CAGE GOES FOR THE GOLD.
Nicolas Cage/National Treasure Interview by Paul Fischer in Los Angeles.
In an upbeat mood, Nicolas Cage, who rarely talks to the print media, wasstrikingly enthusiastic and in good spirits when he met the press to promotethe family-friendly adventure National Treasure, in which Cage playsBenjamin Franklin Gates who, through his life, has been searching for atreasure no one believed existed: amassed through the ages, moved acrosscontinents, to become the greatest treasure the world has ever known. Hiddenby America's Founding Fathers, they left clues to the treasure's locationright before our eyes, but this film, Gates must elude the FBI, stay onestep ahead of his ruthless adversary (Sean Bean), decipher the remainingclues and unlock the 2000 year-old mystery behind this country's greatestnational treasure.
Reminiscent of some of Hitchcock's lighter escapist fare,Cage, who is a veteran of many an action film, says that he was drawn toNational Treasure for the same reasons that gave the Oscar winner initialtrepidations to take it on, "which is the idea of a man going in andstealing the Declaration Of Independence, which I didn't think seemed veryplausible, and wondered exactly how this can actually be pulled off," Cageexplained. "I met with [director] Jon Turteltaub and he said: 'But that'swhat's interesting. The character's audacious and bold.' I also got to do itin a tuxedo, which was interesting to me as well," adds the actor,smilingly, comparing elements of this character to a James Bond of sorts."Cary Grant also comes to one's mind. It's interesting because at thebeginning of the rehearsal process, I wasn't exactly sure what the tone ofthe movie was going to be, and it was Jon Turteltaub, to his credit, whokept sort of pushing it towards a stylization not unlike what maybe VaryGrant or Jimmy Stewart might have done in the Thirties and Forties, wherethey seemed to have a very playful touch during these caper movies." Thetrick in this film was to make the implausible seem less so. "I think youhave to give yourself over to the context of the movie and go along for theride, which is what I did. I saw it for the first time the other night withan audience, and was very happy with the way it all seemed to work logicallywithin the suspension of disbelief. I enjoyed it and it has a certain spiritwhich is reminiscent of Indiana Jones, but where it parts company withIndiana Jones is that there's nothing supernatural about National Treasure.There's enough there that we can wonder about, or can think about in termsof: does this treasure really exist, and indeed several highly intelligentpeople who believe it exists have risked their lives looking for this buriedtreasure."
While unable to exactly identify with the more fanciful or historicallyintellectual facets of this character, Cage concedes that there have beentimes when he has been as bold as this character. "Without going into toomuch detail, I have had my obsessions. Certainly this is a character who'sobsessed about this marvellous Templer treasure, and has devoted his entirelife and groomed himself to figure out exactly what he needs to do to findit in the face of great ridicule and I think I've been obsessed over theyears with where I could go with acting, or how I could challenge myselfwith that." These have been challenges Cage has faced since his desire toact at a young age, recalling the first time he may have had that firstspark to perform. "Well, at a very early age, I would watch television andwould see Charles Bronson in Once Upon a Time in the West or Sean Conneryand Clint Eastwood, be fascinated by the magic of filmmaking and would walkto school and actually have crane shots worked out in my mind where thecrane would be pulling up and looking down at me as a tiny object in thestreet walking to school. So I guess it was something that was very pure andorganic in me that wanted to be a film actor. I loved more than just comicbooks, but also movies. I loved watching the TV and getting lost in films,anything that stimulated my imagination, which, in those early years, waswhat really inspire and protected me."
But while yearning for a career in the movies, despite his Coppolaconnections, Cage didn't advertise those early yearnings, he now recalls."I kept it pretty close to the vest. I don't think a lot of people knew thatI wanted to be an actor, even though there were little hints. I enjoyedHalloween and liked disguising myself, wanting to be a disguise artist, andactually thought I was going to be a detective. I was always transformingmyself and play acting, so I guess they might have had an inkling that itmight lead to this. I don't think anyone really thought for certain that Iwould actually become a film actor." 20 years since making initial impactsin the likes of Valley Girl, Racing with the Moon and Peggy Sue Got Married,Cage has remained one of Hollywood's most enduring and successful stars, butadmits to not quite knowing whether or not he remains surprised by his ownsuccess. "I don't really know that I have the same perception of myself thatother people may or may not have. I don't really look at myself as asuccessful person, but as someone who's trying to find the next place to go,the next thing to discover or improve upon. I have a difficult time lookingat the cup half full and always tend to look at it half empty."
