WonderCon Exclusive: Nicolas Cage on The Sorcerer’s Apprentice

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Day 2 of WonderCon 2010 featured presentations by two of Hollywood’s biggest studios, Walt Disney Pictures and Warner Bros., the former having a lengthy chunk of time in the Esplanade Ballroom to present footage and talent from their three big summer movies.

One of the biggest highlights was the first non-trailer footage from Jerry Bruckheimer’s The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, directed by Jon Turteltaub (National Treasure), and we were thrilled to have a chance to talk to the director and to actor Nicolas Cage earlier in the day.

The movie, loosely based on the animated segment from Fantasia of the same name, has Cage playing an ancient sorcerer Balthazar Stone, who has been searching for years for someone called the Prime Merlinean, who will eventually play a huge role in the battle between good and evil sorcerers, known as the Merlineans and Morganians respectively.

The first clip Turteltaub brought to WonderCon was from very early in the movie when Dave first meets Balthazar. Turteltaub set up the clip saying that the 10-year-old Dave (played by Jake Cherry) has sent a note to this girl he likes named Becky, who is played by Teresa Palmer when they’re grown up, essentially asking her to check whether he can either be her a.) friend or b.) boyfriend. She’s made her choice but before Dave can look at it, the note has blown away.

The extended clip opens with Dave chasing the note onto a back alley that has loose papers flying everywhere, and he comes to a shop where outside is parked Balthazar’s vintage Phantom car. Dave continues to follow the note until it slips into the mail slot of a strange shop, which is Balthazar’s Arcana Cabana. Cautiously, Dave walks in and surveys the shelves that are filled with odd magical trinkets, before coming to a dusty Arabic lamp and he starts polishing off the dust but instead of a genie coming out, he accidentally bumps into something, which starts a chain of things falling over, including a large vase, which is quickly snatched up by Cage’s Balthazar before it shatters. He says that the second emperor of the Han Dynasty put his least favorite wife in that urn for ten years to the day, and that if you open it up, the same thing will happen to whomever does it.

Young Dave apologizes and asks if he’s seen the note that blew into his store, and Balthazar asks if that was just a coincidence which Dave confirms. Balthazar says something, calling Dave by name, and when the young boy asks how he knows his name, Cage yells “Because I can read minds!!!” (pause) “It’s on your backpack.” (This got a big laugh.)

He pulls out a small box and says, “This is very special and if it likes you, you can keep it.”

Dave responds, “I better not. My teacher said I can’t be gone for long, she knows I’m here.”

Balthazar says that Dave’s a bad liar but that’s good. (This is a comment that will be revisited in the second clip, so possibly a recurring gag.)

He opens the tiny box and there’s a small metallic dragon statue inside which Dave takes, and it comes to life and walks across his hand and forms itself into a ring around his finger. “No way,” Dave says.

Balthazar goes into a version of the speech we hear as voice-over during the trailer, “I have been searching for a very long time, my child. This means something, that you’re going to be a very important sorcerer one day, and your first lesson is right now with your very own encantus.” (Whatever that might be.)

“Don’t move, do not touch anything,” Balthazar warns as he runs down a spiral staircase to the basement. It was hard to figure out exactly what happens next, but basically, Dave doesn’t listen, and when he waves the hand with the dragon ring, a force hits the wall smashing it, the wall shatters and out falls a Grimhold, what looks like a Russian porcelain doll with an image of a man in a suit and a bowler hat. When it hits the ground, we see the scene from the new trailer as cockroaches start to emerge from the cracks in the Grimhold and they start to converge and morph into the form of Max Horvath, Alfred Molina’s character and the main villain of the piece. He asks Dave where he is, and misunderstanding, the boy says he’s in New York City and Horvath angrily corrects him, “Not where… the year.” Horvath advances with his cane raised, handle glowing a bright blue with power.

At that point, Balthazar returns and asks, “What happened to ‘don’t touch anything'”? Horvath says something to which Balthazar tells him to be quiet and tells Dave “he’s been like this for a thousand years.” He asks where the other Grimhold is and we see that another one has been released by Dave’s carelessness. It has a woman’s image on it, which we can assume is either Monica Bellucci’s character–who we still haven’t seen in any of the trailers–or it could also be the Grimhold containing Morgana le Fey, the greatest sorceress in history, something that will play a large part in the movie in terms of the balance between good and evil magicians.

Horvath uses his powers to grab a sword and lunges it at Balthazar, who uses his own powers to grab a large African mask that just stops the sword from going through his face. This leads to a sword fight of sorts with Balthazar holding his own sword and Horvath’s floating in the air. During much of this sequence, it was fairly obvious that Turteltaub had been using music from “Pirates of the Caribbean” as temp track in the background, but that became really obvious during the sword fight.

The two continue to struggle, and then Balthazar forms a ball of plasma and blasts Horvath with it, who seemingly catches it midair, then creates his own ball of flame and proceeds to set the shop on fire, as he advances on Dave. Then Balthazar jumps out of the fire from behind Horvath and pulls him back and they’re both dragged into the sand-filled urn he mentioned in the beginning pulling the two men into it for ten years. His last words to Dave are, “In ten years, I’ll find you!” to which Horvath adds, “So will I!”

