Nicolas Cage On 'Looking Glass,' The Musical Experience Of Acting, And More [Interview]

While a seedy motel run by Nicolas Cage sounds like a dream location for a honeymoon trip or a late night pitstop, that's not the case in director Tim Hunter's thriller, Looking Glass. The actor gives a reserved, more internalized performance in the film as Ray, who takes over running a rundown motel with his wife (Robin Tunney). Spying on guests, a murder, and the arrival of an oddball sheriff ensue when Cage comes to town in the old school thriller.

Cage's performance is a great contrast to his recent (and excellent) turn in Mom & Dad, which was one of his more over-the-top performances. Both roles create a sense of mystery, as Cage often does as a performer. He never comes off calculated, but even when he seems like he's going off the rails, it's all very calculated, as director Brian Taylor recently told us.

We recently spoke with Cage about wanting a character to raise questions, the musical experience of acting, his array of influences, and of course, The Weather Man, a movie I love and couldn't help but mention.

The movie has this old-fashioned, almost timeless quality to it. It felt like at times it could have been a movie from the '80s or '90s.

I have to give Tim Hunter credit for that, because he's a real film genius, a true craftsman, and so much so that he brings his own projector to the set and pulls movies, classic films, out of the can. He plays movies for the cast and crew because he's a true cinema enthusiast, just loves cinema and shares it with everybody and wants us all to catch the bug. So he has a real master's hand in terms of how to put a movie together and an understanding of knowledge of filmmaking, clearly.

Which movies did he play on set?

I didn't go. I would go home, so I don't know. I think there were a few different names, but they slip my mind, but I know that many of the crew went and they enjoyed it. I was too busy trying to go home and memorize my dialogue.

You're an actor who references other movies or performances sometimes in their work. For Looking Glass, were any actors or films on your mind?

When I did Looking Glass, not so much. I did think about voyeurism and cinema, and that it's something that photographs quite well. I thought about Peeping Tom, but the main influence for me was the idea of my character being almost power crazed, not crazed, but power-addicted almost by the idea that he could be omnipresent and turn into the Invisible Man and spy on people and get sort of turned on by that. It was a concept that made the character more enigmatic to me. I thought the more quiet and reserved and internal that I could play the part, the more of a mystery maybe for the audience he would be, in terms of is he a creep or isn't he? Is he going down the rabbit hole and becoming a perverse sort of voyeur who's doing illegal things and getting high on it?

I know you prefer to maintain a mystery about your performances and some of your choices. On the set, do you have days where you're asking yourself, "How much do I need to let the audience in on this particular choice for the character or how much can I keep to myself?".

Well, with Tim as the director, I knew that I was in good hands and that he would only use the right amount of whatever the choices we had come up with together; he wouldn't tip the scales. So I felt safe enough that I could experiment. There were some takes I did that were a lot more way out and borderline lascivious, and we photographed it – but he didn't use it, and I think he was wise not to because it would tip the scale and the audience probably would have lost empathy for the character. Nonetheless, we tried some different things, and we went for it. I mean, there were even some masturbation sequences, but we didn't put that in the movie, and I think wisely we didn't because it would have made it too much.

When Ray cleans his glasses with money, I like not knowing the exact intent behind that moment. Have you always felt the less an audience knows about you as a performer, the better?

Paul Schrader was the one who told me that characters who create more questions than answers have a longer shelf life. He really taught me that, and I've utilized it ever since. I'm glad you noticed that moment in the movie with the glasses, and I'm gonna break my usual rule and tell you where that came from because it's a good story.

My grandfather, Bob Vogelsang, he would do that. I remember him taking his glasses off, and he'd pull out a dollar bill and start cleaning them with the dollar bill. I kept asking him, "Why are you doing that?", and he said, "Well, because it actually works very well," and it keeps ... something about the oils in a dollar bill is like a cleaner, so I've been doing it ever since. So, I just put my grandfather's move of cleaning glasses with a dollar bill into the character [Laughs]. It gave me something to do, you know?

[Laughs] That's great. I think it's fascinating you draw from personal experiences like that one, but can also be influenced by Gumby or Richard Dreyfus from Jaws. Do these sort of influences come to you naturally or are you seeking them out sometimes?

I think both. Sometimes they just pop in my head and come to me naturally. Sometimes I have to seek them out. Sometimes I have to read the newspaper to get motivation to get angry for a scene. Like when I did Joe there was a story in the newspaper about a little toddler that fell into a dog pit at the zoo and got mauled to death. I was upset about that, so I literally pulled that story off the page and then used that story to rev myself up to have that bar brawl sequence in that movie.

So sometimes you have to find it and sometimes it just comes naturally. Like in Mom & Dad, being mad at the "Hokey Pokey" just came naturally because I hate that song and I hated having to perform that song in Kindergarten. And I'm sitting at the table with a sledgehammer and singing the "Hokey Pokey" just came out because I was incredibly frustrated by the song. So sometimes they come up, and sometimes they don't.

That Hokey Pokey scene in Mom & Dad reminded me of how you approach dialogue musically. It felt like your rock ballad where you hit these high and extreme notes and then take to this authentic, quiet place by the end of the scene.

Yeah, yeah.

How much is music a direct influence for you? Are you someone who listens to music on set to try to find the musical quality to dialogue?

It's something that I don't ... I let the music come to me in the writing. I'll look at the dialogue, and then I'll start rehearsing the dialogue and start memorizing it, and then I'm gonna start hearing the notes in the dialogue. I don't bring music to the set. I prefer silence so that I can go within and pull up whatever emotions I need to find. But I have the melody in my head pretty clear before action, and I usually have it a week before I start shooting, if not even more, like a month. I start rehearsals on my own two months before photography. But, it is truly a musical experience for me. I hear it in my head, and I like to play with words. I like to enunciate and extend words and try to get some sort of style, musical style or melody going. It helps me deliver the dialogue in a more entertaining way.

Before I go, I just wanted to tell you The Weather Man is one of my favorite movies and also an important movie to me. I remember seeing that with my dad, and David Spritz just reminded me so much of him, and at the time it made me empathize with him more.

Oh, wow. I love the movie, too, and I don't hear about it very often, so I'm thankful that you brought it up. That was really like my life. I mean, I was going through all that stuff, so I was able to just be, I didn't really have to act. I just totally understood the character, you know? Going through divorce, trying to stay in contact with the kids, you know, all of that just came to my fingertips because I had lived it. I'm thankful that it had a meaningful impact on your life, your personal life, because it does have a heart, that movie really does. There are a lot of single fathers out there really trying to do the best they can, but it's not the easiest task.


Looking Glass is now in limited release and available on VOD.