Nicolas Cage interview for Ghost Rider Spirit of Vengeance

Behind the scenes on the new Ghost Rider movie

Was it a major appeal to you that you got to actually play the Ghost Rider this time round?

NC: Yeah I mean that was an opportunity to experiment with movement and with my state of mind, I really believed 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, 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 to play this part but there was a writer named Brian Bates who wrote this book called ‘The Way of The Wyrd’ and also ‘The Way of the Actor’ and in that book he put forward the notion that all actors whether they know it or not come from a long distant past of medicine men and Shamans, pre – Christian in these villages and what this Shaman would do is he would go into an altered state of consciousness to try and find answers and solutions to give to the village people that were there. In this day and age that person would be considered psychotic but when you think about it, it was a way of channelling the imagination to 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 because 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 would look like a skull, like some sort Afro-Caribbean voodoo icon or a New Orleanian voodoo icon by the name of Baron Simitye 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 Love’s children; he’s a very lusty kind of voodoo icon. And I would paint my face, I’d put black contact lenses in my eyes so it would look more like a skull, and 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 too, ‘who know if it works or not?’ 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 go like this, and light up, and the fear was there. And it just was like oxygen to a fire. And that led me to believe maybe I really was this spirit of vengeance. The problem is if you have a Christmas party in Romania and you’re shooting until 2 in the morning and you’re invited to go the Christmas party and some schnapps is involved and you’re still in character, all hell can break loose. And it did. And I’m lucky I’m not in a Romanian prison!

What about your body language though, because he moves in quite a herky-jerky way?
NC: I remembered cobra snakes because at one point in my neighbourhood I had a couple of them and then the neighbours didn’t like it so I gave them to a zoo but I would study these cobras and what they would do is they would move back and forth in a rhythmic motion and on the back of the snake was the pattern of an eye, like an occult eye and it would try to hypnotise me and then as soon as it felt it had hypnotised me it would strike. And so I thought well why doesn’t the Ghost Rider move like that, with that sort of hypnotic rhythmic motion. And then there was another thing that I’d seen in a Trent Reznor video where he was revolving and levitating in circles and I thought let’s have Ghost Rider levitate and revolve in circles. We called it ‘the Compass’. Then he would find his next victim and then attack. So a lot of thought went into it and then also just a bit of imagination and improvisation. Sometimes I would start talking in what I thought was like a Wotanic Norse dialogue or some sort of Ecochian angel speak or something. Who knows what was coming out of me, but it was a fun experiment.

Which wouldn’t have happened if you’d done this on a MoCap (Motion Capture) Stage with those ping pong balls?

NC: Yeah exactly. What you see is really in camera.

From what you’ve told us all this voodoo and occult preparation, doesn’t suggest that you could have been in the best state of mind for driving something as dangerous as a motorcycle. I’m obviously assuming that great safety precautions were taken, but I still think a motorbike can be a dangerous beast because they are unpredictable.

NC: No question.

And I wondered if your nearest and dearest had a word with you about taking extra caution when you were on that mighty beast?

NC: No she loved it. She thought it looked great, she thought I was a very sexy motorcycle and wanted to have a ride on it….! The truth is I was blessed to work with the Yamaha VMAX. 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 of 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. And 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.

Why is that?
NC: Because it’s a contract I have with my life insurance. So whenever I have a chance to do a movie and ride a bike I go for it.

Going back to your first answer, bearing in mind that you got in touch with your spiritual side in preparation for play these parts, did you experience anything inexplicable, anything supernatural while you were filming the movie?
NC: You know, I’m of the opinion that everything supernatural is in the imagination, and I had wonderful flights of fancy in my imagination as I was playing the Ghost Rider, I can’t say that anything outside the realm of the natural occurred while filming the movie, no.

Is it possible to say in the great range of all of the characters you played over the years how much these two characters mean to you by comparison? Are they the sort of, your favourites, and by playing them in more than one movie does the passion for them grow or dissipate?
NC: Well I felt I had more to say with it. Ghost Rider was a character that had an enormous influence on my childhood. You know I was 8 when I discovered Ghost Rider and in fact I had the very first comic and I would stare at that picture, at 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. He was a character that’s literally inspired by Goethe, this is a Faustian pact. 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 the deal with the devil happens every day. Everyone sells their soul every day. You know, how many times does it happen, and it’s usually for love, when you meet a lady or a gentleman and you think they love you but then you find out it’s for a green card, or it’s for money or it’s because they want to make you pay for whatever their parents did to them and they take it out on you. Well that’s a deal with the devil. So the movie is really for me, that character is really a metaphor for just life. And if you want to compete in this day and age with other comic book films, and every other movie is one, you have to provide an alternative and Ghost Rider does that.