In a career spanning some 20 years, Cage is by no means looking like slowingdown. A youthful 40, the actor jokes about his feelings recently reachingthat particular milestone. "I always add a year to myself, so I'm preparedfor my next birthday. So when I was 39, I was already 40, and now I'm 41,"he says with much laughter. "I don't want to say I'm happy because that'stoo fragile a word, but I'm definitely content, and hopeful about thefuture, although I spend most of my time thinking about the present." Thatmay include his recent marriage to Alice Kim, a former sushi waitress. Histhird marriage, Cage doesn't talk about his personal life, even when askedif he is relieved to not being married to someone in the entertainmentbusiness. "I'll say that I'm very content at this time in my life," Cageoffers, half smilingly but putting such questions to rest.
Professionally, Cage has been long associated with the comic book actionfilm Ghost Rider, and the assumption here in Hollywood is that Cage is setto star in what would be his comic book film debut. But, says Cage, youshouldn't believe everything you read. "I'm very curious about that, but 'mstill in talks about that particular movie. It's not a definite at thispoint." The actor says the delay with that film has to do "with really justthe vision of the movie and how it will be portrayed, as well as aboutscript and things like that. It's true that I was involved with Ghost Writerover three years ago and was trying to develop it with another filmmaker butthese things are very sensitive. It's a bullseye and you really have to hitit; otherwise it may not work, so it's best for everyone to be cautious andmake sure it's got the auspices."
Cage says that if Ghost Rider fails tohappen, he won't be trying on any future comic book costumes. "I think ifthis doesn't work, then that's pretty much it. I've never made a comic bookfilm and I'll just sort of enjoy my nostalgic memories as a boy." Whiledreaming of celluloid heroes as a young, Cage's imagination was also fuelledby comic book heroes. "Comic books for me were one of the ways I learned howto read, as I was always fascinated by the mythology of them. Because I usedto love Greek myths, I discovered a kind of kindred spirit in the mind ofStan Lee and also DC Comics and I always felt they were successful in filmas well even before they became successful. I guess the reason I respondedto them was that they had the fantasy of the child's mind, and they're awonderful alternative world in which to lose yourself."
Next for Cage is Lord of War, which the actor also produced. I play one ofthose characters that I guess if you were to take Scarface and replace thedrugs with guns, he's a gun runner who's always figuring out where thepolitical climate is in the world to get rich and sell the right amount ofguns, and really has no ethics as to picking sides. He just has got hiscalculator, and needless to say, it's a politically charged movie. Onewhich he shot on location in South Africa, which he says, was a uniqueexperience in itself. "South Africa is a fascinating location because it canmodel for so many other locations. Lord of War is a world stage, which takesplace in many different areas. You have Manhattan, the Ukraine, you haveLiberia, and so there are so many locales that you can actually use SouthAfrica for, which becomes very convenient. It's much less expensive to shootthere and now I believe even DreamWorks is going to be building a studio outthere. The way the tide is going now, it's becoming increasingly rare toshoot a movie here at home and that's just is the way it is. If you can do a$120 million movie for $80 million in South Africa, then that's what thestudio is going to do."
Cage says that he has reached a point in his life where he is trying to slowdown and be more selective. "I took almost a year off after Matchstick Mento find my next picture which was National Treasure, so I just sort of hit aspurt where there were screenplays that seemed interesting enough anddiverse enough to me to want to continue working." While Cage continues todiversify as an actor, shifting genres and types of film, Cage says that ifhe decides to direct again, he'll need to establish the kind of director hewould become "That's the one area that I am slow to pull the trigger onbecause I feel that I am still cutting my teeth in that area and am stillsort of finding myself as I go along. I'm very happy with Sonny and it wasa challenging move, but one that was difficult for people to grasp becausethe subject matter is somewhat taboo, but that's the very thing that I thinkis stimulating to me, so I have to look very carefully to find the nextscript that would fit in that. In that regard, I think I am trying to findmy identity."
But it's Cage the movie star, the treasure hunter in this case, whocontinues to embrace his profession. Even now, a tad past 40, Nicolas Cagesays that being on a movie set and acting, reinforces old childhood dreamsof fantasy. "I mean at the end of the day it's impossible, at certain timeson the set, not to take a look at oneself. I look at where I'm standing andI go: I'm still here, still in the back yard playing like I'm a treasurehunter. It's still very much the spirit of playfulness that children haveand such a great way not to have to grow up."
NATIONAL TREASURE OPENS IN NOVEMBER