There are many big movie stars who come to the Toronto International Film Festival with their latest movies, but nobody who brings the weird like Nicolas Cage. Cage often likes to talk about the original spelling of the word, Wyrd, as an early Anglo-Saxon concept. When he took the stage of the TIFF official press conference, he brought uniquely Nicolas Cage moments to the festival.
The film he is in Toronto with sounds like a traditional thriller. Trespass is a story of a family attacked by burglars who want father Kyle Miller (Cage)’s sample of diamonds from his business. As the crisis wears on, Miller becomes an awkward hero, complete with a wavering voice that most traditional actors would never take on. The film comes to DVD on Nov. 1.
Q: I think this might be the best voice you’ve done for a character since Peter Loew in Vampire’s Kiss. How did you come up with the voice?
Nicolas Cage: Oh, bless you’re heart. I’m so happy you noticed. Voice is one of the tools of film acting. Any chance I can get to play with it, I’m going to jump on. I wanted Kyle Miller to be somebody that would in your mind be the last person that could rise against this untenable situation he finds himself and his family in. So one of the ways to do that was to make the voice just a little bit [different.] I say that he’s sexually confused. He’s someone that you wouldn’t expect to defend himself and his family in that situation, so I wanted to play with that. One of the things that I said to Joel when I agreed to do the movie with him, I wanted to play him with a stutter as well. We talked about it but then as we started photography, he kind of talked me out of it and I take his point. It probably worked better without it but then again we might be wearing tuxedos later this year if I had a stutter.
Q: Why did you see him with a stutter?
NC: I wanted to show that someone that speaks in a way that might be fragile could still surprise you, could still be tough, could still take unexpected chances and risks. The only way I wanted to confirm that idea is I added a little line where I said to Ben Mendelsohn’s character, “I’m worth more dead than alive.” What that means is he’s not afraid to die. If you can take me out, maybe I can solve all this for my family because I am worth more dead than I alive. So that was another way to demonstrate that he was not afraid. I like counterpoint. I think of acting as music. Any kind of new sound with a voice, any kind of surprise I can give you, any kind of surprise I can give you, any counterpoint I can give you to keep you guessing is what I’m going to go for.
Q: Why would he be sexually confused?
NC: Because I have friends that you see them in married relationships. They’re obviously heterosexual but sometimes you look at them, you go, “Well, are you or are you not?” All the time that I met these people, they’ve been staunch family men who are very aggressive and protective of their families so I wanted to show that. I wanted to show that he is the last person that you might think could be tough in those circumstances but he is. Not that being feminine doesn’t mean you can’t be tough. That’s the point, that you can be tough. So I’m trying to break down stereotypes and I guess archetypes and play a character that is surprising.
Q: Have you ever experienced trespassing where a fan got into your home?
NC: I have lived through the nightmare. I have actually been one of those people who has had a home invasion. It was 2:00 in the morning. I was living in Orange County at the time. I was asleep with my wife. My two-year-old at the time was in another room. I opened my eyes and there was a naked man wearing my leather jacket eating a fudgesicle in front of my bed. I know that sounds funny, and it is if I look back on it, but it was horrifying. I immediately jumped out of bed, he ran into my bathroom. I don’t know why he was naked, maybe because he had swum up onto the dock and crept his way into the house and had no clothes. I said, “What are you doing in my house? What are you doing in my house? You get out of my house.” I did tell him to get out and some people came and they put him into a facility. I didn’t press charges because I realized he wasn’t all there, but the cops said to me that if he had broken into anybody else’s house in this neighborhood, he would have been shot but I don’t have a gun in my house. I’m always going to try to talk you out of violence if I can, but it was horrible. Horrible for my wife, it was a terrifying night and I could never really stay in that house after that.
Q: Francis Ford Coppola was at this festival earlier. Do you keep in touch with that side of the family, and what made you become Nicolas Cage instead of Coppola?
