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July 2006
GHOST RIDER : An Interview with Director Mark Steven Johnson, Nicolas Cage and Eva Mendes

An Interview with Director Mark Steven Johnson, Nicolas Cage and Eva Mendes
By Wilson Morales

At last year’s Comic Con in San Diego, Director Mark Steven Johnson and Eva Mendes graced the convention with their presence to talk about the film. Nicolas Cage wasn’t present. Who knew that the film would be delayed for an entire year so when Comic Con came around, Nic Cage would be hear to talk about the character he’s playing along with Eva Mendes. While attending the 2006 Comic Con, Cage, Mendes and Johnson talk their roles and the violence in the film.

Have you been a Ghost Rider fan since you were a kid?

Nicolas Cage: Oh yes, absolutely. I enjoyed the image of the skull and fire when I was a
boy. The mythology of it, the Faust-like storyline was so original for a Marvel comic book character, there really isn't any other one like Ghost Rider. That's why I think he is fresh, I think it is time for a new kind of superhero. I’m speaking to the Ghost Rider fan, step out, we all know who we are.

So how much fun for you was it and how cool is it to get to finally play a comic book character?

Nicolas Cage: It was wonderful for me, because as you know it has been a long time that I have been trying to do it. But I am a big believer that the right character is the one that ultimately happens, and while I enjoyed Superman I think Brandon was the right choice for that part, and I absolutely think that Ghost Rider is the right choice for me to play. It's a better match, I am glad it worked out this way and I want you all to see it.

How much of Cage will we see the Ghost Rider on screen?

Nicolas Cage: I’ll let Mark talk about that because there was a lot of creative people that worked on the film and they did a lot of designing.

Mark Steven Johnson: Bunch of the times it's Nic, it just depends on if a stunt is involved. It's both, it's quite an elaborate get up they have, but interactive fire has been the bane of our existence these past few years. CG fire is the toughest thing to do.
What we would do is have a green neoprene hood on, with these lights that would give the interactive lighting on your shoulders and we would remove the head and then we could put in the skull and the fire and whatnot, but it proved to be a lot more difficult than we thought. It was real fire for all purposes, but the fire wouldn't sometimes move the way it should have, it was built was built wrong so it took a lot of time to get it working and get all of Nic's expressions in the skull, which is hard to do without lips or eyes or tongue, and still make it feel like it is Nic.

Nic you seem to immerse yourself so deeply in your characters how deep did you get into Ghost Rider?

Nicolas Cage: Really, I was invited in early on in the process so I like to think that I was building from scratch along with Mark and he was writing we would talk and even right before we went to film in Australia we were coming up with ideas that we would add on to the character. I think traditionalists of the comic book will be happy, but we did build up the story and add on to the character. There are little habits that he has, he has a fetish for jellybeans and he reads a lot, but he is something of a cowboy. Mark was very excited about the western element of the character, harkening back to the original Ghost Rider.
Ghost Rider is also a Karen Carpenter fan...

Eva Mendes: He's a Karen Carpenter fan, which I found very interesting.

Mark Steven Johnson: I promise this will make sense, I swear.

Nicolas Cage: The way I thought of that I remember when I was in a dental chair, they always play these very soft, soothing types of music an Johnny Blaze is almost literally sitting in a dental chair every second of the day wondering when the Devil is going to come and claim his purchase. He's constantly trying to relax. So instead of the bourbon drinking, chain smoking bad ass I think he is such a bad ass that he just needs to calm down with Karen Carpenter and jellybeans.

Mark we have seen many different incarnations of Ghost Rider in the comic book, which one is your take or is it going to be a whole new one?

Mark Steven Johnson: Which is my take? Mine is the original, mine is Johnny Blaze, it pretty much is the classic story. Very few changes, but it is all about selling your soul, but in our case it's the father, not the stepfather, that has lung cancer, having to leave the girl behind, being cursed and having to hit the road and all that stuff is in. What I got later, from the Danny Ketch era, which I loved graphically, I thought it was always really beautiful, was the looks. The spiked jacket, this isn't the blue full-body jumpsuit and the motorcycle he had in the early comics I thought we could do better. But the look, the chain around the side, the spikes, that was all the later stuff, which I really liked a lot, and the caretaker from the Ketch era is a character I always liked a lot and I wanted to find a way to use him, as was Blackheart. So a lot of it was taken from later, but the origin and a lot of the heart and the soul of it was from the Johnny-era.

Eva can you tell us a little bit about your character?

Eva Mendes: I play Roxanne Simpson, Johnny Blaze's long lost love, and I think what changed and I was really happy Mark took kind of a chance on me because the original Roxanne was actually his step-sister and he changed that so we are no longer .... [laughing] I mean I am open, but I am not that open. So I am glad he changed that story point and then the girl in the comic book was blonde hair, blue eyes, and different visually than I so I am glad that he took a chance and gave it a little flavor, a little spice.

Nic, do you still have your Ghost Rider comics book? Do you have the full collection?
Nicolas Cage: Absolutely, I would never sell those. There are in a special room upstairs, framed and on the wall.

How did you like having your own action figure?

Nicolas Cage: I’m thrilled with that. I haven’t seen it. I heard about it. I have to go check that out. I think that’s fun.

