Nicolas Cage and Paul Schrader attended the Beyond Fest premiere of their new film, Dog Eat Dog. That’s one advantage L.A. has over Fantastic Fest. Austin didn’t get Nicolas Cage in person. There was actually more than one Cage in the audience.
“I’m a very proud father,” Nicolas Cage announced. “My son Weston’s in the audience and he wrote the song during the party scene, ‘Black Sun Damascus.’ Nothing feels better than acting with your son’s music playing. You don’t have to act. You just feel it. It’s amazing.”
Sporting a beard and purple suit with sunglass lenses to match, Nicolas Cage was in top form discussing his process and mentioning some of his classic performances that got the crowd riled up. Here is a transcript of Nicolas Cage’s Q&A at Beyond Fest.
What was your initial reaction to the script and why did you want to play Troy instead of Mad Dog?
The thing is, I’d just starred in a movie. In fact, when Paul called me, I was in Marrakech, Morocco. I was doing this picture called Army of One. I play a guy who’s kind of a Don Quixote eccentric who’s going after Osama bin Laden. Frankly, I found it exhausting. I just didn’t want to play another whack job. Paul sent me the script and I loved it because it had this sort of nonlinear narrative to it, kind of like La Jetee. It was very abstract, almost like a collage. I wanted to work with Paul because we all know what a big fan I am. He wrote a brilliant script with Dying of the Light and it is a shame what happened to the picture but that was a tremendous part for me. So anything that Paul wanted me to do, I would jump at but he consented which was great because we go Willem Dafoe to play Mad Dog and he’s about as good as it gets.
Where did the Bogart thing come from?
What that was, I realized in that world I was playing something of a straight man but I wanted to give it a twist. I don’t want to talk too much about why I’m speaking like Bogart at the end of the movie. I want that to b your own personal secret. I like to keep things a little mysterious, but it occurred to me that Troy didn’t have tattoos. I remember Paul saying 90% of the people in prison have. I said, “It doesn’t matter. Troy’s not going to have tattoos. He dresses well and he loves golden age movie stars, especially Humphrey Bogart because he aspires to be Bogart within the context of the criminal mind. That would be his hero.” In the end, you can connect the dots as to why he’s channeling Humphrey Bogart. To Paul’s credit, he actually let me do it.
When I did Wild at Heart where I worked with Willem, I had read the book by Stanislavski called An Actor Prepares. In that book, Stanislavski said the worst thing you can do as an actor is to imitate someone. Me being me, I had to break those rules and I was really into something like art synchronicity, where if you use something in one art form, you can do it in another. I was thinking about Warhol and how he would do these marvelous portraits of icons like Presley or Jagger or Dean. I thought, “Well, if he can do that in that art form, why can’t a film actor do that in film acting?” That’s when I came up with the concept of I’m going to play Sailor Ripley as though he thinks he’s Elvis Presley. That’s where that started and I think that was the first time anything like that happened.
Then I did another picture called Kick-Ass where I was channeling in my opinion the only Batman, Adam West. So I said to Paul, “This is one of my paintbrushes that I’ve cultivated or developed over the years that I like to paint with. I’ve taken on Pressley, I’ve taken on Adam West but I’ve never taken on Bogart before. Let’s try it. Let’s give this a go. Let’s go with this.” So he said all right and he shook my hand right there behind closed doors and then off we went.
Where did you find your fabulous blue suit?
That’s Paul’s doing. You might have noticed that his characters in his movies are marvelously well dressed, beginning with American Gigolo. When I saw that movie, I didn’t even know what an Armani suit was and I was blown away by Richard [Gere]’s wardrobe in that. He’s always getting me very well dressed in his movies.
What is your favorite Paul Schrader directed film?
There are so many but if I had to choose one that I felt encapsulates the artistry and the originality and the courage the most, I would say Mishima. And also I read Schrader on Schrader which is a great read if you want to learn more about the maestro. He was friends with Ames, the great designer. I thought his thoughts about Ames are presented in Mishima. You see how he uses subliminal suggestion, some of the stills. There’s a jet fighter and an oxygen mask inexplicably there and it stimulates the consciousness on some level. So I would definitely choose Mishima. For performance I would have to go with Nolte and Coburn in Affliction.
Are you interested in directing?
Well, I did direct one movie. It was called Sonny with James Franco, Mena Suvari and Harry Dean Stanton. I think that my interest, if I were to direct again, are primarily family drama. I think you can do so much with just getting a group of actors together and explore the dynamics of the family drama. I love movies like East of Eden with James Dean or Ordinary People with Donald Sutherland. I think that’s what I would like to focus myself if I were to direct again.
[The producer of The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened? thanks Cage for playing a part via the rehearsal footage they edited together.]
Well, thank you. Thanks for getting the story straight. Thanks for being here tonight.
What film would you recommend the audience see to understand your influences in Dog Eat Dog?
I was actively trying not to, with the exception of the channeling of Bogart, I was actively trying not to steal from any movie or any performance other than brief element that we talked about.
What happened to the baby?
We forgot about the nanny too. We didn’t really go back to the nanny either. The stuff with the baby was interesting. We almost didn’t have a real baby in that shot. We almost had to use a toy baby. I was like, “No, it’s got to be the real thing because you get so much humor out of that.” We had 48 hours to rehearse this and I knew, having done Raising Arizona, you can get a lot of humor when you have a scene with a baby. So I was saying we’ve got to look for some humor here. Because what we’re doing is so atrocious, but make something mundane, like where’s the binky or the pacifier in this state of confusion like Three Men and a Baby, with Ted Danson. Then Willem got the gold because he just improvised, “I’ll say a dick.” I went, “Yeah, yeah, that’s great. That’s phenomenal. You can do that. It’s hilarious.” But I also like the fact that neither Troy or Diesel gave it much thought. Also, “Get the baby out of here, he annoys me.”