An Interview with Nicolas Cage and Eva Mendes
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Much has been said regarding the highly anticipated release of “Ghost Rider”. After all, it’s been two years since the film was made. Directed by Mark Steven Johnson and starring Nicolas Cage and Eva Mendes, the film is about a Long ago, superstar motorcycle stunt rider Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage) who made a deal with the devil to protect the ones he loved most: his father and his childhood sweetheart, Roxanne (Eva Mendes). Now, the devil has come for his due. At a recent press conference, Nicolas started off by asking if anyone is from Entertainment Weekly, clearly indicating that he’s not a fan of their magazine. Neither was Bruce Willis when he tore in the magazine as he promoted “16 Blocks” last year. Eva Mendes was amused by this as well as the thought of playing the comic book character She-Hulk, as suggested by Cage. Cage also talked about National Treasure 2 as well as his role in Ghost Rider.
What did 'Entertainment Weekly' do to you?
Cage: 'Entertainment Weekly' hasn't done anything to me. Someone just asked me a question about whether I think comic book movies get a bad rap. Someone mentioned to me that there was a blurb in 'Entertainment Weekly' that said very condescendingly, 'We get a kick out of watching Academy Award winners being in movies that they have no business being seen in.' I thought, 'Well, okay. That's really shallow thinking because they can't get outside their own box.' They don't understand the concept of what I would say is art. You have different styles and you can choose to be photo-realistic like 'World Trade Center' or you can be pop art illustrative. Why limit yourself to one style of acting, and especially when you look at 'Ghost Rider' you see a comic book story structure which digs a little deeper. It doesn't take itself too seriously of course. It's funny, but it's coming from classic themes like Faust with Goethe or Thomas Mann or 'Beauty and the Beast.' It's fascinating to take those story structures and reintroduce people to it in a pop art contemporary manner and a especially a comic book no less. It's just fun and reaches a lot of people, but 'Entertainment Weekly' is the kind of magazine that is very condescending and they think in a very narrow box and they always have. So that's why I would recommend that if you want to really get your information and know what movies to go see I wouldn't resort to that particular publication because they are pretty shallow.
There was a day when movies like 'Star Wars' and 'E.T.' did get up in the top five best pictures and got nominations. Do you think that there will be a time when these types of movies will get back there?
Cage: The deserve to, but the problem is that you have people like 'Entertainment Weekly' who don't want to take the beret off of their head or take the ju tan out of their mouth and stop being self-important and pretentious about only the little art films which I love too, but come on and open your minds. You can see that some very creative people put a lot of hard work into this movie. Kevin Mack, he drew those visual FX brilliantly with his team. It's just a fun ride, a spooky ride, and I hope to see these movies get a little more attention at some point.
The most difficult acting challenge I can imagine is that it's an intimate moment and you both have to imagine your heads on fire while getting intimate. How hard was that?
Mendes: Well, I'm a five year old at heart. I still think that there is a monster under my bed. I'm not joking. It's pathetic and really not cute [Laughs]. So with my imagination I can go there in a second. I actually had the reverse problem. It's hard for me to control my imagination from not going there.
Cage: It's all about imagination and that's what comics did for me as a boy. I read 'Ghost Rider' and I read 'The Hulk.' I liked the monsters. I liked them because I couldn't understand how something so scary could also be so good. It got me thinking at a very early age and I had a lot of rehearsal. I was Ghost Rider in my backyard at eight years old. Nothing has changed.
Mendes: I was Pippy Long-stalking in my backyard.
That transformation scene was so good. What was your barometer in terms of how far you could go, or did the director control that or pull you back? How did that work?
