How has it taken this long for Nicolas Cage to play a superhero?
Perhaps the world’s most famous A-list actor/ comic book geek (did Tom Cruise name his child after Superman’s Kryptonian name?), Cage has been attached to play virtually every character with a cape to grace the silver screen. But it is “Ghost Rider” that’s finally brought him to his superhero nirvana (see “Nic Cage’s Ghost Rider Likes Soft Rock, Jelly Beans — And Chimps” ). Cage spoke to MTV News about his love of the fantastic and freaky as his flick hits theaters.
MTV: Happy Valentine’s week to you, Mr. Cage.
Nicolas Cage: And to you as well.
MTV: Nothing says Valentine’s like a movie about a motorcycle stunt driver with a damned soul, right?
Cage: [He laughs.] That’s what I was thinking. When I started making “Ghost Rider,” I said, “This ought to be a Valentine’s movie.” [He laughs.] The funny thing about it is, there is a “Beauty and the Beast” element to this movie.
MTV: Your character makes this deal with the devil for love.
Cage: In this case, it’s the love for a father. He’s trying to save his father’s life and makes a deal with the wrong forces. But there is also a love story with Eva Mendes who plays Roxanne, who is the girl that he wishes he could be with but alas is cursed by this demon spirit of vengeance.
MTV: Of all the characters in the giant comic book universe, why does this one have resonance with you?
Cage: Because he’s unique. He’s the only superhero that walks in both worlds. He comes from Faust and “Beauty and the Beast” and has this camp 1970s iconography to him.
MTV: Approaching it as a fan, what did you need to see included in this film?
Cage: It was very important to me that the flaming skull look gorgeous. I have [visual-effects supervisor] Kevin Mack to thank for that. He did an amazing job to present the Ghost Rider in a realistic way. It could have been laughable, and instead it’s gorgeous.
MTV: You mentioned how the film is a hodgepodge of different things. Were you worried about finding the proper tone?
Cage: It would have been a problem if [director] Mark [Steven Johnson] hadn’t been willing to see the humor in it. As it stands, he was willing and collaborative with me to allow me to show where the funny points were in the piece. A movie like this can’t take itself too seriously. It’s got to have a wink and be playful. It’s a fun and spooky ride. It’s got just the right amount of scares that it gets your adrenaline up but not too much that you scare yourself away from finishing the ride.
MTV: Fans have been ready to pick this film apart from the get-go. Did you worry about pleasing the die-hard fans out there?
Cage: I was true to my own relationship with the comic. And I also wanted to introduce him to wide audiences around the world who don’t have any clue who Ghost Rider is. Superman, Spider-Man and Batman need no introduction. In this case, I was able to tailor make him for you and say try this. I’m a filmmaker, not a comic book maker. And so I have to make my expression of the comic book and my own concept of how it would play as a movie.
MTV: Peter Fonda is clever and interesting casting as Mephistopheles. But we heard you wanted Tom Waits for the role at first.
Cage: I wanted Tom very much, and I think he would have been genius in it. But Peter is amazing in it. If you think about it, who better to get a stunt cyclist to sell his soul but Easy Rider himself?
MTV: Your career seems to have always been about risk-taking. I think back to that early role in “Peggy Sue Got Married” when you chose to use a very odd voice and approach to the character. Are you still as willing to take those kinds of risks?
Cage: The fact that I made “Ghost Rider” is itself an enormous risk, so I’m still in that frame of mind to take those risks. But you’re right; when “Peggy Sue Got Married” came out, the movie was appreciated but my performance was lambasted because I was making these choices that were unheard of at the time. I’m changing my voice and making characters that are influenced by inorganic forces like Gumby. Wild choices. I think a lot of actors have opened their minds as a result of that. They’ve seen how it can work and stay in the zeitgeist. Now you have actors imitating all different kinds of sources.
MTV: Just look at Johnny Depp channeling Keith Richards in the “Pirates” films.
Cage: And I did that with Elvis when I did “Wild at Heart.”
MTV: Did [“Peggy Sue Got Married” director and Cage’s uncle] Francis Ford Coppola ever question what you were doing?
Cage: Francis did fight for me even though the studio wanted to fire me and he did say to them, “When Marlon did ‘Godfather,’ he wanted to talk like this.” On the other hand, he never cast me again.
MTV: You made the day of many comic books fans when you and your wife named your son Kal-El after Superman’s Kryptonian name.
Cage: His name was going to be Wolfgang, and I just thought, Wolf Cage? I just don’t know. I really liked the name Kyle but my wife wanted a unique name and so I thought about Kal-El. I remembered that from the old Superman comics. Kal-El is a unique name but it’s also a uniquely American name and it’s beautiful sounding. It sounds kind of magical so we went with that.
MTV: Does this make you [Superman’s father] Jor-El at home?
Cage: [He laughs.] Well, I’m definitely more Jor-El than Pa Kent.
MTV: But you don’t have the old Marlon Brando get-up?
Cage: No, I don’t have the Marlon Brando get-up. Maybe one day I’ll play Jor-El. Who knows? We’ll see what happens.
MTV: How about talking to Bryan Singer about playing a Superman villain?
Cage: I think I’ve done my comic book movie. I am Ghost Rider, and I got to introduce him to you and tailor-make him for you.
MTV: There was a story recently going around that you wanted to produce a “She-Hulk” movie with Eva Mendes in the lead role.
Cage: People are looking for stories. I think she’d love to do it. To be fair, I’m not going to be pursuing “She Hulk.” I just thought she’d be good for that part. I’m not going to be making that as a movie.
MTV: How about a part in the upcoming “Watchmen” movie?
Cage: [“Watchmen” author] Alan Moore is amazing. I had some scripts that we talked about developing together but they never came to fruition, but I think that he’s a deep thinker. I’d like to be involved with something he does.
MTV: One project we know we’ll be seeing you in is “Grindhouse.” You filmed a small role in Rob Zombie’s part of the film.
Cage: I did. That was a favor I did for Rob Zombie. No money was exchanged. We were at dinner and he asked me if I’d do it and I couldn’t say no, so now I’m in another movie. It’s good company to be in with [directors Quentin] Tarantino and [Robert] Rodriguez. I play Fu Manchu, and it’s very silly.
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