Interview with a Cockroach-Eating Vampire
A Sit-down with Nic Cage
By Tim Bennett
Freaky-deaky actor Nicolas Cage carved a niche for himself with oddball performances in Raising Arizona, Moonstruck, Wild at Heart and Leaving Las Vegas, and then, in 1996, he completely defied expectations by becoming an action hero in his first collaboration with uberproducer Jerry Bruckheimer, The Rock.
Cage followed up The Rock with more action flicks like Bruckheimer’s Con Air and director John Woo’s Face/Off, while still squeezing in artier fare like Bringing Out the Dead.
Cage’s collaborates with Bruckheimer for a third time in this summer’s Gone in 60 Seconds in which he plays a master car thief. Cage and I sat down in Beverly Hills to discuss working with Bruckheimer, fast cars and killer mimes.
You’re a car freak, right? How big is your personal collection?
My collection isn’t as big as it once was. I’m pairing down. Um, right now I have about ten of them.
What’s your favorite?
It’s a Jaguar D-type from 1955. It’s horse racing green.
Is there any car in particular you’d like to add?
Yeah, there is one car that I think is the greatest car of all, but it’s impossible to ever get. Ralph Lauren has one. It’s called a Bugatti Atlantic, and it’s so beautiful. It’s probably a ‘37. I’m not sure. There’s only two or three left in the world. Whoever has them is keeping them. And even if they did sell them, they’d be over twenty million dollars.
After seeing how easy it is to steal a car in the movie, are you concerned about the safety of your collection?
Not much. I mean if they want your car they are going to get it. The only thing I know is that they want certain kind of cars I think your best protection is to not, don’t drive, well… I can’t, well, who cares… don’t drive a Lexus or a Porche. Because those are the cars on the hit list. They are great cars though and maybe they’ve figured out a way to do it. I know with the satellite tracking systems which they addressed in the movie you have to put the car into a place where they can’t penetrate the wall.
What’s the most insane thing that’s happened to you in a car?
It was before Wild at Heart. I had just done Birdy, so I was about twenty, twenty-one. Hands down, unequivocally, the scariest thing that has ever happened to me was in a car that actually had been stolen later and I think it was probably a good thing. It was an Austin Healey which had been modified with a Ford V8. So it was sort of a Cobra wannabe. And it looked like it too.
So it was a cool-looking car that I painted lime green and I’m driving it, and I just put a new automatic in it -- for some reason I decide to go automatic with it. The guy that put the automatic in it didn’t do a very good job with the transmission, and I am driving down the 101 going into the Valley -- Ventura -- and I ‘m going and I accidentally hit the transmission with my elbow and it didn’t have one of those locks on it so that you can push the button in and I put the car in park and I am going fast and I’m doing 360s on the freeway and there’s no top, okay?, and I wind up facing traffic and then a guy in a Mack truck on a CB radio is saying put the car in reverse because I don’t know what to do. So I put the car in reverse and I am driving backwards on the 101 and then I go off the Ventura offramp backwards and …(laughs) I was going to meet a girl for a date -- this was a few years ago -- and I went to her house and I said look, “I really need a drink right now.” I don’t remember what happened after that, but it was the worst car experience I ever had. I don’t know why I am still alive.
Are you a lead foot?
Yeah, I am.
Did you learn how to grab a car, and could you drive it like you did in the movie if you actually managed to steal one?
Uh, no. I could definitely do a 360 and a 180, but I don’t think I could do it without getting pulled over by the cops and giving me a ticket. I mean, I had carte blanche to do whatever I wanted on the streets, but I couldn’t do any other way. (laughs)
Have you ever been pulled over, but let off because you’re Nic Cage?
No, I have been stopped by the police and they’ve given me tickets because I’m Nic Cage.