Cage: Well, that was what I was really excited about it. I like the old grand werewolf movies and I've always wanted to find a way to apply my acting in a big bad monster movie where I was transforming into this scary entity. I worked with Kevin with where I thought might go in terms of the physical expressions and he would take snapshots of them. I thought that there would be pain because the skin was melting off of my face, but then maybe ecstasy because the power of the Ghost Rider was surging through me and he was starting to get off on that a little bit and then also sadness about what's happening. So he would download all these different facial expressions into the computer and then I would work with Mark [Steven Johnson] on the day of with the DP as to where the camera was going to go and match my moves with the camera. So it became like a dance, and then wherever I had to go in that private place to come up with this imaginary belief that I was transforming into this monster. But I wanted it to be like an aria. I even wanted his screams to be like music, like an operatic aria.
Your wardrobe in the film, Eva, I'm just going to put it out there, is very cleavage friendly. Is that your normal style?
Mendes: [Laughs] Well, it's obviously not my personal style because I'm as bundled up as you can get today, but yeah, that was a choice that the director and I made as far as the character of Roxanne in the comic book, my character, is very voluptuous, blonde hair and blue eyes, Caucasian. I'm not Caucasian and I'm a terrible blonde and I don't have blue eyes. So I said, 'Well, hey, lets play up my voluptuous nature.' So we did that and in that way we were honest with a real sort of comic book heroine.
How frustrating is it that some people assume that was a digital you with your shirt off?
Cage: Well, I guess on one hand it's a compliment, but on the other hand it's like that was a lot of hard work and it's just being written off as if someone made it digitally. It's a little frustrating.
Mark was saying that not only shooting 'Ghost Rider,' but just in going over the script and working on that character that you were really involved. What were some of the things that you really wanted in there after reading the script?
Cage: Well, it's a deeply personal character and I was trying to find a new way of presenting how he would keep dark spirits at bay. I didn't want him being a heavy drinker or chain smoker. I wanted him eating jellybeans so that he wouldn't invite the devils in and I wanted him listening to Karen Carpenter to help him relax so that he wouldn't invite the devil in with like satanic Goth rock or something, or he's watching chimpanzees do karate instead of 'The Exorcist.' All three of those things I was doing in my own life. I was eating jellybeans out of a martini glass and listening to Karen Carpenter and on the internet watching chimps do karate. I thought that it was funny and we should put it in the movie, but it is also true.
Can you talk about getting your skull x-rayed?
Cage: Yeah, we did all of that. They graphed my skull and so I guess that is me which is kind of wild, but what I really love about this character is that we're all him. We all have human skulls. You've got one. I've got one. We've all got one, and we look at it and go, 'That's scary.' And then after a little while you go, 'Wait a minute. That's beautiful. He's human and he's a total bad ass. He's fighting the dark forces, but he's human.' So it's pretty neat.
Eva, were you happy that your character got to come out with that shotgun at the end and be a little bit of a bad ass?
Mendes: Yes. I was very happy.
Was that in the script when you first read it?
Mendes: No, it wasn't. Mark added that for me. He probably just felt bad because I had major superhero envy the entire shoot. I was like, 'I want my head to be on fire.'
Cage: Well, I have plans for her.
Mendes: That's right.
Cage: I'm working on it.
Mendes: Okay, good. Anyway –
Cage: I want her to be 'The She-Hulk.' That's what I'm working on. I've got to talk to Avi [Arad] about that.
Before reading Mark's script did you read the previous one that was much darker written by David Goyer?
Cage: Yeah, it was a good script. Steve Norrington of 'Blade' was directing and David [Goyer] wrote that script and I was onboard for that, but whatever happened the studio didn't want to make it.
And it was much darker?
Cage: Yeah. That also would've been a good movie, but that movie dissolved and then Avi brought Mark in and I talked to Mark, and Mark found a way to make it more palatable to larger audiences. It became more of a spooky ride. You go to an amusement park and you have a roller coaster and you have the haunted mansion. This is just the right amount of scary to get your adrenaline up, but not so much so that you can't finish the ride. It's something for the family.
What was it like working on set with Sam Elliott? You hear that voice and it's so distinct.
