ComingSoon.net/Superhero Hype! talked to Nicolas Cage and Eva Mendes about starring in writer/director Mark Steven Johnson’s Ghost Rider, the adaptation of the Marvel comic. In the film, Cage plays superstar motorcycle stunt rider Johnny Blaze, who made a deal with the devil to protect the ones he loved most: his father and his childhood sweetheart, Roxanne (Mendes). Now, the devil has come for his due. By day, Johnny is a die-hard stunt rider… but at night, in the presence of evil, he becomes the Ghost Rider, a bounty hunter of rogue demons. Forced to do the devil’s bidding, Johnny is determined to confront his fate and use his curse and powers to defend the innocent.
This interview includes minor spoilers about the film’s plot:
CS/SHH!: What did Entertainment Weekly do to you?
Nicolas Cage: Entertainment Weekly hasn’t done anything to me. Somebody asked me a question about “Do you think comic book movies get a bad rap?” And someone mentioned to me that there was a blurb in Entertainment Weekly — very condescendingly — “We get a kick out of watching Academy Award winners being in movies they have no business being seen in.” And I thought, “Well, that’s really shallow thinking, because they can’t get outside their own box.” They don’t understand the concept of what I would say is art. You have different styles and you can choose to be photo realistic like “World Trade Center” or you can be pop art illustrative. Why limit yourself to one style of acting? And especially when you look at “Ghost Rider” you see a comic book story structure that digs a little deeper. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, of course, it’s funny, but it’s coming from Classic themes like Faust with Gerta or Thomas Mann or then “Beauty and the Beast” and it’s fascinating to take those story structures and reintroduce people to it in a pop art, contemporary manner. In a comic book especially, no less, which is fun and reaches a lot of people. Entertainment Weekly is the kind of magazine that is very condescending and they think in a very narrow box and they always have. So, that’s why I would recommend that if you really want to really get your information and know what movies to go see, I wouldn’t resort to that particular publication, because they are pretty shallow.
CS/SHH!: There used to be a time when “Star Wars” would get an Oscar nod. Do you think we’ll go back to a time like that?
Cage: They deserve to, but the problem is you have people like Entertainment Weekly who don’t want to take the beret off their head and stop being so self important and pretentious about the little art film, which I love to, but open your mind. Some very creative people put a lot of hard movie into this movie. Kevin Mack, he drew those visual effects brilliantly with his team. And it’s just a fun ride. It’s a spooky ride. And I hope to see these movies get a little more attention at some point.
CS/SHH!: Eva and Nick, the intimate moment when you touch his head on fire how hard was that?
Eva Mendes: Well I’m a five-year-old at heart. I still think that there is a monster under my bed. And I’m not joking. It’s pathetic, it’s really not cute. So, my imagination, I can go there in a second. Actually, I have the reverse problem. It’s hard for me to control my imagination from not going there.
Cage: Yeah, it’s all about imagination. And that’s what the comic books did for me as a boy. I read “Ghost Rider” and I read the “Hulk.” I liked the monsters. I liked them because I couldn’t understand how something so scary could also be so good. It got me thinking as a very early age. And I had a lot of rehearsal. I was Ghost Rider in my backyard at 8 years old. Nothing has changed.
Mendes: Funny, I was Pippi Longstocking in my backyard.
Cage: You’re a nicer girl.
Mendes: Yeah, I was.
CS/SHH!: What was your barometer in how far you could go?
Cage: Well, that was what I was really excited about. I like the old grand Werewolf movies. And I always wanted to find a way to apply my acting in a big mad monster movie where I was transforming into this scary entity. And I worked with Kevin about where I thought I might go in terms of the physical expressions and he would take snapshots of them. So, I thought there’d be pain because the skin was melting off my face, but then maybe ecstasy the power of the Ghost Rider was surging through me and he was starting to get off on that a little bit. And then also sadness about what is happening. So, then he would download all these different facial expressions into the computer. And I would work with Mark on the day with the DP as to where the camera was going to go and match my moves with the camera. So, then it became like a dance and then wherever I had to go in that private place to come up with imaginary belief that I was transforming into this monster. I wanted it to be like an aria. I wanted even the screams to be like music, like an operatic aria.
