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Interview: Nicolas Cage

Xtreme acting
By PETER KEOUGH  |  November 24, 2009


Review: Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans. By Peter Keough.
Nicolas Cage has gone through a bad patch of late. His father, August, died of a heart attack on October 29. The following week, details of Cage's disastrous finances began to surface: debts of federal-deficit proportions, accusations against his former money manager, and reports of spending extravagances that included the purchase of three castles, two islands, some 50 automobiles, at least two albino boa constrictors, and one shark.

On the bright side, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans — Werner Herzog's non-remake of Abel Ferrara's notorious 1992 NC-17 rated cult classic starring Harvey Keitel as the reprobate title officer — might be Cage's best performance since he won the 1995 Best Actor Oscar for playing another multiply addicted burnout, in Leaving Las Vegas.

First of all, my condolences about your . . .
Thank you.

I found Bad Lieutenant pretty hilarious. How would you describe it?
I agree with you. I think it is very hilarious, and there are a lot of shocking moments in it. I like making movies that can be new experiences for people and get them scratching their heads and kind of wondering what they just experienced — because it means you're pushing people into a new dimension and finding new ways of entertaining them rather than just repeating yourself.

It seemed you were going back to some of the more extreme roles you've played, like the ones in Vampire's Kiss and Adaptation.
Well, yes and no. I know where my roots are. I know I came out of an independent-film background, but even when I make the more "popcorn" type of movies designed to entertain children and their parents simultaneously, I'm trying to find ways of bringing that spin on the characters. Then I have my midnight crowd that I enjoy making movies for, and where I can really go further outside the box. When people like to label any kind of performance as over the top, I suggest that if you were to go to the Guggenheim and look at a Francis Bacon, would you call that over the top?

I saw traces of Klaus Kinski in some parts of your performance, like a little bit of Aguirre and Nosferatu.
No, not really. I am a fan of Klaus Kinski, but I felt that it was more an understanding that Werner could tolerate that level of extremity. But in terms of the design of the character, I was thinking more of Richard III and Olivier, with the back a little bit twisted. And how the drugs would affect the character's vocal quality or facial mannerisms: the cocaine had the effect of making it very difficult to swallow and giving that feeling of invincibility; the crack had that feeling of pollution, so it was almost like he became a gourmet of polluting himself; and the heroin was more the feeling of being zombified and itchy and slowed down. So all these different chemicals created a different expression in terms of the body language. But I didn't want to glamorize or advertise drugs. I wanted people to see the hideousness of the effects of the drugs. And also, the character needed to be entertaining. So that was the challenge — how was I going to entertain you while I was playing a man who was out of his mind on crack?

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