NC: Nicolas Cage is who I really am, even though my passport says otherwise. I kind of had to reinvent myself to be able to have the guts to sit here in front of you today. Nicolas Coppola was a very scared little boy. I had to reinvent who I was going to be to make my dreams come true. When I was Coppola, it was very hard for me to be taken seriously by my colleagues and also by my casting agents when I would go in on a meeting. So when I went out on Valley Girl, Martha Coolidge was directing, I was 17. I changed my name and nobody had known that I changed my name. They did not know who I was and it was immediately like a giant weight had come off my body. I said wow, I got this part and I didn’t know I was a Coppola. Then I started believing in myself. That’s not to say I’m not proud of my family. I am and all their accomplishments and what they have done, but I’ve kind of gone my own direction.
Q: Have you watched any of your own films with your son? Does he have a favorite?
NC: No, no. If we happen to be channel surfing and a movie of mine comes on, off! Shut it off. I don’t want my movies played in the house. I don’t watch my movies. As long as I can keep that going, I will. I’d rather him still call me dad, not Nicolas Cage. He started calling me Nicolas Cage and then I said, “No, I’m daddy.” Just the other day, I was saying, “Quickly, quickly, we’ve got to go to school quickly.” Under his breath, he didn’t know I heard him, he said, “And Quickly is my middle name.”
Q: Is it true you are signing on for The Expendables 2?
NC: I haven’t really pursued that. I don’t know much about it except what I read on the internet. Stallone is somebody that I like and he’s always been very friendly to me over the years so I would consider it but I haven’t had any formal discussions about it.
Q: How do the big action movies and the small indie movies coexist for you?
NC: Great, they coexist very well. It’s an opportunity to experiment on smaller movies and then once I find a sound that I like or a move I like or a style I like, I might take a chance with it on a bigger movie. The best example of that was I ripped off Vampire’s Kiss to no end when I did Face/Off. I was just constantly going back and looking at Vampire’s Kiss and coming up with ideas that applied to the Face/Off movie. So it’s kind of like a laboratory. Because there’s not so much money at stake, you can experiment a little more and it just keeps it fresh for me. I like to hopscotch between genres and all kinds of movies.
Q: Is it difficult to find challenging material on a big studio level?
NC: I don’t think it’s so difficult actually. There’s a lot of opportunities to try different kinds of characters and genres. I’m about to do a movie now called Frozen Ground. Scott Walker’s directing for the first time. John Cusack, and it’s a true story of the horrifying and brutal killings of the young ladies in Alaska. They hunt them like animals. So to me this is a challenge because I’m playing a real detective and this man is a real hero and I don’t want to let him down. I have to go meet him and I have to portray him honestly but at the same time give it some pizzazz so that it’s interesting for audiences, but I feel pressure. I feel that this is something that’s more cinema verite, more docudrama. I haven’t done anything like that. Maybe World Trade Center but it’s been a while.
Q: This movie was filmed in Louisiana, as was Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. Is Louisiana your new home?
NC: Well, no, I actually live in Nassau but I spend more time in Louisiana than anywhere else in the United States. We used to make jokes about it on the set because in the ‘70s people around the world saw the United States as beaches and surfers and palm trees. Now they’re going to see it as swamps and alligators.
Q: Do you have any plans to work with Werner Herzog again?
NC: Well, it’s interesting. We came close. We were going to do something called Fire and Rain. Nobody could figure out how to make the movie within the $30 million budget because fire, special effects and computer graphics were going to be at least 70. Nobody could come up with the budget until Werner came along. Werner said, “Now, Nicolas. We will go into the forest fire. There will be fires in this part of the year and we will go in. now I did this once before and there was a microphone and it just melted. Will you do it?” And I said, “Yeah.” “But you have a small child. Are you sure you want to do it?” “Yeah, let’s go.” But I never heard back.
Q: Who are the young actors and filmmakers that you’re excited about today?
NC: I kind of go around it the other way. Everybody I want to work with is dead. I missed the boat on Kubrick. Here, I’ll raise a glass to Cliff Robertson. I really wanted to work with him. I loved his performance in “The Galaxy Being” in The Outer Limits. I got a chance to work with Peter Falk which I’m very thankful for, another hero, but my great heroes, with the exception of maybe Eastwood and Nicholson, are pretty much all gone.