Mandy - Nicolas Cage

I interviewed Panos recently, and he said it’s the mistakes to him that are sometimes the most beautiful parts of a movie. Do you feel the same way? Is it sometimes the mistakes that make for your best work?

I certainly think that there are happy accidents that can occur on set, and usually when that happens I refer to it as the messiness of reality. And sometimes those accidents really make it into the movie. But for me, the joy is really when you have a target and you hit out an idea of where you can go, and you want to hit that target, and then you do. That’s a kind of blissful moment of afterwards I go home, and I say, thank you. And those moments don’t always happen, but when they do, I would say that, that is the best feeling.

I liken it to like if you …I mean, it’s gonna sound very ontological and abstract, but it’s like if your body … if you had a chest made of wax, and there was a pin, a needle of sorts, and it was behind the wax. And it’s pushing it’s way through with its very sharp tip, and it makes it all the way through and comes out to the other side, and the feeling of release, and blissfulness, and peace that you, although exhausted, arrive at. And you feel spent, but joyful.

That’s great. When Red Miller loses it in the bathroom, it’s heart-wrenching. Was there anything you did before filming to prepare for that scene?

It’s a very hard thing to describe with words. It has more to do with memory and sound, and kind of like a trance really, where I know where I have to go. And I’ll surf emotion throughout the day leading up to the moment of action, just to see if it’s there. Is it at my fingertips, is it in my throat, is it in my eyes? And bring it back, bring it back. On other movies I’ve written notes to myself and put them in my pocket, and the moment of action out comes the note, and then I’ll put it back in and there we go.

But in that particular instance, I don’t know what I was thinking about or recalling, but it is not unlike going into some sort of other dimension and trying to pull up something from a well that’s tucked away or buried in the earth somewhere. And the earth happens to be my body, and my whatever it is. It’s like memories, or imagination. And they all sort of coalesce in such a way where when Panos says action, there we are. It’s full throttle. But until that point, I’m just sort of preparing, getting it percolate and getting ready. I think we did that scene in one or two takes at most, as I recall anyhow. But being in a trance of sorts, I don’t really know what happened. It was just something that was let out of the gate.

Are there any other movies you’ve had similar experiences on? 

I think if you look at a movie I made called Joe that David Gordon Green directed, I had a scene in a bar where I had to get into a bar brawl. I couldn’t find it in the internal well to get me there, the feelings of anger and the feelings of grief. So, sometimes I’ll go outside of the well, and I’ll look at current events. And I had read a story that week, or around that time about a little kid that fell into a pit of wild dogs, painted dogs, at a zoo somewhere. And he got eaten alive, and I think he was two or three, and I was just shocked and appalled.

I even think I talk about it in the movie. I think it came out. But that kind of got the process going of the … It stoked the fires of the emotion, so that when I played the scene I just put that all on Ricky Blevins, his character. It just was kind of similar in the sense of here we go. I mean, it’s conjured up, and it’s out of the gate now.

Throughout your career with projects like Mandy or your punk rock movies, you clearly stay true to your interests. Having a career where you get to do that for as long as you have, how important is it surrounding yourself with the right people who are creatively on the same page, who won’t say, “Why do something that out of the box?” 

Yeah, it absolutely is [important]. I mean, we all need to have creative people to surround ourselves with and to feel support. And when you don’t have that, you cave in, and you do not feel liberated as a performer, or an artist of any sort. You need people around you, who are willing to support your drumbeat no matter how different it may be, and on some level, get it. And I always … For me, a big influence was Prince. Sometimes when I’m in moments of uncertainty, I’ll ask myself, “What would Prince do?” You know? Would he wear those glasses?

He stuck to his guns when he was a kid. I mean, Warner Brothers gave him a contract that he could do everything in the world, and he said, no, because he had to produce all the music. I mean, what balls. But at the same time, I’m sure he had people around him who gave him faith in himself, and without that it’s a pretty long row to hoe, and it’s pretty lonely.

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Mandy opens in limited release on September 14.

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