Are you a latter-day fan of Oscar-winner Nicolas Cage and the balls-to-the-wall, batshit insane acting style he calls "Western Kabuki"? Then don't walk, run—maybe while screaming incoherently?—to the first theater in your area showing Cage's new movie, Dog Eat Dog. Cage stars as Troy, alongside Willem Dafoe as Mad Dog and Paul Schrader as Grecco the Greek. It's a crime movie on its face, but it's really about three deeply racist, psychopathic murderers, who, in the course of committing an ill-fated crime, manage to spray bullets, ketchup, blood, brains, slurs, mustard, and psychobabble all over the greater Cleveland area.
Cage is promoting Dog Eat Dog alongside two other movies that are being released around the same time, and that sounds tedious to me. So to break up his monotony, I decided to futz with the interview format a little and used only lines from Nicolas Cage movies as my questions.
I still wanted the interview to work the way he expected, so I added words—usually "Dog Eat Dog"—in order to form real questions. And at first I relied on some more obscure quotes to make sure the interview stayed on the rails, but then I threw in some weird curveballs. It worked! Cage never seemed to remember that these had been his movie lines, and he was surprisingly interested in talking about fish dreams. Still, I doubt he thought I was a very good interviewer.
Our conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity, but the awkwardness of my questions has been preserved.
VICE: I guess we better get going, don't you? (The Rock, 1996)
Nicolas Cage: I think so.
So, Dog Eat Dog, what's going on here? (Con Air, 1997)
Well, I guess what's going on is whatever you want to have go on! It's really up to the audience to decide for themselves what they want it to be.
So, Dog Eat Dog: How does it feel to have all of that evil inside of you? All of that power? (Ghost Rider, 2007)
Um, yeah. You know somebody once said that the bad guy never really sees himself as the bad guy, and so when I was playing the part, I wasn't thinking of Troy as the bad guy. Although I did walk away some days thinking, Wow, I guess this took a turn for the worse, [and] yeah, these are three pretty bad boys. I don't think any of us were thinking about our characters in those terms when we were filming it, because then it wouldn't really have worked.
The three guys, they're still all one person, right? In a way? (Adaptation, 2002)
I mean, that's an interesting one. I haven't thought of it in those terms before. But I don't see why one couldn't see it as like a three-headed hydra? Or three heads to one body, and they are a group. I know Paul really liked that movie The Wild Bunch. So he was often thinking about these guys as sort of a modern day Wild Bunch. And even if you look at the picture and you look at the old [Sam Peckinpah movies], you see some of the ways he set up some of the scenes, especially when each of the characters is their own version of a date: Willem Dafoe's got the masseuse, Christopher has the kind of normal, elegant girl, and my guy has the pretty hooker. All three dates go horribly wrong, and that's not unlike what happens in The Wild Bunch. There was some allusion to that, but like I said, the movie is really whatever you want it to be, and I always try to not infringe on audience reactions. I want them to have their own connection and their own secret with the movie.
Would you say you explore the notion that cop and criminal are really two aspects of the same person? (Adaptation, 2002)
No, I never got that far with it or that philosophical with it. I just saw it more as these are three guys—hard-luck guys—out of jail who are just trying to survive, the only way they know how. They don't have skills in other universes. Like, they are all hard-luck guys who resorted to crime to survive. I didn't think about it in terms of philosophizing as to the two sides of the coin of law and criminality.
The dream toward the end of the movie, was it all just wishful thinking? (Raising Arizona, 1987)
Yeah, I think it's whatever you want it to be, again. But just let me just say something about Paul Schrader: He once gave me a note that it's better to create characters that raise more questions than answers, because they have a longer shelf life if you make it enigmatic. And don't explain it away too much. It'll live longer. And I think the best example of that would be like Stanley Kubrick's 2001. That's as enigmatic as it gets, and we are all still wondering what that is about. But there is a line in that passage where it says that my character is dead—Troy is dead—so I think that you can go where you want with that. For me, I think he's—and I shouldn't even be saying this, but—I think he's in limbo.
So, Dog Eat Dog, the film itself: How'd it get made? How'd it get burned? (The Wicker Man, 2006)
Well, I'll tell you exactly how it got made, especially the way it did get made: Because I said I'd do it! You know Paul did Dying of the Light, and it got taken from him. And he wasn't able to cut it the way he wanted to cut it. He was very upset, the reason why Paul got final cut on the movie was because I said I would do the movie. I got it green-lit, and he was able to make it on a certain budget, and he got his final cut. And I'm glad he did because it's a work of art. He is a maverick filmmaker, who is a total intellectual. He's going to be the smartest person on any movie set he walks in, and he knows it! And he lets you know it! He doesn't give a shit! It's going to be his way or the highway, and you can either partake with that or not partake with that, but it certainly served him well. And I'm very proud that I made the movie with him.
You enjoying this? (The Rock, 1996)
Oh, I love Dog Eat Dog, it's exactly the kind of movie I want to be making right now. It's a midnight movie. It's unpredictable. It's full of surprises. It doesn't stop moving. It's electric. I'm very happy with the results.
Do you like the Elton John song "Rocket Man"? (The Rock, 1996)
I love "Rocket Man." I love all of Elton John's music. He's one of my favorite composers. He's just amazing.
You think fish have dreams? (Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, 2009)
You know something? I don't want to begin to pretend to know about the ichthyological world, and what they are thinking, but, man, I have been to an aquarium here in Las Vegas and I was with a girl, and three panther groupers came to stare at her. There were millions of fish in that aquarium, and they all came to look at her. I have no idea to this day why, except maybe she was wearing a shirt that had black-and-white, and they have black-and-white polka dots. Maybe they were attracted to the way she was dressed, or maybe they had a dream about her! And there was their little mermaid on the other side of the aquarium, and they were giving her some sort of telepathic… who knows. I don't know. It was wild. So maybe they do have dreams.
That's kinda weird, right? (Adaptation, 2002)
It was weird as it gets! And she was creeped out that they were totally into her.
Follow Mike Pearl on Twitter.
Dog Eat Dog will be in theaters in LA and New York on November 4, and on VOD November 11.