CS/SHH!: Eva, your wardrobe in this film is very cleavage friendly. Is that your idea?
Mendes: It’s obviously not my personal style, because I am as bundled up as you can get today. But, yes, that was a choice that the director and I made, as far as like my character in the comic book, Roxanne, is very voluptuous, blonde hair, blue eyes, Caucasian and I’m not Caucasian, I’m a terrible blonde and I don’t have blue eyes, so I figure, “Hey, let’s play up my voluptuous nature,” let’s say. So, we did and in that way were honest to the real comic book heroine.
CS/SHH!: How frustrating is it that some people think your shirtless scene isn’t real?
Cage: Well, I guess on one hand it’s a compliment, but on the other hand that’s a lot of hard work and it’s just getting written off that somebody just did it digitally. It’s a little frustrating.
CS/SHH!: What was something you really wanted in this character considering how involved you were in the production?
Cage: It’s a deeply personal character and I was trying to find a new way of presenting how he would keep dark spirits at bay. I didn’t want him being a heavy drinker or a chain smoker. I wanted him eating jellybeans so he wouldn’t invite the devils in. And I wanted him listening to Karen Carpenter to help him relax so he wouldn’t allow the devil with satanic Goth rock or something. Or, he’s watching chimpanzees do karate instead of ‘The Exorcist.” And all three of those things I was doing in my own life. I was eating jellybeans out of a martini glass and listening to Karen Carpenter and on the Internet watching chimps do karate. And I thought, “Well this is funny, let’s put it in the movie.” But it’s also true.
CS/SHH!: Can you talk about the skull x-rays?
Cage: Yeah, we did all that. They grafted my skull so I guess it is me, which is kind of wild. But what I really love about this character is that we’re all him. We all have human skulls, right? You’ve got one, I’ve got one and we’ve all got one and yet we look at it and we go, “That’s scary.” And then after a little while you go, “Wait a minute. That’s beautiful. He’s human and he’s a total bad ass.” He’s fighting the dark forces, but he’s human. It’s pretty neat.
CS/SHH!: Eva, were you happy your character got to kick some butt there at the end?
Mendes: Yes, I was very happy.
CS/SHH!: Was that in the script when you read it?
Mendes: No, it wasn’t. Mark added that for me, he probably just felt bad since I had major superhero envy the entire shoot. I was like, “I want my head to be on fire.” Y’know?
Cage: Well, I have plans for her.
Mendes: Oh, that’s right. I’m gonna hold you to that.
Cage: I’m working on it.
Mendes: (Laughs.) Anyway.
Cage: I want her to be the She-Hulk.
Mendes: Wouldn’t that be cool?
Cage: That is what I’m working on. I have to talk to Avi about that.
CS/SHH!: Did you read the David Goyer script? It was much darker.
Cage: Yeah, that was a good script. It was really good. Steve Norrington of “Blade” was directing and David wrote that script and I was on board for that. But, whatever happened the studio didn’t want to make it.
CS/SHH!: Because it was more R-rated?
Cage: Yeah, that would have also been a good movie. But that movie dissolved and then Avi brought Mark in and I talked to Mark and Mark found a way to make it more palatable to larger audiences. It became more of a spooky ride. You know you go to the amusement park and you have a rollercoaster and then you have the Haunted Mansion. This is just the right amount of scares to get your adrenaline up, but not so much that you can’t finish the ride. It’s something for the family.
CS/SHH!: What was it like working with Sam Elliott?
Cage: Sam Elliott is an elegant cowboy. I used to be his neighbor in Malibu canyon. It’s funny, we are from the same place, but he has a much more pronounced drawl then I do. And he comes off screen beautifully as this cowboy icon. And I think his performance is very poetic. Every word, every movement is precise and nothing is wasted.
CS/SHH!: What was it like working with Peter Fonda?
Cage: That was a trip. And he made a movie called “The Trip.” (Laughs.)
Mendes: And he was on a lot of acid trips during his days. (Laughs.)
