There aren’t many occasions in a journalist’s life when they’ll feel the need to ask an A-list actor to comment on reports that they’re a vampire. But Nicolas Cage is not your average actor. From starring in blockbusters such as Con Air and winning an Oscar for playing an alcoholic in Leaving Las Vegas, Cage has recently morphed into a B-movie hero and attracted so-bizarre-they-could-be-true rumours. How many of these tales are actually real? Before ShortList can get to the truth, there’s his new film to discuss…
Superhero films are hardly thin on the ground. What does Ghost Rider bring to this crowded market?
You’re right to say it’s a crowded market — every other movie is about a comic-book character and you need to provide an alternative. Ghost Rider does that. There’s no other superhero like Ghost Rider. He’s the only one I know of that was inspired by Goethe, by which I mean he sold his soul to the devil in a 1,000-year contract.
That’s interesting, as most people would see it as a fun, popcorn film…
It definitely embraces pop culture and pop art. And, if you want to eat popcorn, there’s that too. He was interesting to me from being a small child, because I couldn’t get my head around how someone that looked so scary and was using the forces of evil could also be good. He’s interested in philosophical questions. That’s what makes him so different.
Even when he’s urinating fire?
Not since Vampire’s Kiss have I done something that outrageous in a movie. But when you see it in context, I’m trying to make the son of the devil laugh. And what better way is there to make the son of the devil laugh than to pee fire?
Fair enough. So, as a method actor, how do you prepare for playing Ghost Rider?
I knew that I had to form a reality where I could believe in this character — so it was honest and I didn’t feel ridiculous. There’s a theory that all actors, whether they know it or not, have emanated from medicine men and shamans, who would go into these altered states of consciousness and recover visions. They were probably psychotic, but they were respected, so I tried that. I’d sew bits of Egyptian artefacts into my costume that were thousands of years old. I’d paint my face with white and black skull make-up and put in black contact lenses so there wouldn’t be any eyeballs. I looked like Afro-Caribbean voodoo icon Baron Samedi, who was the spirit at the gateway of death. I was trying to stimulate my imagination into believing I was really this character. Then, when I walked on set I saw the fear in people’s eyes and that was like oxygen to the fire. It made me feel stronger as the Ghost Rider.
How do you deal with the baffled reactions when you go from working with Werner Herzog on Bad Lieutenant to doing something like this?
The people, by and large, have been with me. The critics are another matter. Someone once said to me that “critics are like eunuchs at an orgy” [laughs]. There’s a school of thought that suggests that if you p*ss the critics off, you’re doing something right. I try to follow my instincts. I have dreams about where film acting can go. I believe it’s no different than painting — if you want to get abstract, then you can.
Such as the Adam West-style voice in Kick-Ass?
[The character’s] insane. I’m not insane, he’s insane. He’s a 48-year-old man who goes out dressed like Batman. The character is nuts enough to go into his little room and study Adam West’s voice. That’s what I was trying to say.
Do you think people believe these crazy performances are actually you?
Probably. I’ve had my moments, but nothing I can’t explain. Or, at least, nothing a few schnapps can’t explain [laughs]. If you look at films like World Trade Center, there are performances that are subtle and quiet. I don’t always have to be abstract.
Did you really eat cockroaches for 1988’s Vampire’s Kiss?
Yes. It was horrible. I was young, trying to do something shocking so people would notice me. It was inspired by Ozzy Osbourne. The director and I were having what you call a “row” in England, so he had me do it twice. Never again.
There are a number of bizarre rumours about you — like the one that you’re actually a vampire, based on a photograph [picture 2] taken in the 1870s…
Yeah, I saw that. How can I be diplomatic about this? That looks like a slowed-down version of me [laughs].
Were you insulted?
No, not at all. Anything that keeps the mystery alive. I will say that, although there have been rumours that I’m a vampire, I don’t drink blood and I do have a reflection. Sadly.
Where do they come from?
I think it’s because I keep myself to myself. Because I’m not on drugs with a ton of strippers, they have to find other things to say about me.
So you didn’t buy a two-headed snake?
Actually, there’s possibly truth in that one.
Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance is at cinemas nationwide from 17 February