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October 2005
The Weather Man: An Interview with Nicolas Cage

The Weather Man: An Interview with Nicolas Cage

By Donovan Capwell

The last few months have been good for Nicolas Cage. He's currently on screen playing an arms dealer in "Lord of War" and just became a father for the second time to a boy he named after Superman's father, Kal-el Coppola Cage. His next role has him playing a character that should be appealing to some. In "The Weather Man", Cage plays Dave Spritz, a Chicago weatherman who's going through changes in his life with his family and work and he has to think about what's more important in life. Prior to his son's birth, Cage recently spoke about the film, working with Michael Caine, and playing Ghost Rider.

If you are not a method actor, how did you handle a part like this one?

Nicolas Cage: Well, the idea that I'm not a method actor requires that I don't prescribe to any particular method but have my own method and that method is life. At the time when I agreed to do The Weather Man, I was going through a divorce and was trying to figure out how I could take the negative and turn it into a positive. I received the script to The Weatherman and I thought, "oh, well here' a parallel" Sometimes I choose movies that can help me, like therapy, do something positive with a negative emotion. And The Weatherman was an opportunity to take all this well of feeling that I had and just funnel it into Dave Spritz. Dave and I were going through similar experiences. So, it became an overlay, if you will, of my life and Dave Spritz's life.

How many times have things been thrown at you?

NC: I wish I could be more colorful and say "all of the time" but I've never had anything thrown at me, at least not food and not by somebody I haven't met before. There were times in my past where girls have thrown glasses at me and things like that.

How much cash do you normally keep on you?

NC: Do you want to come up and check. I don't have a wallet on me.

Do you usually have assistants who buy necessities for you?

NC: Well, I go to the market. I just went to the market and I bought about twenty packages of Gillette Mach Three shavers so I don't have to go to the market again. I buy in bulk. That way I can stay at home. I used one this morning.

How closely could you relate to the DMV scene?

NC: The DMV scene, I don't relate to it in the regard that I have bad interrelations with people on the street and at the DMV. I try to make an effort to meet people well. I know that, if it weren't for my fans, I wouldn't be here so they're very important to me. I know that it's like to meet someone that you admire and have them be a complete jerk. So you go, "well, now I don't think I can enjoy the work anymore". So, I always want to meet people well, take every picture and sign every autograph and it's a pleasure for me to do it. But, before I was famous, somebody impounded my car and they weren't very nice about it. It was a Pugeout 505 convertible and it was Dean Martin's car which is ironic because I now live in Dean Martin's old house but this was my first car. And, they did it with so much; they were so rough about it. There was no reason to impound it. I hadn't done anything wrong with it and there were dents all over it and I remember wanting to just go there and get my car by any means possible and so I kind of related to that. For some reason that memory comes to mind at the moment in the DMV in the movie. I think we've all been frustrated by the bureaucracy and the powers that be. It doesn't matter if you're a weatherman are you or me or you, we've all got to deal with that line and it's frustrating.

How hard was it to work with the weatherman chroma key screen?

NC: I've done a movie where I've had to act with a twin brother that wasn't there with an earwig in my ear and a tennis ball so that was like a precursor to being a weatherman and doing everything backwards because it's all backwards. They put up these..they're called put ons and you do it and you can't look at it and you do your dialogue. Those days were daunting for me. I would go there very nervous about dealing with the dialogue and getting all the moves down. I worked with Tom in Chicago and I had people to guide me on the set, actual weather people who could show me how to do it and that was helpful.

Can you talk about working with Michael Caine as your father and your own experiences of living up to a smart father?

NC: Well, it's always fascinating to work with the best in the field and Michael Caine, to me, has always been among the best in film acting. So, I was exhilarated. It was a wonderful opportunity to study him, to look at his very seasoned approach to film acting. That whole thing he did where he's talking about looking at the right eye and the left eye, I was watching him. There were moments when he actually would do that. I'm like "Wow, Michael Caine just did that thing that I saw him teach about on that video!" I was ecstatic to work with him. He also was friendly which was added bonus.

