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Ghost Rider comic books

SUNDAY, DECEMBER 3, 2006

GHOST RIDER PRESS EVENT: NICOLAS CAGE

HOLLYWOOD, Calif. -- There are probably few happier to see a Ghost Rider movie than Nicolas Cage.

A long-time fan of the character and an actor who has tried to star in a comic-book film for years, Cage finally gets his chance with the Feb. 16-bowing movie.

The Academy Award-winning actor held court with the media on Thursday night at a press event at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

Following is an edited transcription of a roundtable question-and-answer session.

Question: Everyone knows that you love the genre, you love comic books, obviously your son's name is Kal-El and you are doing Ghost Rider. How much input from early on because you were attached before Mark Steven Johnson was did you set the tone for this project?

Cage: Yeah, I was with this project when Steve Norrington was still attached and that was a much darker interpretation. David Goyer wrote the script and it was a good script and I am sure Norrington would've done an amazing job, but I think when Mark came on board and he wrote this version, I think it opened up the character to wider audience. I want the kids to go see the movie.

So yeah, there's some scary moments in it, but, more like scary like in 1950's Vincent Price 'B' movie, which is fun, and I don't want them to be too scared. The spirit of it is, I wanted it to be very playful and there is a lot of humor in the movie. The character is absurd, you know, he's an absurdist character and I think that's a good thing because that give me a chance to bring comedy to it as well.

He's not a chain-smoking, hard-drinking bad-ass because what I wanted to contribute was that Johnny was trying to keep the devil away, because he really is in trouble with the devil. If that's the case, so why bring him in? So he's trying to deflect and stay relaxed by listening to Karen Carpenter and eating jelly beans out of a martini glass and just trying to stay calm because he knows that at any moment it could creep up on him.

Question: Every Marvel character has a theme. You look at Ghost Rider and what are kids going to take away from this, is it fighting their demons?

Cage: You know that's what is really exciting about it because in a way, I argue that the responsibility here is bigger than even the responsibility that I had with World Trade Center. Because with World Trade Center you could pick or choose whether or not you were going to take the kids to it, but in this case kids are going to want to go see Ghost Rider and their minds are so impressionable.

So what I wanted to make clear was no matter how much trouble you get into, you can always take a negative and turn it into a positive. That's the spirit of Johnny Blaze. He's a man who is dealing with the biggest, worst kind of trouble. His soul has been abducted by the devil. I mean, that's as big as it gets and yet he is figuring out a way to turn it around and turn it into something positive.

And so I was thinking of kids that might get in trouble at school or they're at the principal's office and they know that they are in a world of trouble, they can find some way to make the best out of it and do something good from it, no matter how bad it gets.

Question: Marvel, aside from the superheroes that they developed, a factor of their superheroes are monsters. Were you into those monster books?

Cage: Yeah, those were my favorites. I don't know why, I just gravitated towards the monsters. I liked The Hulk and like Ghost Rider the best, and it's really where I got into reading. I just thought it was such an exciting, complicated universe. I didn't know how something so scary could be also good and that appealed to my own complicated way of seeing things and that made it unique. Even when I became a film actor I'm always gravitating towards characters that are gray, they're not just black or white. They're beleaguered and yet they're trying to do good with whatever the trouble is.

Question: Can you remember back to your first experience with Ghost Rider?

Cage: Yeah, I was living in Long Beach, Calif., and I was about 7 years old and I went to the market around the corner in the neighborhood and I saw it on the stand. And there's this flaming skull and it was really colorful, and it's the first one and he's on the bike and he's coming right at you. I bought it and I took it home and I remember just staring at the cover in my room by myself for like hours. And my brother, my older brother, was like, "What's the matter with Nicolas? He's been staring at this comic book for hours." And I don't know why, I just thought it was trippy and scary and cool. It appealed to me.

Question: As a kid, what was it that you identified with him particularly?

Cage: Well, I think I identify with him because he was a scary character and I was trying to comprehend how something, as I said, something scary could also be good. Because, I, as a boy, grappled with nightmares and things that and I was trying to get control of the nightmares by, maybe making friends with them. Ghost Rider was like the perfect way to do that; here was a nightmare that was also a friend.