They let you do a lot of your own driving in this film…
Yeah. It’s strange. Jerry wanted me to do it. The director wanted me to do it. I am not the kind of actor that says, “Oh, I’m macho, and I’ll do my own stunts.” I mean the stuntman has to feed his family, too. But they insisted, "We want to see it’s you in the car." I said, "Okay, I’ll do it. " The only people that didn’t want me to do it was the studio because they saw how fast I was going and they knew it was me and they said, "You got to tell him to slow down. This is getting ridiculous."
Was it tough to maneuver with all the camera mounts on the car?
Terrible. It’s just terrible. They have all these cameras mounted around the car. Each camera is something like $450,000. I have something like five or six of them on the car. I am driving down alleyways that are fifteen feet wide with rigs on the car that are enormous and I am doing like seventy or eighty miles per hour thinking for sure I am going to take one of these cameras off with a brick. And I, in a way, I was more terrified of that because I was afraid of the humiliation, like I was going to be this laughing stock for taking the cameras off the camera car.
Did you break anything?
No I didn’t break anything. I didn’t break myself. And I didn’t break anybody else. So I feel very fortunate.
Being such a car freak, it seems odd that you didn’t jump on Gone in 60 Seconds when it was first offered to you…
Well, that’s true. I am a car freak. It did have a lot to do with my decision to make the movie. I have always been passionate about them. Having said that, I still wanna know there’s something I can act. You know? And knowing Jerry (Bruckheimer), I was pretty confident that he would put together a terrific cast, as he has, but I still wanted to know that there were scenes where there was some kind of dilemma and from those conversations, we built up the back story of the two brothers, of his needing to go back into a life of crime to do good. Ultimately, to save his brother’s life. That to me was interesting because that’s not your standard politically-correct action hero. That’s somebody that’s a little bit on the wrong side of the tracks. I thought the idea of having people root for a car thief would be unique.
Did you get to keep Eleanor, the 1967 Shelby Mustang in the film?
No. I think Jerry Bruckheimer did. I am in that phase now where I wish I had that wooden hand from Moonstruck and the straitjacket from Wild at Heart. For some reason, I was giving all that stuff away. I thought as an actor, it was like a lizard shedding its skin. It was like, “Okay, I am done with that. Let’s move on.”
How about the cockroach from Vampire’s Kiss?
Yeah. I freezedried it. I’ve kept that for you. (laughs)
You’re one of a small handful of actors who can transit between big budget action flicks and smaller pictures like Leaving Las Vegas. But the juggling act has drawn criticism from your peers. How do you respond to their comments?
I’m really happy with the career that I have. I’m happy with the choices that I’ve made. I feel lucky that I can make all kinds of movies. I can make action films. I can make comedies. I can make dramas. One of the things that I find really odious is a pretentious actor who thinks that, you know, they are wearing their beret and they are smoking their little cigarettes and they are cooler than everybody because they only make art films. I like art films, and I make them. I also like action movies, and I make those too. I just want to do everything.
Do you find it frustrating that when, in the face of that criticism, you do an art film and audiences don’t seem to flock to it? Specifically, I’m talking about Bringing Out the Dead, which I thought was amazing…
Well thank you. It can be frustrating I guess. In that case, it was. Essentially, to me, the movie dealt with the theme of compassion and that doesn’t really light up a lot of fireworks for a lot of people. It’s not a subject that people are that interested in, so I can’t say that I am surprised. But I can say I had a wonderful time working with Marty, and I am proud of the work that we did
together, and I only hope that we will do it together again some time.
How do you respond when the press asks questions about your personal life and your relationship?
Actually, I understand the need for that question and I don’t judge it. I just personally want to keep that part of my life private just like anybody else would. I realize it’s the neighborhood and we all want to know. Like that Tom Waits’ song, “What’s he building in there?” But also in the neighborhood, we want our privacy.
It’s a pretty fine line.
I feel like I have a pretty good relationship with the press. For some reason, I managed to fly below the radar. I don’t know why.
What’s been your strangest fan encounter?
Well, it was actually Bringing Out the Dead. I guess the person would fall into the stalker category, more or less. I was being stalked by a mime (laughs). And the mime would be on the set. Silent but deadly. I think that would probably be the weirdest.