In terms of the other question, about my father, well yeah, it does relate. My father had that aura about him as a highly regarded professor of literature. There was a lot to live up to. He had a PHD. But what I will say about my dad, which you might find out of character, I'm gonna go on record here now and say I'm not a high school drop out. That did not happen. I was not a great match for high school. I went to my father and said " Dad, I can't. This isn't me. I want to act. I want to work. This isn't right for me. It's effecting my self-esteem. I gotta get out". Instead of pushing me, he said "you know what? That's fine. Just get the equivalency". So I studied. I got the GED. I got a diploma and I left and went right to work. The reason why I bring that up is for somebody who had a history in education and a life in education, he also was frustrated with the educational system in pursuing my goals.

Why does your character have so much trouble relating to his ex-wife?

NC: It's the battle of the sexes. There are times when we have difficulty on both sides comprehending what exactly is it that we're thinking. I think Dave is on the receiving end of that because he's not thinking all the time. He's forgetting he's got to get the tartar sauce. I'm sure it's enormously frustrating that, for her, something as mundane as tartar sauce tipped the apple cart but we know it's more than that, don't we? It's everything. It's all building up to that final straw.

Did you draw from your own personal experiences for that scene?

NC: Yeah. Sure. I draw from everything. I'm very sensitive. I draw from the weather too. [laughter]

Your character seems to have it made, especially with a big new job. A lot of people might think "what is he so unhappy about"?

NC: It's the age-old dodge isn't it? You're not going to find happiness in material things. They will make things easier but there is always going to be that nagging feeling inside that there's something else and I wrestle with that every day. I'm always struggling between the spiritual and material. So, that's a hard thing to explain to people and especially if that person is your grandmother, to say, "Look, I know it's not what it looks like" or what it's chalked up to be in your mind but you just take the camera off of it, I'm just like everybody else. Not to get too metaphysical but we're all connected.

You have a lot of movies coming out this year. Why do you work so much?

NC: The reality is I haven't been on deck since "National Treasure" and that's a year so I do about two movies a year. It works out that way. I have two movies coming out each year. To me, that's not too much but, on top of that, yeah, I like to work. It's part of my spiritual beliefs. I like to do something with my time that is productive. I want to serve and I feel I'm serving myself and I'm serving you by working. I'm not going to just sit around by the pool and luxuriate myself with a margarita. That, to me, is not where I want to be so yeah, work is part of my principles.

Your character seems uncomfortable in his own skin. Have you ever felt that way and how do you handle your own anger?

NC: Yeah, there are times when I've been uncomfortable in my own skin like at press junkets for example. Like when you are in one room for five hours doing one TV interview after another, you know that anything you say is a matter of public record for the rest of your life, that can make you very uncomfortable in your skin. Maybe I could equate that with Dave Spritz. In terms of my own anger, George Washington once said "When you're angry, count to ten. When you're really angry, count to one hundred before you do anything". So, I do that and also I use film again to transfer that anger into something positive with emotion, like The Weatherman.

Are you good at archery? You seem a natural at it?

NC: There aren't too many things that I will come out and say I'm a natural at an there's only one thing that I knew I was and when I started doing archery, that was the first time I really found something besides acting that I thought, "maybe I can do this". The archery in that movie was mine. I did all that . I'm happy to say that. I really enjoyed it. I'd like to continue doing it when I get some time. There was one shot where Gore goes "get the arrow a little closer to the camera". There was this scene in the snow where I'm drawing down on my nemesis and we had to get the arrow really close to the camera and the arrow went right through the matte box and Gore kept it. I'm very happy about that.

Can you talk about your immediate reaction to reading the script for the first time and some of the efforts that you made to get this movie made?

NC: The producer, Todd Black had this script by Steve Conrad and brought it to my company. My partner Norm Golightly read the script and said "I just read a fantastic script. You've got to read this". I read it and I said "yeah, this is really right for me at this time" because of the reason we already discussed. I had a lot of stuff I wanted to get out and this was the perfect vehicle for that. So, Todd and I met and started talking about directors and he said that he'd had a great meeting with Gore Verbinsky who was really passionate about the movie. Gore and I had tried to work together a few times before and it didn't happen for whatever the reason was. So I remembered gore and remembered some of his other films and his passion. I met with Gore and there was chemistry and it seemed like the right thing to do. There was a spark so we just went for it. So that was really it. Nothing too exciting. It just fell into place easily.

Do you agree that Chicago's weather made it an excellent setting for this film?

