Nicolas Cage: The Biology Textbook Secret
I interviewed Nicolas Cage during the 63rd Berlinale. The occasion was the animated movie The Croods where Cage gave the voice to daddy caveman Grug. I cannot really say I saw the movie because I fell asleep half way through, but did see enough to get the plot and discuss Cage’s character. In all honesty, I was absolutely not interested in the movie. I was there to unravel the mystery of Cage appearing on the cover of a Serbian biology textbook.
The interview took place in hotel Adlon, a place with a vivid history but probably most famous as the hotel where Michael Jackson waved baby Blanket from the window. Although I did my fair share of interviews with presidents of states, PMs, ministers, heads of numerous international organizations etc. – the code of conduct for talking to Cage beats them all. No photos, no autographs, no touching, no interrupting, no telling him that he needs to change his hairdresser because it was more then obvious that he dyed his grays and so on. Despite all that, Cage was totally ok to talk to and both the impressive view from hotel Adlon suite overlooking the Brandenburg gate, as well as seeing his diamond bling ring were all worth it.
The Unsold Stories: How was it for you playing Grug the caveman?
Nicolas Cage: With the risk of sounding trite – it was a hell of a lot of fun. I was working with two wonderfully playful film makers Chris Sanders and Kirk De Micco and there was a lot of laughter. What was very liberating about working with them was that they allowed me to explore. They didn’t mind me exploring a certain sound or an accent or a voice, they just went for it.
Earlier at the press conference you said that the voice takes 50 percent of acting. How do you feel about your movies screening in Germany when every time a dub actor takes 50 percent of your role?
Martin Kessler seems like a very good actor and he takes it very seriously and is very careful so I like meeting him. I’d like to know him a little better, I think we could be friends. I have trust in the people they choose to channel whatever the performance was that I’ve put down. Nowadays, everybody is real shabby with the Internet, DVDs and all that and I am sure if you wanna hear my voice in a movie you can go pick it up at a video store, or download it via some sort of Internet mechanism, so I am not too worried about that.
How much do you enjoy telling stories in front of other people like your character does?
I haven’t been sociable as I’d like to be, so I’m really working on being more sociable. Somebody said that if you can go and have conversations, meet people and talk, that’s really good for your mental health, memory and staying alert and as older we get the more we need to do that. I started becoming more sociable with some folks from Las Vegas and I found that I was still pretty good at it – telling stories in a conversation. I like that and I’ll be doing more of that. So yes, I like to tell stories.
You mentioned that you haven’t been as sociable as you’d like. Why?
Well, I had stopped. I’d be in my house and I’d just watch movies and didn’t wanna go out, didn’t wanna be photographed. I just wanted to be able to relax. So, I thought we’ll I don’t wanna get too comfortable with that. It’s time for me to go out, put a nice jacket on, meet some new people and talk.
You are known as a big comic fan. Do you see any parallel between comics and animation movies?
In a lot of ways comic books are cartoons. They are very colorful visual images that stimulate your psyche as a child. But let’s be clear, I am not reading a stack of Batman comics at 49. This is something that got largely blown out of proportion in the press simply because people have documented that I’ve had some comic books. Having said that, if you look at the effect that these stories have had now on the world, movies like The Dark Knight, Ironman, Superman, they are enormously successful. And it’s not just Americana, it’s affecting the world. That means that there is something to it. There is almost something like an archetype mythology that appeals to people even subconsciously.
When you were a young actor and you thought ahead about your future career is this what you dreamt about?
I didn’t know that I was going to become a source of interest on the Internet, because when I started considering my life seriously as a film actor, or a film maker, we didn’t have the Internet, nor did we have reality TV, nor did we have gossip media. We had me going to see James Dean or Marlon Brando in an art house theatre and I said that’s what I wanna do. Film acting was the most powerful art form, because it made me feel more then any other art form. But I did not get into this to become some sort of Internet target.
Would you say that you are still as passionate as you were as a young actor?
More so. My goal is to return to independently spirited drama where I came from. I more than ever feel the need to reinvent myself. I had a wonderful opportunity with David Gordon Green to work on a movie called Joe, we both got to dig deep on that together, it’s a very dark movie. Than Scott Walker’s The Frozen Ground is a movie I did with John Cusack – it’s a true story about an Alaskan serial killer who John plays and the cop who arrested him. This guy was actually hunting women as if they were animals in the snow. It’s a terrifying story. Both film makers really care, they are both young, enthusiastic and I am excited to work with them, so I am still passionate.
Why do you feel that you have to reinvent yourself?
You always have to. Once I asked David Bowie how do you always do it, how do you do this, how do you always come up with a new sound. He said because I just never got comfortable. I took those words to heart because I knew what he meant. You can’t get comfortable. If you listen to prays any more than you listen to criticism you can get too comfortable doing one thing, and if you listen to criticism you can get it personally and shut down as if you have had a verbally abusive father. So you can’t listen to either, you just can listen to your instrument.
How important is curiosity?
Very, very, important. You gotta stay interested. I have to listen, I have to find something in the Zeitgeist, something in the world that stimulates my psyche. I have to be careful sometimes about what I take in because sources sometimes might not be the most pure.
Is that a part of reinventing yourself?
Sure, it’s also a part of staying inspired.
We talked earlier about the certain kind of isolation connected to becoming a famous actor. Do you ever get used to it and were there times when you struggled with that?
The thing is I never see myself as famous. I don’t wake up in the morning and go oh boy I’m famous. Some of the most embarrassing pictures have been taken of me simply because I wasn’t thinking that I was famous. Someone on an airplane wants to take a picture with you and you wanna be nice and before you know they print it on Huffington Post. So you think to yourself, ok this is a new age. Maybe I should just be signing autographs.
Two years ago there was a vintage car show where a silver Aston Martin 85 was labeled from the collection of Nicolas Cage. Are cars still your passion?
No, you are talking about another life, it’s another life. I am not a car enthusiast anymore. I started acting professionally when I was 15, and now I’m 49 years old. I went through all the lust and urges of a teenager who liked James Bond and wanted to be that and than became someone else. I keep finding different interests.
Are you aware of the fact that your photo is on the cover of a Serbian biology textbook for 8th graders (showing him the photo of the book)? One would assume the image is supposed to portray a happy family, but it’s actually a film still from brothers Coen’s Raising Arizona where you and Holly Hunter kidnap the kid.
I don’t know why I’m on a cover of a biology textbook. I don’t know what the story behind it is, but it’s a nice picture. Holly and I seem to be getting along very well there and there is a little baby. That’s cute.
Do you have any special connection to Germany given the fact that you are half German?
My connection with Germany is simply because my father is Italian and my mother is German. Any time you have that in your family background you wanna know about it and plus I’m an enormously thankful admirer of the music that came out of your beautiful country, music that has touched the world.
Thank you for the interview.
You are welcome.
By the way, my dad says hi.
Well, say hi to your dad for me.