There was a moment during the shooting of Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance when Nicolas Cage must surely have thought he’d truly got into the burning head of his character.
Just hours after completing a night-time scene the eccentric 48-year-old star found himself the guest of honour at a Christmas party in Romania. In his own words he yelled at the other guests: “Merry Christmas, you a******s!”
Such behaviour is not uncommon for Cage. His antics on movie sets – and off them – are well documented. It’s 24 years now since he gobbled down a live cockroach for real during the making of Vampire’s Kiss. He has a reputation – a reputation for weirdness...
His latest outing is the second in what must now be considered Cage’s own personal franchise starring Johnny Blaze, a stunt daredevil who sells his soul to Mephistopheles to save his father’s life and becomes the Ghost Rider.
Cage has an appetite for comic books. He has referred to them as the 20th century’s own brand of mythology.
It wouldn’t be too far off the mark to suggest that Cage would be content to spend his working life within the realms of comic books. Aside from his latest – a sequel to 2007’s Ghost Rider – he has flirted with playing the Man of Steel in Tim Burton’s aborted version of Superman and dallied with Spiderman in 2002 when he was initially cast as The Green Goblin before director Sam Raimi went with Willem Dafoe. On the latest Ghost Rider flick Cage claims that he “really believed he was this character”.
“I’d put black contact lenses in my eyes so you couldn’t see any white in the eyes, sew some ancient Egyptian artefacts into my costume, and then I would walk on the set projecting this aura of horror,” says Cage with no hint of a smile.
“I would see the eyes of my co-stars and the fear was there. It just was like oxygen to a fire. That led me to believe maybe I really was this spirit of vengeance.
“The problem is if you have a Christmas party in Romania and some schnapps is involved and you’re still in character, all hell can break loose. And it did. I’m lucky I’m not in a Romanian prison...”
Hmmm, someone is taking the job just the weensiest bit too seriously. But that’s always been Cage’s way. And when it comes to comic books, serious doesn’t do it justice.
He says his childhood was formed via the creations of comic book gurus like Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. He was drawn to monsters like the Hulk, Dr Strange, Silver Surfer and Ghost Rider – just as in his professional life he’s associated with anti-heroes.
Cage has no high-falutin’, deep-seated analysis to make of his choices. His decisions are based on a clear understanding of what constitutes acting.
“I’m attracted to characters that have some obstacle to overcome because to me that’s drama, that’s the human experience. We all have that. But within that I’m attracted to characters that allow me to realise my more surrealist and abstract dreams for film acting.
“I believe in art synthesis. I think that acting need be no different than painting or music. If you can get very ‘outside the box’ in a Francis Bacon painting why can’t you do it in a movie?
“So I’m attracted to characters like Terrence in Bad Lieutenant; he’s high on cocaine, so I can make those sounds and those moves and do crazy things with old ladies and handguns. Or I can in Ghost Rider, because you see that my face is morphing into a skull and there’s pain in that. I can then make those notes come to life.”
Brian Taylor, co-director of Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, has said of Cage “he seems like a lunatic but there’s method to his madness”. Cage nods.
Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance (12A).
Love of comics drives actor
The nephew of Francis Ford Coppola, Cage chose his stage name based on Marvel Comics’ superhero-for-hire Luke Cage.
A part in his uncle’s Rumble Fish in 1983 launched his movie career and in 1987 he took a lead role opposite Cher in Moonstruck. He later took roles in The Coen Brothers’ Raising Arizona; David Lynch’s 1990 Wild at Heart; a lead role in Martin Scorsese’s 1999 New York drama Bringing Out the Dead; and Ridley Scott’s 2003 quirky drama Matchstick Men. He won an Oscar for his performance as a suicidal alcoholic in Leaving Las Vegas and was nominated for Adaptation.