NC: It's a very important location to The Weather Man. We have to make the distinction between weathermen. A Chicago weatherman is not the same animal as an L.A. weatherman. Let's face it, we have perfect weather most of the time. In Chicago, people really rely on their weatherman. It can make the difference between making it home alive sometimes or not. It's that cold. As you know, in Chicago, it's an event. People, very often, stay at home. It also reflects itself in the culture. Conrad, who wrote the script, would talk about very often people would just come over to each other's homes and have coffee and talk because of the weather. So, Chicago, that location was intrinsic and instrumental to the whole movie. It is a character in the movie; Chicago and the weather.

You mentioned spirituality a couple of times. Do you have a philosophy you can share with us? And, what part of Dave will you carry with you?

NC: What part of Dave will I carry with me? Well, I think Dave now, I'm going to carry with me for the rest of my life and, after I've moved on, he's going to be around, it's just going to be on film. Now we're linked. We're connected. I don't know how else to answer that. I'm happy with the movie. I'm happy with the work that Gore did. I had a great opportunity to work with Hope Davis and Michael Caine. I hope you enjoy it and get something out of it. I know I did.

Can you talk a bit about Ghost Rider and how close you feel to that character?

NC: Well, it's very simple and it may sound strange but I am Ghost Rider. It wasn't that challenging. I had all the honest ways of expressing that character and I'm very curious to see how people will respond to it.

How are you Ghost Rider?

NC: Well, he was a man who is just trying to take a negative and turn it into a positive like we all do. We're been talking about that here today with The Weatherman, I try to take movies and do something positive with any negative feelings I've had. Johnny Blaze is a superhero who had a very horrible thing happen to him and he's taking that negative and he's going to make something positive out of it no matter what. In that way, I guess, I am Ghost Rider.

You are extraordinary in the scenes with the little girl in the film. You have a son, not a daughter so where did that come from? Did you relate to that actress especially? How did you develop that dynamic with her?

NC: Well, I liked her very much but I like children. I love children. I like being around children. I feel comfortable with children. They're very close to their hearts. There's not a lot of filtering that goes on between a child's heart and what a child needs and I like that integrity and I respond to that.

Could you identify with the ups and downs of your character?

NC: Yeah, I think we live in cycles. We wax and wane and, right now, I'm just trying to get better at negotiating the waves. Right now I want to be more neutral than ecstatic or depressed. I want to be right in the middle. I think I can be better in all ways if I adopt that attitude; as an actor, as a father, as a husband. You can't get anything done if you're jumping up and down and are so excited you can't see an accident about to happen or if you're down in the dumps, you're not going to be any good to anybody either. I'm not saying that I have any control over my destiny. I don't but I'd like to just get better at surfing the cycles, the waves of life.

You are starting the Oliver Stone movie next month?

NC: Yes.

Can you tell us what you've been doing?

NC: Well, I'm just going to finish The Wickerman and I'm on set with that. I'll be done Wednesday and I'm going to come back here. Then I'm going to go to New York. I've met with John McLaughlin and his family, spent some time with him, talked through things. Spent some time with the port authority and met all the other surviving members of the tragedy that were there. I've just sort of talked through it with Oliver. I get the feeling from Oliver and the work that they've done on the screenplay that they want to make it pretty cinema verite so it'll be like real time unfolding with a lot of technical jargon you might not understand but it's going to smack of reality. They're going to try to get it as real as they can. I'm happy to say that Oliver and I have been trying to work together for many years and it hasn't happened. I'm happy to say that we waited for this one because this one is so positive about the human condition. The buildings themselves, aren't exploited. I don't think you can see the skyline. It's more about what happened among this handful of men when the buildings came down; where they went to survive and how they coped.

Many of your films deal with characters who [something about balancing career with normal family life].

NC: I will say that I've really wanted to make a family drama but that's a genre that I think will do the most good for people because we can relate. We can go to the theater and grow in some way or learn something but it's also the hardest kind of movie to make because it can lapse into saccharine and really be kind of Hallmark Card or episodic TV show and I don't want that at all so with my goal to make a family drama and also my artistic aspirations of doing things which are a bit edgy, I've gotten a really happy marriage in The Weatherman because Gore went outside and box and did something personal and artistic but, at the same time, it hits all the right notes in terms of children that may be going through a divorce or a husband and wife and dealing with it in a way that's not Pollyanna or saccharine or B.S. I feel like I haven't made that many movies like it, at least in that genre and I know I've never made a movie as individual as The Weatherman in dealing with family issues.


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