Nicolas Cage Explains the Art of a Full Nicolas Cage Freak-Out in Mandy
Nicolas Cage knows people are mad right now. And few actors in Hollywood history know how to channel the purest, most meme-able expression of anger on film as he does. As a performer, he's delivered some of the greatest freak-outs in movie history. Who could forget the wooden hand Moonstruck freak-out? The Vampire's Kiss moan? The paint meltdown in Zandalee? The guy knows how to go absolutely nuts. He's a genius at letting loose. And as such, he knows that what people need in a time of great frustration and anger is to just release all that tension. We need a therapeutic freakout.
And that's why he knew the time was right to go Full Nicolas Cage in Mandy. In the film, he stars Red—a reclusive woodsman with a dark past who lives a quiet life alone with his wife Mandy in the 1980s. When a drug-fueled cult kidnaps her, Red goes on a death metal-inspired revenge bloodbath, complete with death lord bikers, his own homemade battle axe, and mountains of cocaine.
It's his greatest film in a decade, complete with psychedelic grindhouse visuals from director Panos Cosmatos, a stunning score by the late Jóhann Jóhannsson, and more than enough satisfying Nicolas Cage freak-outs—particularly one where he's in his underwear in a bathroom with a bottle of liquor.
"There's something happening in our country right now, which is kind of a very angry place," Cage told me. "Perhaps this kind of surrealistic ontological adventure, going into the world of Panos Cosmatos with a simple tale of revenge, could also be like a medicine or an outlet or a release of sorts, vicariously through watching the picture."
Esquire.com got a chance to catch up with Cage about how this bonkers, beautiful movie came about and what is going through his head when Nicolas Cage goes Full Nicolas Cage.
His involvement was inspired in part by Elijah Wood.
Well, I really have to give the lion's share of the credit to Elijah Wood—this is the result of our mutual love of cinema. We were making a movie together in Nevada called The Trust, and in between takes we would talk. Elijah has his company, Spectrevision, and we talked about horror films, and he pointed me towards some interesting ones to look at. Had some good conversations. And then he said, "Have you seen Beyond the Black Rainbow?" And I said, "Not in a long time, but I recall it. Should I have another look at it?" He said, "Yeah," and then he gave me the script to Mandy.
I read the script and I immediately responded to it, but the main issue for me was that they wanted me to play [the villainous cult leader] Jeremiah Sand, and I did not want to play Jeremiah Sand. I wanted to play Red. Then, luckily, I got the phone call a year later [from Panos Cosmatos] saying that he was open to me playing Red, which was a great phone call to get. And I said yes right away without a second's hesitation.
For the character of Red, Cage drew from his own personal loss.
The reason why I responded so much to Red is interesting, because I was still contending with the failure of my third marriage. I was going through feelings of loss and still not quite fully recovered, even though it's been several years, from the passing on of my father. I had a need to put these emotions in a constructive place as opposed to a destructive place, and Red's journey certainly lent itself to that—having had the love of his life be immolated by fire. I knew that this was exactly what the doctor ordered in terms of a kind of therapy, if you will, to conjure up the necessary emotions to play the part authentically.
Cage thought people needed a therapeutic release of anger.
I've been very excited by the visceral response from film enthusiasts. And yes, I did go full Nic Cage, as it were. I certainly dove into my being and pulled up whatever I could to play Red in a way that I, hopefully, will communicate with audiences and hopefully inspire them on some level. You know, I also think there's something happening in our country right now, which is a very angry place. Perhaps this kind of surrealistic ontological adventure, going into the world of Panos Cosmatos with a simple tale of revenge, could also be like a medicine or an outlet or a release of sorts, vicariously through watching the picture. I don't know, but I do feel there is something positive generating from the movie, and I think that it's something that feels very visceral.
When Nicolas Cage goes Full Nicolas Cage, his mind is in a dark place.
The process is an interesting one that has kind of been developing over many years now. It's one that requires a bit of imagination, but in this case possibly more feeling of going internal and prepping by kind of trying to plunge my own internal body, if you will, or whatever worlds I can go towards of memory and life experience. And then I'll sort of get something, find something that breaks my heart, and I won't share it with anybody. It's a secret that only I have. It's a secret that's gonna be shared with the audience, and hopefully everyone in the audience will have individual connection to it. It's not something that I can easily describe.
But it is something that I surf with. I feel it throughout the day, knowing we're getting to that point. Knowing we're getting closer to, let's call it 5:30 PM in Belgium, and I know in about 30 minutes, Panos is gonna call, “Action,” and now I'm 10 minutes into it and now I'm surfing the emotion again and I feel it in my fingertips and I feel it in my throat and then I let it go, because I don't want to leave it in the locker room. Now we're 10 minutes out, and then we're five minutes out, and then I go into a trance, and then it's very, very quiet and I don't let anyone get in my face, and I go somewhere in a corner or wherever it is and I start psyching up. Now we're two minutes out. Now we're one minute out and we're going, we're going, going.
And then it's time, and it's, “Action!” And then it's just like out the gate, here it goes, whatever happens, happens. It's on. And I'm not thinking about it, it's just like a feeling, a lightning rod, a rush, and I don't know where I am and I know that I'm not faking it and I know that it's embarrassing and I know it's naked and I know it's uncomfortable, but it's coming out. That usually has something to do with some kind of heartbreak somewhere in my past.
Of the many great scenes in Mandy, Cage's favorite was a Bruce Lee neck-break.
I think the moment that I was really excited by was the scene where there was that kind of like Bruce Lee neck-break, which was interesting, because that was something that Panos and I looked at. We watched Enter the Dragon on set. But I think the one that I felt was the most was the heartbreaking and yet sort of exhilarating shot at the very, very end. And I don't know how much we should talk about it, but the smile at the end kind of came out of some other dimension. It was very blissful that there was reunion, of sorts, with his Goddess and the happiness that, although heartbreaking, was very real. You know, like being reunited with a lost love. Somehow transcending physics.
Cage's interest in the genre came from a collection of old movies.
I was spending quite a bit of time in England, and I had bought a collection of all the Hammer horror films and was enjoying watching each and every one of them, and I began to become quite enamored with a filmmaker named Terence Fisher, who did Curse of the Werewolf and Frankenstein and the Monster From Hell. These movies, I thought, were quite profound and not only in the horror aspect, but also in a kind of philosophical aspect. I was a fan of the genre largely as a result of those.
This story originally appeared on Esquire.com. Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.