The term “subdued” is not one which has too often been applied to Nicolas Cage’s onscreen performances in recent times. But in the new political drama The Runner, the Oscar-winning actor gives a decidedly introspective performance as a married New Orleans politician named Colin Price whose career is detroyed by a sex scandal.
“I’ve been doing this now, it’s getting close to 40 years,” says Cage. “I tried different kinds of expressions in film performance. I’m not a snob about movies. I like all kinds of movies. And when I went into fantasy and horror I really wanted to use that as a mechanism for me to get more surrealistic, or more operatic, in film performance. Then I thought, Well, maybe now it’s time to return to a — as you say — more introspective approach, something a little more internal. I started doing that with a movie I made a couple of years ago called Joe. It was just a return to a quieter kind of film performance, which is what’s of interest to me at the moment. That’s not to say that I still won’t go back to the kind of larger, more baroque styles of perfoermance that I’ve played with before. But what’s interesting is I’ve noticed that sometimes people think that’s really the way I am. I’m actually pretty boring in my own life, if I say so myself. I don’t do much inbetween movies except spend time with family and read books and I don’t very often raise my voice. So, it’s kind of ironic that there’s this perception of me as this kind of madman!”
The Runner, which costars Connie Nielsen, Sarah Paulson, Peter Fonda, and Wendell Pierce, is coming to cinemas and iTunes on Aug. 7 and will be available to buy on DVD on Aug. 25.
Below, Cage talks more about the film, his love-hate relationship with New Orleans, and why his superhero-playing days are behind him.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Morally-speaking, The Runner seems like one shade of grey after another.
NICOLAS CAGE: I think that is an excellent observation. That’s how I felt about it when I read the script. I certainly wanted to try to reflect what I see happening in my country with the various politicians who come into power and then, because of their human nature, are brought down in the media. I wasn’t going to lean on one side or the other but simply reflect something that I see happening quite a bit.
Right until the end — and including the end, really — I was never sure whether I was supposed to be rooting for your character.
And I think that that falls into your viewpoint about it being grey. This is reality. Even though it’s a fictional character, I see these things happening to — without mentioning any names — many politicans.
You should definitely feel free to mention names, Nic.
[Laughs] Well, you’re not going to pull that quote out of me. I’ve been very quiet as to what politics I do or don’t support, because I feel that as a filmmaker my best way of communicating is to remain neutral and let the work sort of tell the story. But I do think there is a kind of blur that is occurring in society and I often wonder how fair it is — or isn’t — to bring in the human element in a person’s life while they’re trying to do something in the political arena.
You are someone who is very much associated with New Orleans and you’ve made many films there. Could you talk a little bit about your history with city? How did you fall in love with the place?
Well, the truth is, I have a love-hate relationship with New Orleans. I started going to New Orleans at quite a young age. In many ways, I feel like I’m a half-local there. I think the first picture that I did there was Wild at Heart and I just found myself making more and more movies there. I immediately fell in love with the architecture and the people and the culture. But it’s undeniable that there’s some pretty scary history that has occurred in that part of my country and you can see it sometimes. I don’t think anybody would argue that there are times when you can love it and then dislike it as well, which is partly what keeps me going back.
The Runner is set against the background of the BP Oil Spill and it seems that part of the point of the film is to remind people of that disaster. How is it still affecting people in the area?
Well, what you see in the movie is what happened. It was very hard on the fishing industry, it was very hard on the shrimpers. And that city, it’s no secret, really depends on its cuisine as part of the attraction for its tourism and people going to the city from all over the world to enjoy that very specific and wonderful flavor that is Cajun and creole and all the different kinds of wonderful meals they prepare in New Orleans. So when this happened it was a real blow to the whole restaurant system and the fishing system.
But I was approaching it simply to reflect it, not to lean one way or another, but just so say, “This is what happened and this is a story of a man who’s in the middle of that, who’s trying to do something right and then gets derailed by his own personal flaws,” which is something we see happen time and time again.
Very few people in Hollywood love comic books as much as you. Will we ever see you another superhero movie?
I don’t think so. I mean, I did what I had to do with Ghost Rider. There were other characters that I came close to playing. My affection for comics, it’s not unlike when you see Citizen Kane and you discover Rosebud at the end of the movie. It was one of my first loves as a child and I’m loyal to my first love, so that was really where the whole comic book things started. But I don’t want to mislead you and have you think that I’m up at 3 a.m. with a tray of lemon cookies reading Spider-Man comics. That’s not what’s really happening.
You can see the trailer for The Runner below.