Nicolas Cage needed a cleansing after filming the gory action movie, “Mandy,” which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on Friday. “You wouldn’t believe the process it took to get it off every night,” Cage says, of the fake blood that covered him. “I couldn’t go back to the hotel looking the way I looked in the movie. I mean look at me.” He holds up the film’s red-stained poster. “I was in the shower for an hour every night.”
After spending four decades in Hollywood, Cage is undergoing a kind of baptism. He’s stepped away from big-budgeted blockbusters — like “National Treasure” — and he’s returned to his indie roots. “Mandy” was made for a small budget by cult director Panos Cosmatos (“Beyond the Black Rainbow”). Cage plays a man named Red, who goes to any lengths necessary (cue the chainsaw) to rescue the woman he loves from a cult kidnapping.
In a wide-ranging interview, Cage spoke to Variety about the movie business.
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You were originally offered the villain role in “Mandy” but turned it down?
I didn’t feel I had the experience, the memories to play it authentically. I didn’t connect with that part.
But you’ve played villains before.
Yeah, just this one I couldn’t get my head around playing the cult aspect of it. I just never had any acolytes. I was never interested in having people worship me.
The movie business has changed so much since you started in Hollywood. Last year, ticket prices were down and more directors are embracing streaming their films.
We have different formats now with VOD. At first I took umbrage with it because I love the cinema experience. I agree with [Christopher] Nolan that the 70 mm will save the cinema experience, but I also think the VOD can also give other filmmakers and actors opportunities to get their work be seen. Do I want all movies to be in the theater? Absolutely. I grew up watching art-house movies in the theater. But there’s such a diversity now, or polarity, between what will get financed – which is the blockbuster, the sequel. The studios don’t really want to roll the dice on terribly original material. They don’t want to take the risk. And I understand that. There’s a lot of money on the line. I used to be in those movies. I am enjoying the ability to explore my roots, which was independently spirited. I came out of “Vampire’s Kiss” and “Raising Arizona.” It was independent cinema that was my passion. I think Video On Demand is allowing that to carry on.
And ticket prices continue to climb.
It’s expensive. If you think about the whole family going to a movie, very quickly, you could pay for a nice entertainment system and watch whatever movie you want at home. There’s that they have to weigh out. Do I want to spend the money on the tickets for my wife and for my three children and on the popcorn and on the candy? I used to be an usher. I was the guy that took the tickets and sold the popcorn, and I would try to figure out how to get from the concession stand to the screen. There were guys blowing smoke in my face at that time. And I quit my job twice and there are still obnoxious people at movie theaters that you have to contend with, people that say snarky things. Or there’s someone screaming the whole time you’re trying to watch a movie.
Where do you see movies?
I live in Las Vegas, that’s the crude way of saying it. The romantic way of saying it is, I live in the Mojave Desert. There’s a couple theaters out there that are pretty good. They bring the red wine and popcorn. You can recline and watch with your friends. They have a good one at the Red Rock Casino.
What was your favorite movie of 2017?
“Dunkirk.” I was blown away. I thought that it was bleak, cutting in and out of scenes with minimal dialogue, extraordinary aerial photography, great performances and original and deeply emotional and very moving. I put it in my top five war pictures ever made. But I regret to tell you that I didn’t see it on the big screen. And then I had to watch it in the way the director didn’t want me to see it, and that frustrates me. Because now I can’t see it in 70 mm. It’s not in theaters anymore.
You were once supposed to play Superman. Did you see “Justice League?”
I did. I thought it was fun. That’s all I’m going to say.
Do you still see yourself as playing Superman?
No, not at all.
Oscar nominations are coming out next week. How has the process changed since you won best actor for 1995’s “Leaving Las Vegas”?
It’s getting very hard to get the screeners. You know? They used to be okay with the DVDs. But now the studios are so nervous about people pirating them and selling them on black markets. It’s almost like if that DVD goes missing or someone steals it from my house or it gets in the wrong hands, I’m going to get a phone call. It’s a little bit trepidatious. I keep asking my accountant to please send me my DVDs. He’s like, “We’ve had trouble with this. Other people have been litigious.” I want to see the movies! It’s a very sensitive time.
Even Nicolas Cage has problems getting his screeners?
Even I have trouble. I’m not so good with the high tech stuff. Send me a link and what’s the password?
Where do you keep your Oscar?
I’ve had to move a couple times. It was in my bar. I think it’s now in my office somewhere. I haven’t been in the new place. I’ll check it when I get home.
Do you have a favorite Nicolas Cage movie?
No, because they are all my children. If I say I prefer this one, the others will get jealous.
Which movie have you seen the most times?
For a while there, I was watching “Drive Angry” multiple times. I was hanging out with a rock band, and Axl [Rose] said that was his favorite movie. I said, “I better go look at it again.” I kept watching it listening to his music while I was watching it. I had a lot of fun with that.
Have you ever regretted turning a project down?
I don’t do regret. Regret is a waste of time.
What makes you choose a role?
Do I have the ability emotionally to play the part in an authentic way without having to act too much? Am I going to learn something from this experience? Am I going to work with someone who is going to guide me to a place that is a world that I feel like I’m excited to participate in?
I know you’re a fan of comic books. Would you ever do a comic-book tentpole?
The comic book thing with me is a little blown out of proportion with the Internet. I grew up reading them and I always knew they would be — like once technology would be there, they would be the front of entertainment. I don’t want you to get the wrong impression, that I’m sitting around reading comic books all day. I’ve kind of moved on. I don’t want to sound pompous and tell you what I read. My father was a professor of literature and he exposed me to Aldous Huxley, Hermann Hesse, and it goes on and on. So I like fiction, I like novels. But to answer your question, I would if I felt I could do something with the part.
Robert Redford said that there’s a tipping point in Hollywood with the #MeToo movement. What do you think about what’s happening?
I think it’s fantastic. I love working with women. I did a movie called “Inconceivable” with Natalie Eve Marie and Gina Gershon. They were the leads, I was supporting them. And also, I just did a picture with a female director named Maria Pulera; and one of my best movies, “Valley Girl,” was directed by Martha Coolidge. It’s foolish not to bring everyone to the table in equal fashion.
There’s a history of women not being paid the same as men.
Which is unfair. And the ladies don’t get the parts. It’s obvious; they don’t. That does have to change.