Is there a chance for a crossover between any of the other Marvel franchises? It happens so often in the comics.

Mark Steven Johnson: Man, I would love that, wouldn't you?

Nicolas Cage: Look, I would like to see it. To actually have the comic book characters team up? Once again, I am speaking to the Ghost Rider family, we all know that Ghost Rider can kick Spider-Man's ass. One look.

Eva, what was your reason for wanting to become part of this movie?

Eva Mendes: Well, two of the reasons are sitting right next to me. I'm a huge Nic Cage fan and obviously Mark Steven Johnson, I love this dude, and then I didn't really know comic books much at all and then speaking to these guys and getting into it a little bit. Honestly I just wanted to have some kind of effect, I had a little superhero envy. I wanted an extra arm or something.

Nicolas Cage: Eva added a lot of fun to the character and to the movie. There is a great scene with her and the Magic 8-Ball...

How was it working with Peter Fonda?

Nicolas Cage: It was great, I am such a fan of Peter. I grew up watching Peter Fonda. For me I thought it was a perfect choice since he was Captain America and if there was going to be a Luciferian version of a bike film then I thought that would be a perfect choice for Johnny Blaze to sell his soul to Captain America.

Mark can you talk about the delay in the movie.

Mark Steven Johnson: We're close now, but we still wouldn't have been ready [for our original release date] and we really lucked out because the movie was supposed to come out in August, they saw the movie and really liked it and they pushed us up to July, which was the second week of Pirates of the Caribbean, which is a position nobody wants to be in. Most importantly they liked the movie, and there were some things that I wanted to get into the movie, some really great bike stuff that was really expensive and big ticket stuff and they let us do that. So it was great that they let us go pick that stuff up, and like I said, the flaming skull was still being worked on, it went down to the wire to get it perfect, which is a hard thing as you know.

Is the film left open for a sequel and are you guys all signed for one?

Nicolas Cage: My theory on sequels is that they have to be better than the original. So I am open, I just have to see a script and talk about it, but I love working with Mark and Eva and it would be great to do something again. I just want to make sure we can improve on the original, whatever you can do to make it one step better. I think the original is really good so it would mean a lot of sitting down and thinking about it.

How much violence is in this movie? The comic book has a lot.

Mark Steven Johnson: Quite a bit. It's an intense movie and even though we were here last year I am more happy to be here even more this year because we get to show some stuff, last year we had nothing to show.

There have been a lot of movies the have gone into Hell, will Ghost Rider be making that trip?

Mark Steven Johnson: There have been a lot of movies about this subject, and it's tough because you've got to build your own world and I didn't really want to go into Hell, I didn't want it to be Spawn. I wanted to make something out of this world, because it is far out enough with the flaming skull and the Hell Cycle and we don't need to be going there too. So we needed to create our own version.

Nicolas Cage: You have to find the right balance to get it, it's a very fine line and you have to blend the joy of absurdity and comedy with truly scary imagery. I think the best example of that I had ever seen was American Werewolf in London, that was my template in my mind's eye that I wanted to try to aspire to get me to that zone. I loved that movie and I never forgot it.

Mark Steven Johnson: That's the closest to our movie as far as tone goes, is American Werewolf in London.

Would any of you do another comic book movie, not Ghost Rider specifically?

Nicolas Cage: Absolutely, the comic book movie is a wonderful way to entertain a lot of people. People love comic books on film, I knew it was going to happen. I knew it because I was an enthusiast at a young age and I knew with modern technology when they started taking Batman to the screen, Spider-Man, that they were just going to be enormous. The thing about comic book films is that it is a fantasy world and it's thoroughly entertaining and it doesn't rely on gratuitous violence and you can charm children and adults alike. I am very happy for it, it's almost a perfect medium for film. I would be happy to do more, I think I would even like to generate my own. As a matter of fact just the other day my son and I had a meeting with Virgin Comics and I said I wouldn't announce it, but I am going to announce it... Westin has developed a character and they have agreed to five issues of it.

What are the themes in the film and what makes it different?

Mark Steven Johnson: What makes this one so different for me is that this one is really about choice, that is something Nic had come up with during the shooting, about second chances and everyone deserves a second chance and it's a big theme in the movie. It’s not a character that puts on spandex and fights evil, it's different. He's a superhero of a very different sort. I think there hasn’t been one like this. I always felt like Nic is like the Lon Chaney of his generation in a way and which for me is a compliment. When you see quick cuts of him transforming, it’s fantanstic. It’s awesome. No one could do it like Nic could. The thing that’s different is having Nic in a role like this and having love it as much as he does and having it where the themes are so big. There’s a lot there.

How difficult was it to come up with a villain?

Mark Steven Johnson: Really difficult, because when you're Ghost Rider he's the coolest guy in the world. Usually your villain is tougher than your hero so you have to come up with somebody. When we came up with the Blackheart idea, the son of the Devil is pretty tough to beat to so we went big and Wes Bentley does a great job with that role. We didn't want to go bigger because Ghost Rider is so big and have a villain that was even bigger because then it becomes a goofy monster movie and you lose the human elements of it. So we wanted to try and keep it more human.



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