LOS ANGELES — Seventeen years ago, the legendary Harvey Keitel launched the second act of his movie career with a pair of tough-guy instant classics: Quentin Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs” and Abel Ferrara’s “Bad Lieutenant.” A crack-pipe-smoking breath of fresh air, “Lieutenant” predated “The Shield” by a decade in telling the NC-17 story of a junkie, gambler, killer cop on a downward spiral.
During the past year, film buffs have been up in arms over director Werner Herzog’s “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans.” Starring Nicolas Cage as the type of at-wit’s-end madman who puts a gun to an old lady’s temple to get information, the flick co-stars Eva Mendes and Val Kilmer and packs one potent surprise: Although it has little to do with Keitel’s movie, it is a deranged, worthy successor.
Recently, we caught up with Cage to discuss a return to his over-the-top roots — and the joys of winning over haters like myself.
MTV: I saw the movie. I really enjoyed it.
Nicolas Cage: I’m happy to hear that.
MTV: I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, but I went into “Bad Lieutenant 2″ really wanting to hate it. I’m a really big fan of the original.
Cage: Well, that’s good. They are very different movies. The title is similar, but other then that, and outside of the fact that the cop does drugs, it’s quite different.
MTV: Your director hasn’t seen the original film, but I’m assuming you have?
Cage: Yes. The original, which I am also a fan of, is more of a religious parable about a cop, drug addition and dealing with tremendous Catholic guilt. In this one, it’s more of an existential situation where there is no guilt. It’s just, as Werner Herzog would call it, “the bliss of evil.”
MTV: What are the main differences, as you see them, between your bad lieutenant and that of Harvey Keitel?
Cage: I knew I wanted to explore a different way of presenting this character. The drugs became, oddly, a way of solving the case that was like the enigma. I was playing a guy that was way out of his head on different drugs, but he could still get the job done.
MTV: And one way of comprehending all the crack, cocaine, heroin and everything else you’re on in this film is a unique Herzog invention: the lizard cam. Did he explain to you that he was going to be doing all these strange shots with lizards, alligators, etc., to show us how insane you were getting?
Cage: No, he didn’t, really. He had this new camera that he was playing with that had a tube on it, that they would scale around and get very close to the skin of the lizard. But he didn’t really explain what his point was, except that it was very important to him. He really wanted the lizards to be in the movie no matter what. That was his favorite thing about the movie. More so than anything else, including the actors. He made that clear. And it was OK with me.
MTV: A lot of your fans are celebrating this as a return to the “over-the-top” Nicolas Cage of movies like “Wild at Heart” and “Raising Arizona.” How much of that crazy stuff did you improv?
Cage: Well, I was just feeling in the zone, you know? A lot of it just came out, a lot of that stuff. Like [when I threaten to kill an old lady] in the retirement home, and whenever I was with the gangsters, a lot of that was improvised. The football player, the antlers, [when I scream at some drug dealers,] “Till the break of dawn!” you know? We were in New Orleans, which is the city of jazz, so that was the spirit of it.
MTV: Yeah, when you keep screaming, “Till the break of dawn,” at Xzibit’s character for no real reason, that seems to be everyone’s favorite line from the movie.
Cage: Well, I had a good editor who protected me on that and let me keep my more out-there moments.
MTV: The producers intend to make yours the second in a series of “Bad Lieutenant” films, pairing different directors and stars. Are you in on that at all? Would you like to bring Lieutenant Terence McDonagh back again?
Cage: No, no, I’m done. I’ve done my “Bad Lieutenant.” I’m finished.
Check out everything we’ve got on “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans.”
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