Shamans and Stunts: A Press Conference with Nicolas Cage
Say what you will about Nicolas Cage: he has brought to life an incredible diversity of characters dating all the way back to 1980. From Cameron Poe (Con Air) to Big Daddy (Kick-Ass), Cage’s versatility is undeniable. His latest film, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, sees him playing both the cursed Johnny Blaze and his bike-riding alter-ego. I was lucky enough to be invited to a press conference on behalf of Yin & Yang at the impressive Corinthia hotel in London. Read on for Cage’s thoughts on his new film, his influences, and much more.
On playing Johnny Blaze AND the Ghost Rider
Yes, I mean that 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 (director) who had the idea for me to do that, he was an enormous advocate of it. We were in New Orleans and I said well, ‘can I wear a mask’, so as not to feel totally ridiculous as I would walk on the set and play this part.
But there was a writer named Brian Bates, who wrote a book called ‘The Way of Weird’ and also ‘The Way of the Actor’, and in that book he put forth the notion that all actors whether they know it or not come from a long distant past of Medicine Men and Shaman, pre-Christian in these villages, and what these Shaman would do is he would go into an altered state of consciousness to try to find answers and solutions to give to the village people that were there, and in this day and age these people would be considered psychotic. But when you think about it, it was a way of channeling the imagination to talk with spirits to get answers to the village. So they would wear masks, they would gather objects that had magical relevance, so I thought ‘Well, I’m dealing with a supernatural character, so why don’t I try some of that and see what happens?’
And I would paint my face and I’d put black contact lenses in my eyes so that it looked more like a skull, and you couldn’t see any pupils or any white in the eyes. I would walk onto set projecting an aura of horror and I would see in the eyes of my co-stars, 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.
On working with his co-stars
Idris [Elba] is someone I consider to be 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, which is something that’s interesting to me, so we just had a good connection. Ciáran [Hinds] in the Rome series, to think of him as the devil, to me is very inspired. And, I was lucky to work with Violante [Placido], and Johnny Whitworth, and Johnny Whitworth what can I say? He’s Johnny Whitworth, he’s full of surprises.
On doing his own stunts
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 as you might notice with all the caffeine here on the table is that it calms me down. Caffeine makes me go the other way, it relaxes 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 (the directors) 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 it was like ‘ok this is different’ and my way of handling that was ‘give me more!’ With everything. If I’m working with a director who likes to do a lot of takes, I’ll say gimme more, I’m not happy with twenty takes, let’s do forty. It’s my way of psychologically reversing it.
Listen to the entire press conference below. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance rides into cinemas on Friday. Keep an eye out for my review on Yin & Yang.
Starring | Nicolas Cage, Ciáran Hinds, Violante Placido, Johnny Whitworth, Christopher Lambert, and Idris Elba.
Directors | Brian Taylor and Mark Neveldine Certificate | 12A Run Time | 1 hour 35 minutes