Cage: Peter is the reason why I ride motorcycles. I saw “Easy Rider” and the next day I bought a Harley Davidson and went from L.A. to San Francisco and back to L.A. and became Captain America in my mind. So, when they decided to make this movie and we thought about who was going to play Mephistopheles, originally I wanted Tom Waits. And that was the whole lamp, wig, Pinocchio thing, y’know? But the studio decided with Mark with Peter and I thought about it and I said, ‘That makes sense because who better to seduce a stunt man to sell his soul, but Captain America, ‘Easy Rider’ himself.” And we were there play acting together and there is this bike there and this is Peter there and he’s talking. And I stepped out of myself and looked at the two of us and thought “This is really cool.”
CS/SHH!: Doesn’t he say, “Nice bike”?
Cage: He does say, “Nice bike.”
Mendes: I have to tell you my little Peter Fonda story because I love this story so, so much. So, we’re hanging out on set and there is me and Peter and a couple of people and they are talking about “Easy Rider.” And I’m like, “Shoot, I didn’t see it, I haven’t seen it. I can’t be part of this conversation. Ugh! I hate this.” So, I finally confess and say, “Peter I’m so sorry. I never saw ‘Easy Rider.’ I know it’s a huge deal for American cinema.” And he’s like, “You never saw ‘Easy Rider’?” And I go, “No.” So, he got a group of like ten people together and we all met up at my director’s apartment in Melbourne and he played the movie for me and he sat next to me. And I had a personal commentary by Peter Fonda. And he’d sit there and pause it and be like, “Now, on this scene, it was my 27th birthday and Jack and I were up for two days..” and that’s as far as I can go with that. (Laughs.) So, you know what I mean? It was awesome because he was right there with me and it’s one of those moments when you are going, you’re so thankful ’cause it’s one of the coolest moments. It was very awesome. He’s so generous too. He’s so eager to share. He’s a lovely man.
CS/SHH!: Nic, when we talked to you last, you said you weren’t sure you wanted to continue on with this series. Mark said there have been some talks since then. Can you see yourself now in “Ghost Rider 2”?
Cage: Well, it depends upon the reaction from the movie going audiences if they are enthusiastic about it and if there is a good script. I would say of all the characters I’ve played, my interests coincide with where this particular character could go. I am interested in the metaphysical nature of Ghost Rider and his world. I am a man with an open mind. I really don’t know anything, but I’m very interested in the spiritual and the material. And this is the one superhero who walks between both worlds. I think it’s pretty exciting because he’s new and there is a lot of room for adventure with this guy.
CS/SHH!: What about “National Treasure 2”? Jerry says you’re very involved with the development of that one.
Cage: I think “National Treasure” is a good one, because there are worse things to do than stimulate young people to look in their history books. There is no gunfire, there is no body count. It’s really good entertainment for everybody and I enjoy that. I like the idea of playing a historical detective. This one is going to involve Abraham Lincoln and John Wilkes Booth and the Booth diary and Confederate gold and it has the potential to be more interesting than the first. And then “Ghost Rider” for me is probably closer to my heart, because of what I said earlier of my interests in the possibilities of the spiritual and the material with this part. I think we are living in pretty scary times and people are looking for inspiration and are also more open to the spiritual possibilities.
CS/SHH!: What is the first comic you are going to read to the little one?
Cage: Oh, wow. Probably “Superman.”
CS/SHH!: What comic do you think should be made into a movie that hasn’t? Maybe there is a rights problem?
Cage: Well, I’m really done. I think Ghost Rider is my guy and I’m going to stick with that, but if I had to pay my $7 bucks or $8 bucks
Mendes: It’s like $9.50. (Laughs.)
Cage: Oh, wow. I would go to see the Sub-Mariner come to life. I want to see the water and all the animal life.
Mendes: And She-Hulk.
Cage: Oh, yeah, well that I’m working on.
CS/SHH!: Nick, would you produce that one?
Cage: I’m trying to put that together. As we speak.
Mendes: You guys got to keep bugging him.