Cage: Sam Elliott is an elegant cowboy and I used to be his neighbor in Malibu Canyon. It's funny because we're both from the same place, but he has a much more pronounced draw than I do and he just comes off so screamingly beautiful as this cowboy icon and I think that his performance is so poetic. Every word, every expression, every movement is precise and nothing is wasted.
And what about working with PETER FONDA?
Cage: That was a trip and he made a movie called 'The Trip' [Laughs].
Mendes: And he's taken a lot of acid trips.
Cage: Peter is the reason that I ride motorcycles. I saw 'Easy Rider' and the next day I bought a Harley Davidson and went from L.A. to San Francisco and back to L.A. and became Captain America in my mind. So when they decided to make this movie and we talked about who was going to play Mephistopheles originally I wanted Tom Waitts. That was the hold lamp wick 'Pinocchio' thing, but the studio decided with Mark that they wanted to go with Peter. I thought about it and I said, 'Well, you know what, that makes sense because who better to seduce a stunt cyclist to sell their soul than Captain America, Easy Rider himself.' And we were there play acting together and there was this bike there and there's Peter and he's talking and I stepped out of myself and looked at the two of us and was thinking, 'Wow. This is really cool. This is Captain America.'
Doesn't he say, 'Nice bike?'
Cage: He did, didn't he? Yeah. He does say 'Nice bike.'
Mendes: I have to tell you my little Peter Fonda story because I love this story so, so much. We were hanging out on set and it was me and Peter and a couple of other people and they were talking about 'Easy Rider.' I was like, 'Shit. I didn't see it. I can't be a part of the conversation. I hate this.' So I finally confessed and said, 'Peter, I'm so sorry. I've never seen "Easy Rider." I know that it was a huge deal for American cinema.' And he said, 'You never saw it?' I said I hadn't. So he got a group of like ten people together and we all met up at my director's apartment in Melbourne and he played the movie for me and he sat next to me and I had a personal commentary by Peter Fonda. He would sit there and pause it and say, 'Now, in this scene it was my twenty seventh birthday. Jack [Nicholson] were up for two days.' That's as far as I can go with that, but I mean it was awesome because he was right there with me and it was one of those moments where you're so thankful because it's one of the coolest moments in your life. So awesome. Also, he was very generous too. He's so eager to share and is just a lovely man.
When I spoke to you last you said that you weren't sure you wanted to carry on with a sequel to this. Mark mentioned that there's been some early talk about it though. Can you maybe see a sequel to this now?
Cage: Well, it depends on the reaction from the movie going audiences, whether they're enthusiastic about it and if there is a good script, but I would say that out of all the characters that I've played my interest coincide with where this particular character could go. I'm interested in the metaphysical nature of Ghost Rider and his world. I am a man with an open mind. I don't really know anything, but I'm very interested in the spiritual and the material and that this is the one superhero that walks between both worlds. I think that's pretty exciting because he's new. There is a lot of room for adventure with this guy.
What about 'National Treasure II?' Jerry Bruckheimer keeps saying that you're very involved in helping him develop that script.
Cage: Yeah. I think that 'National Treasure' is a good one because there are worse things to do than stimulate young people to look in their history books. There is no gunfire. There is no body count. It's really good entertainment for everybody and I enjoy that. I like the idea of playing a historical detective. This one is going to involve Abraham Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth and Booth's diary and Confederate gold. It has the potential to be more interesting than the first one. Then 'Ghost Rider' for me is probably closer to my heart because, as I said earlier, of my interest in the possibilities with the spiritual and the material of this part. I think that we're living in pretty scary times and people are looking for inspiration and are also more open to the spiritual possibilities.
What's the first comic that you're going to read to your little one?
Cage: Oh, wow. Probably 'Superman.'
What comic book do you think should be made into a movie that hasn't?
Cage: Well, I'm really done. I think that Ghost Rider is my guy and I'm going to stick with that, but if I had to pay my seven bucks or eight bucks, however it is now – it's a lot – I would go to see 'The Submariner' come to life. I want to see the water and all the animal life.
