PARK CITY, Utah — Nicolas Cage really gets into character.
As legend has it, while filming his role as a cocaine-huffing, Vicodin-popping, gleefully unhinged cop in Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, Cage was spotted in between takes doing bumps of a mystery powder out of a vial. When the film’s director, Werner Herzog, approached Cage to ask what he was snorting, the actor spun around and yelled, “It’s f*****g coke!”
“That was an interesting day,” Cage says with a chuckle, readjusting the glistening gold rings adorning his fingers. “I had this little vial of inositol, which is a saccharine substitute. It looks like blow…but it’s not. I would do it to psych myself up all day long and really feel, from an impressionistic level, what that experience was like. And I got so into it that Werner would say, ‘Now Nee-co-las, vat is een that vial?’”
The query disrupted Cage’s process, and he went off. “I was like, ‘Oh come on, Werner. Really? I’m ready to go and you just take me out of it?! Get off my set! Get the F**K off my set! Get out of my city!’”
He laughs: “I really p****d him off. I knew I was going in there to be his California Klaus Kinski and I was going to give him a run for his money, and we both love the movie and it worked out fantastic. So it was a good relationship.”
If you thought Cage’s turn in Bad Lieutenant was wild, wait till you see him in Mandy.
There is a sequence in the film, premiering in the “Midnight” section of the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, that can only be described as Peak Cage Rage.
The year is 1983. Having witnessed his soulmate, Mandy (Andrea Riseborough), be burned to death by a pack of homicidal Jesus freaks, Cage’s Red Miller goes on a revenge-rampage. Armed with a crossbow—dubbed “The Widowmaker”—and a gnarly custom scythe, he stalks the wilderness in search of not only the religious sect, but also the trio of heavy-metal demons who aided in his beloved’s capture.
Cage encounters one of these hellspawns in a living room watching a vintage ‘70s porn with its head buried in a dune of cocaine. He lunges at the creature, who then flips Cage onto the ground before stabbing at him with his phallus, which happens to be a sword. So Cage, ever the resourceful lunatic, reaches for a box cutter and slits the beast’s throat, and, as a geyser of blood erupts into his face, cackles hysterically. If that weren’t enough, he gets up, grabs a piece of broken glass, scoops some of the leftover cocaine, and hoovers it.
“It was just all over the place, and I was trying not to choke on all the blood. And I just…I just started laughing!” explains Cage. “I thought that was a great moment in the movie.”
The midnight audience at Sundance did, too, hooting and hollering with each successive Cage killing. Yes, there’s no shortage of bloody mayhem in filmmaker Panos Cosmatos’ latest—including plenty of beheadings and a ridiculously awesome chainsaw fight between Cage and a giant.
“Mythologies are violent things, and to be true to them, you have to go to primal territory,” says Cosmatos, who views Mandy as a companion piece to his last effort, 2010’s cult filmBeyond the Black Rainbow.
And Cage, who’d recently suffered an accident in Bulgaria while filming the upcoming cops-and-robbers drama #211, had no problem getting “primal.”
“I’d just gotten off of breaking my leg two months earlier and I was pretty angry about how that happened, so I would just keep going back to that experience,” says Cage. “Getting that anger onto the people that killed Mandy was the organic approach for that.”
And in the decade since Cosmatos began working on Mandy, the mythologizing of Nicolas Cage has only grown, replete with online memes, video mashups, bonkers genre fare, and even a stolen T-Rex skull—all the better for his latest, which seeks to capitalize on the Cage mystique.
When, exactly, did Cage become a pop culture icon? I’d argue the transformation began with 1996’s Michael Bay flick The Rock, one of the greatest action movies of all time. Audiences admired how Cage, fresh off of winning the Best Actor Oscar for his devastating turn as an alcoholic with a death wish in Leaving Las Vegas, bucked industry expectations in next portraying the eccentric chemical weapons specialist Stanley Goodspeed.
“I had just shot Leaving Las Vegas and then I was rolling into a big action-adventure film, which wasn’t really done back then,” recalls Cage. “Now you see actors doing it all the time where they mix it up, but at the time I took a lot of hits for it because I zigged instead of zagged.”