Nicolas Cage talks Prisoners of the Ghostland, favorite workout music, and testicle grenades
The Oscar-winning actor plays a bank robber forced to wear a suit covered with bombs in Sion Sono's wild new movie.
Prisoners of the Ghostland is not your average post-apocalyptic samurai Western with an Oscar-winning lead actor. In the new film from Japanese director Sion Sono (in theaters and on VOD Sept. 17), Nicolas Cage plays a bank robber who is freed from jail by a wealthy warlord (Bill Moseley) in order to locate the latter's missing granddaughter (Kingsman actress Sofia Boutella). The catch? Cage's character is forced to wear a leather suit covered in explosives to keep him in line, including two next to his testicles that will explode should he become aroused. So what did exactly did Cage think when he read in the script that his character had grenades affixed to his junk?
"Social relevance!" the actor tells EW. "These times are very sensitive, man. You don't want to do anything that could offend the opposite sex. I always try to be a gentleman, and I think that was an example, almost like a warning, warning, warning, don't touch! I think that kind of speaks volumes, especially now."
Below, Cage tells us more about making the film, his acting philosophies, and his favorite workout music.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you get involved with Prisoners of the Ghostland?
NICOLAS CAGE: It came directly to me from Sono-san. I call him the Warlock of Cinema. I was so galvanized to walk around in his vision and his world. I never questioned him. If anything, I protected him. I wanted to make a Sion Sono movie, because I knew in his vision I could play with some of my more abstract ideas as to where I could go with film performance, what I like to call my more "Western kabuki" approach to film performance. That word "testicle," I read it in the script and I go, "Okay, well, we can hit that one literally out of the ball park."
Sion Sono had a heart attack before you were initially due to start shooting the film. He told me that you were the one who suggested moving the production to Japan.
Sono-san's first meeting with me, we were going to shoot it in the Mexican desert. He very much wanted that look. We all know about his health scare, so I'm not talking out of turn, but he went through something, man. I hope I never go through anything like that. He literally saw himself leaving the operating table and he started to approach the Milky Way and they were bringing him back into his body.
I said to him, "Let's not take any unnecessary risks. I want to make a movie in Japan, I'm a fan of Japanese cinema, this is one of my dreams. I want to go to Japan, and let's do the movie at home, okay?" Because he's not only a great visionary, he's also my friend. You know, when I'm in Tokyo he invites Riko [Cage's wife] and I over to the house. He's a nice man, and I genuinely care about him. The movie got delayed a year because of that scare. I said, "Just stay at home with your doctor and let's make the movie." And he said, "Okay."
What was the shoot like?
Listen, I was just happy to be there. I was just happy to be in Japan. I'm a big believer in what I call the genius loci of the place, right? That's Latin for "the genie of the place." I think that where you are informs performance. So the fact that I could be in Japan, embracing the genie of the place, I was on a high every day, because this was totally new. At my age, the job that I have is to stay interested, because if I'm not interested, you're not going to be interested. It gets more difficult the older we get. So I have to find new ways of expressing myself, new challenges. But I do think, God willing, that once I finish the next two movies, I'm going to take some time off, because I think it's time to recharge.
Please don't say the word "retirement" Mr Cage!
No, no, no. No, no. That can't happen. To do what I do in cinema has been like a guardian angel for me, and I need it. I'm healthier when I'm working, I need a positive place to express my life experience, and filmmaking has given me that. So I'm never going to retire. Where are we now, 117 movies? [Laughs] What's funny is, my argument with people who go, "You work too much," was "I like working, and it's healthy, I'm happy when I'm working, and by the way, guys like Cagney and Bogart, they were doing hundreds of movies." And then I went, "I'd better check that," and I went, "Oops." [Laughs] Jerry Lewis was one of my friends, and he and I would go and have dinner together, and he would say, "How many movies you got?" I go, "I got about 100, how many you got?" "I got 40. So you got twice as much as me?" "Well, I didn't know that, Jerry."
You have a lot of scenes in the film with Sofia Boutella. What was it like working with her?
Again, I was on a high, because there's nobody better. I mean, her performance in Climax is extraordinary. I think she's probably the best out there. I was very excited to meet her and work with her. I do think she is a genius and a total artist. My mother was a dancer, so I have a lot of respect for dancers, but what she's done for film performance is so emotionally informed.
Sometimes if I need cheering up or I'm putting off doing some work, I'll put on that opening dance sequence from Climax.
Oh man, I work out to it! I get on the elliptical and I play the soundtrack! I mean, that guy Gaspar [Noé, director of Climax], he's a real deal as an artist. Challenging! Challenging! I mean, they're kind of like little nightmares, but, boy, is he great.
The film also features a Face/Off reunion with yourself and Nick Cassavetes. Was that your idea to get him involved?
I think Nick knew [Prisoners of the Ghostland producer] Michael Mendelsohn, but Nick was somebody that I bonded with on Face/Off, and I love his movies. I loved talking with him about his dad [actor and filmmaker John Cassavetes], who was also one of my heroes. I think what Nick has managed to achieve with his own filmmaking in his own right is remarkable, and I do hope I get to work with him one day on that level. But he brings it, man, he brings so much to his movie performances. I mean, he really cares. I was very happy that he was in the movie with me.
Speaking of people who bring it, the film also features Bill Moseley, who a lot of people will know from his unforgettable performance in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.
He'a great guy. Martin Sheen once said to me, "The only thing that matters is, did you like the people you were working with and did you like where you were?" I knew Bill Moseley from Rob Zombie's movies, because Rob is a friend, so I was excited to work with him too. I was just surrounded by a great group. All actors are my brothers. I don't have competition with them. I know what it means to go on camera and to bare your soul, and I have tremendous regard and respect for each and every one of them. There are no small parts, and I want them to feel that appreciation.
I don't like the word "acting" so much. Olivier said in his autobiography, "What is acting but lying, and great acting is convincing lying." I don't agree, because I want it to be genuine. The tears are real. If I can't find it in my own life, in terms of my dreams and my mistakes and my memories, I'll put myself in a universal mindset where I can absorb something I read in a newspaper or even like the book I read when I was 10, Hiroshima, by John Hershey, and I can channel the remorse from that.
One last question: You described Prisoners of the Ghostland as your wildest movie, which raises the question, what's your second-wildest movie?
Probably Wild at Heart. But I mean, I'm surprised as you are that quote made it on the poster. I actually said that before I even shot the movie. I said it based on my interview with Sono-san, and reading the script, and looking at the storyboards for the movie. I said, "This is the wildest script I ever read," but then it became "This is the wildest movie I ever made." But that's fine by me. [Laughs] Go, man, go! If you want to use it, use it!