Essentially, this opening scene is almost a prologue that sets up the relationships via an encounter Dave has with Balthazar and Horvath years earlier than the modern-day story, one he might have even forgot about before Dave runs into Balthazar again, while he’s attending NYU. It was a surprisingly long clip that immediately established the humor of the movie, as well as the level of action both physical and magical, since we already know this is going to be movie that’s heavy on CG special FX.

The second scene is in fact ten years later, presumably after Balthazar has reunited with Dave and gave him his pitch to make him into a great sorcerer, with Horvath already trying to stop this from happening. He’s also gotten his own apprentice, named Drake Stone and played by Toby Kebbell, a sorcerer who has been doing the Vegas circuit doing magic like Criss Angel using his powers and abilities. They’ve tracked Dave down into a bathroom at NYU with plans to get the Grimhold mentioned earlier back from him. (It’s interesting to note that both Alfred Molina and Toby Kebbell appear in Jerry Bruckheimer’s other summer film Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, except in that one, Molina plays a more comic role and Kebbell plays a serious one, opposite from “Sorcerer’s.”)

This entire scene takes place in this bathroom as the camera zooms in and we hear Jay Baruchel off-camera singing (probably while peeing). Stone walks in wearing a leather outfit, his blonde hair spiked up for an outlandishly garish look, and he says to Dave, “So you’re the one, the Prime Merlinean, eh? You don’t look like much.” Dave has no idea who he is or what he’s talking about, which Drake seems to like because it “makes things easy.” He kicks something into what looks like the hand dryer, saying something about not wanting anyone to hear Dave’s “girlie cries.” Dave still has no idea who he is and asks if he’s in Depeche Mode. (Another big laugh.) Dave whines about this being like high school all over again, as Drake pins him against the wall.

And then Horvath walks in and says “Hello, Dave, I’m going to kill you. Right here in this dismal bathroom.” But first, he wants to know where the Grimhold is, which he refers to as a “she.” Dave plays dumb and doesn’t know what Max is talking about. Horvath says, “Oh, he hasn’t told you truth about who’s inside the doll?” and that Dave has “put his faith in the wrong man.” He then asks Dave if he’s ever been in love and realizing that Dave is currently in love (with Becky, who finally agreed to a date), Horvath suggests what might happen if Dave lost her, and asks again for the Grimhold. Dave says, “I don’t know.” Horvath laughs and says that Dave really is the worst liar.

“That’s what I keep telling him,” Balthazar says off camera and we see that he has caught Drake and has him suspended in the air. “Want your guy back?” and he sends Drake flying across the room.

Balthazar advances, waves his hand and turns the bathroom mirror into some sort of liquid portal, which Horvath refers to as the “Hungarian Mirror Trap,” saying he hadn’t seen it in a while, to which Balthazar responds that he’s “old-fashioned.” The two of them struggle to force the other one into the mirror, until Balthazar sends Horvath flying into the stalls, and Balthazar asks Dave what he’s doing.

Turteltaub has mentioned that these two clips weren’t necessarily the best scenes in the movie as much as the two scenes that were completely finished in terms of the FX.

Earlier, we had a chance to sit down with Mr. Cage himself to talk exclusively not only about The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, but also the movie he’s currently shooting, the 3D revenge thriller Drive Angry.

ComingSoon.net: I love the Miles Davis analogy you made earlier in regards to your acting, and it’s funny, because Davis took a lot of chances. You also take chances, especially for a movie like this where you’re taking something you really like, creating something brand new and coming out in the middle of a summer full of sequels and sure-things. Can you talk about what inspired you to take these kinds of chances and to try and do something really different?
Nicolas Cage: Well, what’s interesting about it for me is that I felt very comfortable with this part in that regard. It wasn’t like a chance I took with “Kick-Ass.” I knew that this would be a good fit for me, but I don’t think people know that, so that was what was new about it, I was getting to play something that had been a dream of mine for a while. So, in terms of my comfort zone, that wasn’t in the balance, I felt pretty confident with it. But taking risks and doing work that challenges me is how I learn or how I grow or how I possibly get something. I don’t really know what I’m gonna get, but when I hear it, I can intuit, I intuitively know its right. I can’t keep doing things that I am comfortable with, that I love too much. I gotta do things that I don’t love too much, because that way I will be pushed and pulled in new directions.

CS: How about convincing Jerry or Jon, both people you’ve worked with before, to get involved with this new idea you have?
Cage: You know what? Jerry went for it right away. He sparked right away which was great. He read the script and said, “Hey, we’re doing this,” and I was really touched by that for a lotta reasons, first because I was thrilled, and I knew we were gonna have a wonderfully, wildly entertaining movie, but also because he read the script and was a friend about it.