Mendes: And 'She-Hulk.'
Cage: Oh, yeah, and that I'm working on.
Will you produce that?
Cage: I'm trying to put that together as we speak. I'm trying.
Mendes: You have to keep bugging him about that and bringing it up.
Cage: I'm talking to Avi. You get it? You know what I'm talking about, right? Can't you see it. 'She-Hulk.' That would be a fun movie, wouldn't it? It would be her in a bikini just kicking a lot of ass, throwing cars, throwing in buildings.
Mendes: [Laughs] Why in a bikini?
Cage: Because that's how she dresses [Laughs].
Mark said that there could be an extended version with longer original scenes. Can either of you remember scenes you shot that didn't make it into this version?
Mendes: I haven't seen the movie at all. I'm waiting for the premiere actually. I've never done this before either, waited for the premiere. So I'm going to be really nervous and will definitely have some wine before I go in, but it'll be exciting.
Do you have a hard time watching yourself?
Mendes: The first run, yeah. I hate everything in the first run that I see it. I'm like, 'I'm awful.' I just think that I'm terrible, and then I'm more forgiving the second time. So I always see something for sure one time and then I make myself see it again for a second time, and the second time I'm usually like, 'Okay, I'm not that horrible.' But the first time I think that I'm just God awful.
Going back to 'She-Hulk.' is this something that you would direct?
Cage: No, no, no. It's just something that I came up with.
Do you know who the villains are going to be for Natural Treasure 2?
Cage: I don't know. I don't know a thing. I don't know what they're doing. That's a whole separate kind of machine at this point. They're over there putting things together and when they're ready they'll give me a call and let me know what's happening.
What if 'Entertainment Weekly' ends up giving 'ghost rider' a really good review, would that change your opinion of them?
Cage: It doesn't really matter. I don't have any faith in anything that they say. They can say something good or something bad and I don't really care. I'm just saying that I think it's a mistake if you refer to that magazine religiously as your guide as to whether or not you're going to go see a movie or not – you're shooting yourself in the foot if that's the case because they don't get it. They can't think outside the box. They are very narrow minded. So it doesn't really matter if they say anything nice or bad. I can't take it seriously.
Aside from 'National Treasure II,' can you talk about some of the other things you're working on?
Cage: 'National Treasure II' is all that I have up next.
Mendes: I did my first real dramatic role last year with Joaquin Phoenix and Mark Wahlberg and Robert Duvall in a film called 'We Own The Night' directed by James Gray and I'm really, really excited about that, and then I produced my first independent film. It's a small film, but I've got a gun in it and it's called 'Live!' It just got accepted into the Tribecca Film Festival and I'm really proud because it's like a real indie. The budget was nothing and we scrambled and got it together and we did it. So I'm really proud of that and right now I'm working on a film called 'Cleaner' with Ed Harris who is so cute and also Samuel Jackson. That's another drama. I kind of got hooked being director by James Gray. I kind of love the torture in dramas and am sort of in that place right now. It's very dramatic.
Cage: 'Entertainment Weekly' is more like a tabloid. So if you're going to get a tabloid get 'The National Enquirer' because at least they have a horoscope. I mean, why spend the extra dollar getting 'Entertainment Weekly' when you can get a horoscope with 'The National Enquirer.' It's so great to be honest, isn't it? It's so liberating. I don't care.
Mendes: Did you just make that up because it's very funny?
Cage: I did. I did. I was thinking about it the whole time.
Mendes: You did. You couldn't wait [Laughs].
Did you read any comic books as a little girl?
Mendes: The 'Barbie' comic books.
There were 'Barbie' comic books?
Mendes: I actually don't know, but I was a Barbie girl. I actually got into comic books because of Mr. Cage and his passion.
GHOST RIDER opens on February 16th, 2007
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