of Grass Whitman just says in a stanza “drinking mead from a skull.” I thought to myself, “I like that, I would like to find a way to drink beer from a skull in this movie.” And the reason being kind of partly because I wanted Milton to have this kind of Celtic and Wotanic kind of modern primitive style about him. And also I wanted to see if there could be any way in my presentation of the skull, and I put a lot of thought into that, even did a few takes of it almost like a commercial, a beer commercial to find a way to make the beer slosh out of the eye in such a way that my cup runneth over and have it look really inviting and appetizing and make people in the audience go, “Wow, I know it sounds crazy, but I’d really kind of like to drink beer from someone’s skull right now.” That was the challenge.
You’ve been acting for a long time, what have you noticed about how movie audiences’ tastes have changed?
NC: You know, I haven’t really to be perfectly honest with you. I am excited that science-fiction movies have been included in the Oscars now because they’ve opened the Best Picture category up to 10 movies. So now movies which have every right to be there like District 9 which was arguably the best movie in my opinion of that year. It was like Apartheid told through the eyes of science-fiction, are now included. So that’s in my opinion positive. But again, I think that some of the most inventive and creative and imaginative filmmaking out there is science fiction when it’s done intelligently and horror when it’s done intelligently.
Drive Angry 3D opens in theaters everywhere today!