Nicolas Cage has built a career out of bold, surprising choices. Whether he’s channeling his wildfire energy into zany comedies like Raising Arizona, notching it down to naturalism a la Joe and his Oscar-winning turn in Leaving Las Vegas, or going “full-Cage” in his string of famously unhinged performances, from Vampire’s Kiss to Face/Off to his latest, Mom and Dad, Cage has always been a performer tunes his instrument to exactly the right key for the role. And whether he’s plotting to steal the declaration of independence or singing the Hokey Pokey while he bashes a pool table to bits, Cage goes there, delivering gonzo performances so manic, you’re almost convinced he doesn’t know what he’s doing. Almost.
In the disturbed, delirious horror comedy Mom and Dad, Cage delivers one of his most calibrated, unleashed “operatic” performances yet as Brent, a weary but loving father who discovers a biological urge to murder his own children when a mysterious mass hysteria sweeps the globe. Cage swings from fits of rage to blubbering tears, breaking down doors, shouting profanities, and yes, beating the shit out of a pool table while he scream-sings the Hokey Pokey.
With Mom and Dad avaiilable now in theaters and on VOD and Digital HD, I recently had the opportunity to jump on the phone with Cage to chat about channeling his childhood rage for the role and his simpatico relationship with director Brian Taylor — who previously co-directed the Cage vehicle Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. We also talked about how his process has evolved over the years, how he prefers to work with directors, and the horror movies that caught his eye recently.
COLLIDER: I got a real big kick out of this movie.
CAGE: Oh, thank you. Yeah. It’s kind of a wild ride, isn’t it?
It is. It’s an absolute blast, and I’m totally the market for it. When you premiered it at TIFF, you said it was your favorite movie you’ve made in 10 years. What earned it that distinction?
CAGE: Well, I just thought it was unlike any other film that I have made and really had seen. I felt that it was brave and I took an opportunity to realize one of my performance dreams. You know, Brian and I, Brian Taylor that is, are both fans of Stephen King, and Brian likes the kind of colloquial aspect of Stephen King’s work and turning that on its head. And, I’ve always been a fan of Jack Nicholson’s performance in The Shining. And, I wanted to see if I could ever do a performance where I could try to achieve a level of menace and comedy at the same time, and sort of try to approach something like that. When I read Brian’s script, I thought that was the opportunity to do it.
And, so when I saw the finished result for the first time in Toronto, I was pleased with the results, and I felt like, you know, it was sort of the target I wanted to hit. That’s a satisfying feeling because lord knows that doesn’t always happen. So, I was really pumped in those interviews, and I said that because of the virtue of the fact that I think we hit our target where we were looking for, Brian and I. And then, I also thought that it was very original.
You talk about hitting the mark between comedy and menace, and of course that conjures to me the Hokey Pokey scene. Was that in the script, or did you find that on set?
CAGE: What happened was the scene where I’m beating up the pool table with a sledgehammer was in the script, but the hokey pokey came from — ’cause my character is deeply frustrated in that moment, and the hokey pokey came from my own experience from kindergarten where the Bureau of Education, I had realized, designed a song to sort of separate the dis-coordinated children from the coordinated children. Not that I was dis-coordinated, but I had friends who were, and I knew what was going on. You have to put your right foot in, then your left, and tap your head and turn around. They’re trying to like sort you out, like who’s dis-coordinated and who isn’t.
And, I took great umbrage with that at like five years old, and it really pissed me off, and I hated doing the hokey pokey. So, I said, “Well, what would really get me frustrated? What do I despise really more than anything? It’s the song hokey pokey.” And so, I thought well that’s the perfect place to put it, so I just put it in the movie.
That’s fantastic. Can you talk a bit about your dynamic with your director Brian Taylor? Because finding moments like that on set takes a lot of room for freedom and exploration.
CAGE: Brian and I have a shorthand together. This was our sophomore effort, I got to work with him as well on Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, and I enjoyed the experience very much. And, you know he’s somebody that has a kind of absurdist vision of things that coincides with my own, and I know that he’s willing to let me find things and bring them forward to him because he has a similar taste. Because we have that shorthand working together, it happened very quickly. He knows how to sort of let me go, or go inward and pull things out that will apply to the character. Conversely, I know that he’ll use it if it fits within his vision, and he won’t if it doesn’t.
So, it’s a kind of a, almost like a jazz style of directing and acting where we’re both kind of playing off of each other. And, even just thinking about our sort of process it makes me laugh, because he is truly, he has a great sense of humor. And, we both wanted to do something that was ironic. We both wanted to do something that was the blackest of humor in the most kind of absurd way.
When you talk about working in this sort of jazz style with him, you’ve had such a wide-ranging career, working with so many incredible filmmakers. Is that the way you prefer to work? Or, do you like adapting to the different ways that different directors do it?
CAGE: Well, as a film performer, I’m always there to serve the director. I’m always there to try to fit within the director’s vision and the tone of the director’s vision. So, that’s my first principle. But, yeah I like to change it up. I don’t like to do the same thing over again. I like to try different approaches.
For example, when I did Joe I wanted a much more minimal approach and a much more internal approach and a much more naturalistic approach. But, when I did Mom and Dad, I knew that that was a vehicle, for lack of a better word, that would probably best be served by imploring my more operatic and … you know organic, but still surrealistic approach to film performance.
How much has the way you approach your craft changed since you first started acting?
CAGE: Well, I’m much more in touch my instrument, which is my body, which is my face, which is my voice, which is my more sacred stuff that’s more internal that’s hard to talk about that I, you know, comes from the imagination or comes from the spirit. And, I think now it’s at my fingertips, the ability, after doing it for so long and having made so many films to access my emotions and my dreams.