Cage: I was talking to Avi. Do you guys get it? Can’t you see it? That would be a fun movie wouldn’t it? Just you in a bikini just kicking a bunch of ass. Throwing cars
Mendes: Why would I have to be in a bikini?
Cage: Because that’s how she’s dressed. (Laughs.)
CS/SHH!: Mark said there could be an extended version. Can either of you remember scenes you shot that didn’t make it into the current version?
Cage: No, I hope they don’t do that. Because I think the movie is really right as is it is right now. Like I didn’t like it when they came out with “Apocalypse Redux.” It’s better just to keep it, I think, the way it was made to be. So, I’m not going to add to that.
Mendes: I haven’t seen the movie. It’s the first time I’m waiting until the premiere actually. I’ve never done this before, waited for the premiere. I will definitely have some wine before I go in, but it will be exciting.
CS/SHH!: Do you have problems watching yourself?
Mendes: The first run? Yeah. I hate everything the first run. I’m like, “That’s awful.” I just think I’m terrible. And then I’m more forgiving the second time. So, I always see something for sure one time and then I make myself see it a second time. Because second time is like, “OK, I’m not that bad. I’m not that horrible.” But the first time I just think I’m god-awful.
CS/SHH!: Nick, going back to She-Hulk? Is this something you would direct?
Cage: No, no it’s just something I came up with.
CS/SHH!: Do we know who the villain is going to be in “National Treasure 2”?
Cage: I don’t know a thing. I don’t know what they are doing. That’s a whole separate kind of machine at this point. They are over there putting things together and when they are ready they will give me a call and let me know what’s happening.
CS/SHH!: Are you also doing a cameo in “Grindhouse”?
Cage: My friend Rob Zombie, I know him only socially. I like him. He’s a nice man. We have good memories together over the years. He said would I do this part of Fu Man Chu and I said sure. One day, two lines, I mean it was just completely ridiculous. I haven’t seen it. I’m not in any of the movies. Two seconds — that’s it.
CS/SHH!: What if Entertainment Weekly ends up giving “Ghost Rider” a very good review?
Cage: It doesn’t really matter. I don’t have any faith in anything they say. So they can say something good or something bad, I don’t really care. I’m just saying that I think it’s a mistake if you refer to that magazine religiously as your guide as to whether or not you’re going to see a movie or not. You’re shooting yourself in the foot, because they don’t get it. They can’t think outside the box. They are very narrow-minded. So it doesn’t really matter if they say anything nice or bad, I really can’t take it seriously.
CS/SHH!: You talked about “National Treasure 2,” can you talk about any other upcoming projects?
Cage: Yeah, “National Treasure 2” is all I have up next. And you?
Mendes: I did my first real like dramatic role last year with Joaquin Phoenix and Mark Wahlberg and Robert Duvall and it’s called “We Own The Night,” directed by James Gray, which I’m really excited about. And then I produced my first independent film, it’s a small film, but we got it done and it’s called “Live.” And it just got accepted to the Tribeca Film Festival. And I’m really proud, because it’s a real indie, indie, indie. I mean, the budget was nothing. And we scrambled and we got it together and we did it. Right now I’m working on a film called “Cleaner” with Ed Harris, it’s so cute, and Samuel Jackson. That’s another drama. I kind of got hooked being directed by James Gray, I kind of love the torture of dramas and I’m kind of in that place right now. I play this widow and it’s very dramatic.
Cage: But Entertainment Weekly is more like a tabloid. So, if you are going to get a tabloid get the National Inquirer, because at least they have a horoscope. Why the extra dollar getting Entertainment Weekly when you can get a horoscope with the National Inquirer? (Laughs.)
Mendes: Did you just make that up? That’s very funny.
Cage: I was thinking about it the whole time [you were speaking].
Mendes: That’s right you were! (Laughs.)
CS/SHH!: What comic books did you read as a girl?
Mendes: The Barbie comic book? I dunno. I was a Barbie girl. I just recently got into comic books because of Mr. Cage.
Cage: It’s so great to be honest, isn’t it? It’s so liberating.
Ghost Rider opens in theaters on Friday, February 16.