As you say you’re a huge comic fan, I was wondering could you tell us about your favourite comic characters, comic story arts or something that’s meant something to you?

NC: Well I’ve always liked the monsters. I like the Hulk, I feel bad for him, or I did as a child. I want to make it clear though, there might be a little bit of misperception about me blowing out of proportions my love for comics. Yes I’m loyal to them, 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 Spiderman comics and a tray of lemon cookies!

To clarify, I am!
NC: Well that’s good! Because now you have graphic novels for adults! But you know, Dr. Strange, Silver Surfer, Ghost Rider, Hulk, you know these were characters that – and Batman – the ones that were a little bit scary to look at and also had some edge.

So Batman aside you’re very much a Marvel guy?

NC: I would say that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby had the biggest effect on my childhood, yes.

You seem drawn to playing these anti-hero characters, what is it about them that attracts you and what do you think others see in you that makes you right for those sorts of roles?

NC: Well the anti-hero and probably largely because of Ghost Rider, and that influence in my filmography, you’re right to point out that I’m attracted to characters that have some obstacle to overcome whether it’s inside of them or outside of them, 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. You know I believe in art synthesis. I think that acting need be no different than painting or music and that if you can get very outside the box or as critics like to call ‘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 who’s only a collaborative effect in a movie – he’s not the director- you have to find characters that provide an engine that have that behaviour which makes sense within the context of the movie. So I’m attracted to characters like Terrence in Bad Lieutenant; he’s high on cocaine, so I can make those sounds and those moves and do crazy things with old ladies and handguns. Or I can, in Ghost Rider, because you see that my face is morphing into a skull and there’s pain in that I can then do things like ‘scraping at the door, scraping at the door’ and make those notes come to life. So I have to look for characters that allow me to realise my abstract dreams in cinema.

You and Idris had a good chemistry I thought on screen, did you get a chance to work together beforehand or did you just sort of fool about on set?
NC: No we just hit it off. Idris 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 -thank you for noticing- we just had a good connection.

There’s a lot of genre faces in here; there’s Idris Elba, Anthony Stewart Head, there’s Christopher Lambert… I wonder if you were involved with those castings. Those are all familiar faces to people who will like this type of movie.
NC: No Mark and Brian did all of that. They have a great appreciation for all things cinema and they really know their movies and so they’re the ones that did all the casting from Christopher Lambert to Ciaran Hinds, you know, how brilliant to cast those two! And Ciaran (in the Rome series) to think of him as the devil to me is very inspired. I was lucky to work with Violante and also Johnny Whitworth, what can I say he’s Johnny Whitworth, he’s full of surprises!

Brian and Mark tried to get you for Crank… How far along the road did they get? Did they actually get to speak to you about that? 
NC: I never even heard about it. But I can’t even imagine that movie without Statham in it. That’s his part, and he should be the only one to do that.

Idris Elba says you’re ‘funny and gracious, down to Earth and generally a good guy’, Brian Taylor says you ‘seem like a lunatic’ when you see you in movies. I wondered if this is just a by-product of the characters you play, or is this actually another facet of your personality?
NC: 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, finding characters where I can realise my surreal dreams in film acting, but I’m not insane, Damon Macready from Kick-Ass is insane! He’s the one who’s 48 years old and dresses up like Batman and goes out and tries to seek vengeance. He’s the one who 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! So that’s the idea, I am attracted to characters who are different, who are flawed. And I love them for it. That’s what I find interesting as a moviegoer.

It looked like you had a lot of fun making the film and I just wondered if that element of fun is something that’s important to you when you’re working or do you prefer taking a more serious approach?
NC: I think you have to have fun and that’s going back to what David Lynch 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”. And with something like Ghost Rider which is no way again meant to be a sanctimonious thing that everyone’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 probably said too much again, but it is essential.

There were strong religious elements in this film, and in one of your recent films Season Of The Witch. And I wonder if this is a coincidence or whether you’re reaching a time in your life and you’re starting to question faith and religion and wonder what you might believe in.
NC: Well I believe that everybody has the right to believe what they want to believe, and to knock somebody’s faith or religion is foolish, whatever it may be; Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism. As for myself, I’m a seeker, I’m very much a believer in science but I do think there are times when science and mysticism intersect. And that’s the best way I can answer it.

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance in 3D is out February 17th