CS: I love how reactions have gone from when the project was first announced from the first teaser to the second teaser. As people see more and more, they start getting more interested and the reactions get better and better. Do you follow any of that stuff at all as it’s going on or do you really stay separate from the outside world?
Cage: It’s hard not to follow it because people will tell you about it even if you’re not anyway, but I try to stay somewhat removed from all that, because I feel like once I’ve made the movie, outside of the fact that yeah, I want to meet people like here at WonderCon who are enthusiastic about pop art. But it’s really left the nest and there’s not too much more I can do about it. It’s off on its own.

CS: “National Treasure” is a great example of that. No one knew what to expect, and it just exploded. I’m interested in that, because with this, you’re trying to make a family movie, which is highly admirable. Not many studios are trying to make movies that adults and kids can enjoy together, movies for everybody.
Cage: Everybody, yeah. Well, I do believe that about “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” that it will be some really scary, spooky moments in it that will entertain adults as well.

CS: What about the comedy? You’ve done a lot of roles with the comedic side. Are you taking more of a serious role in this one and letting Jay run with that?
Cage: I think in some ways, yeah. I think their relationship is not unlike Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. Jay has got this wonderful physicality about him that’s so fun to watch, but Balthazar, he’s the teacher and he’s gotta keep him in balance to get the job done, because there’s a lot of pressure at stake, something really bad is brewing. It’s called “The Rising” and that’s the spell that the magicians that use the magic for selfish gains try to take over humanity, the Morganeans, and then the magicians that use magic to help mankind, the Merlineans, are trying to keep that from happening.

CS: Was all that stuff you worked out very early on with the guys who wrote it?
Cage: Yeah, we all talked about it. It was always very important to me that the laws of magic were somehow presented and that a true, good magician would never ever use the powers of magic to promote himself or to sit at the best table. He would only use the power he felt that he could help on some level.

CS: How do you feel about doing projects like this and “Ghost Rider” where there’s so much special FX involved, there’s no way of knowing what’s going on until after they’re done? Do you get a chance to see this stuff as it’s progressing or do you generally wait?
Cage: I pretty much just wait it out until they show me something. I feel that if I can do movies that rely heavily on the imagination I have a lotta room to play with it. Like I said earlier, that the possibilities are limitless, it’s an infinite number of choices you can do if you’re not fitting them within the context of a reality or quote-unquote “reality,” you know, whatever that is.

CS: You talked earlier about doing different things in your comfort zone. You do make a lot of movies and I’d think at a certain point as an actor, you could do one movie a year, but you really are always finding interesting projects and jumping into them. Like “Drive Angry” for instance.
Cage: Well, I have been blessed with that, I mean, I must say, so far–knock on wood–I’ve made movies I really wanted to make. Movies that came to me or I sought out, but appealed to me on some dimensional level. But they’ve always scared me a little except for maybe “Sorcerer’s” – I’ve always felt like, “Well, what’s going to happen here? What’s the challenge? What’s the risk?” I think that’s because that’s when I feel I’m most alive in my work, or my sounds, just when I can do something that pushes me outta my comfort zone.

CS: Have you and Jon and Jerry talked about what you want to do with “National Treasure 3,” where you want to go with it and what you want to do different? I assume you’d want to do something completely different, because this was never planned as a trilogy.
Cage: That’s something you’d have to talk with Jerry about because I don’t know what they have in store. I’m not really contacted until they’re really had it thought out, the whole concept, and then they’ll pitch it to me. I think they do that because they want to make sure that they have it right and everyone will be happy.

CS: Have you started working on “Drive Angry” or is that done shooting?
Cage: I just started “Drive Angry.” I’m very excited about it. I’m enjoying working with Patrick Lussier, working with Amber Heard, David Morse. The reason why I’m so excited about it is because I feel that it’s cutting edge. It’s a 1970’s style road actioner with supernatural elements in 3D from scratch, so it’s like it’s not a veneer has been put on after the movie’s been made, it’s that the cameras are all 3D cameras and it’s all being dialed-in to embrace the cars and the images. Patrick’s got it very carefully thought out. Every day I work on it, I get excited about new possibilities with it. Billy Burke plays a character who is a Satanist, a cultist and he’s a fascinating character, but he actually does some pretty awful things in the park with my character’s daughter. What happens is he sorta calls my character up, but I don’t want to talk too much about it.

CS: Are you changing your acting style a lot for the 3D cameras or not really?
Cage: I’m trying to mess with the format. I’m trying to see, “Well, can I stick my tongue out here and have it go 3D?” I’m actually trying to do things like that with it as an actor, “Well, how can I mess with this? How can I mess with this new format?”I’ll do scenes where I’ll try to get the tongue all the way out to the second row of the audience.

CS: Is there going to be a similar amount of driving action ala the remake of “Gone in 60 Seconds” you did a while ago?
Cage: Yeah, I mean, there will be a lotta that. It’s called “Drive Angry,” so I mean, there’s gonna be a lotta car chases in it.

CS: Are you gonna have any footage ready for Comic-Con this year?
Cage: I hope so. That would be great. I’m sure they’ll do their best to get something out there.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice opens on July 16. Look for our exclusive interview with Jon Turteltaub before then as well as more from the New York City set we visited last year.

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