Question: Did you stick with it through the '90s when Mark Texeira and all those guys resurrected the Ghost Rider character?

Cage: No, I did not. I didn't. Mark Steven Johnson did, he was really aware of all the different versions of the character. I was really about the '70s character, as a boy, and that's what stayed with me. I really liked the iconography, the flaming skull in a leather jacket, is the coolest image of all.

I knew that when technology got to a level where it could become visually palatable that Ghost Rider would translate really beautifully to film.

Question: What was your initial reaction when you saw a final CG'd of Ghost Rider?

Cage: I was thrilled. I thought Kevin Mack did a brilliant job and his whole team, because it could have been really goofy and instead it's gorgeous. I think what he did with the fire, which we all know is the hardest thing to create with digital effects, is excellent. Because it's real and yet it's more than real, it's abstract and larger than life. Then to make a skull expressive is also difficult because there's no lips to move with so you have to find ways to make that also expressive, and he did a great job with that as well.

Question: Talk about the skull a little bit, because Mark said they used your skull to make the impression, how was that with you in terms of that?

Cage: Yeah, they had to do that digitally, they put the sensors on me and then grafted my skull somehow with x-ray. I don't know how they do it, but that's me. Just kind of weird.

Question: Did you have to be still for an hour or two? How long did that take?

Cage: You have to be still for a couple hours and they have to just scan the whole thing and get it.

Question: How's it been doing scenes with this sort of green hood on?

Cage: There's no way around it not feeling silly. It's silly. It just is.

Question: Did you hold on to your original Ghost Rider comic books?

Cage: I still have them. Yeah, I kept those, I framed them and I have them in a certain room in my house because I knew somehow this was going to happen so I wanted to hold on to those.

Question: Have you shown it to your son at all?

Cage: Oh yeah, my oldest son. My youngest son hasn't seen it yet.

Question: Is going to work on this film different than all the other films that you've worked on because of your love the character?

Cage: It was because it was new. It's no secret that I have been trying to get involved in a comic-book film for a while, and for whatever reasons it just kept not coming together.

In this case it did, so this was the one that was meant to be and I was really excited that it was this one because this one was personal. I gravitated towards Ghost Rider as a child -- and the Hulk -- and so I was thrilled to be doing it. Plus, I grew up watching those Vincent Price monster movies and I really loved the whole, like, monster-magazine stuff that was out back in the '70s and I wanted to bring that flavor to the movie as well, where I would get really excited that I was making a monster movie. I've not done that before, something that was funny and scary.

Question: Mark, in one of his video blogs, called you Lon Cheney. How does it feel just to hear him saying that Nic is the next Lon Cheney?

Cage: Lon Cheney was a genius, and I don't compare myself to him, but I do aspire to want to use different looks and ŠI think it's important, like Lon Cheney, to try and transform your face or your hair or anything you can use as an actor to create a new look; it is all part of your craft -- your voice, the way you move. And a lot of times many actors, and it's a choice, get stuck in one persona which has been proven to work for them, and that's OK, it's fun even, but it would really bore me. So, I think what he was saying by Lon Cheney, I want to try to create the whole character, physically and emotionally.

Question: Has this quenched your desire to do a super-hero film or only fueled it?

Cage: No, I'm satisfied, I think this was the one and I've done this now and unless there was a really great script to a sequel, I've probably done what I had to do in terms of a comic-book movie. I would come back and do another one if there was a great script for it.

Question: Wasn't there something posted that you are attached to a Virgin comic?

Cage: Oh yeah, well, my son Weston has developed a character, Enigma, which deals with spiritual elements in New Orleans back during the Civil War and this is something that we went to Richard Branson's company and Deepak and Gotham Chopra. They were excited by it, so they've committed to doing five issues of it. It's really Weston's character.

Question: Is it being shopped around for a feature film?

Cage: That's what my hopes are for it. We are going to start with the comic book and then maybe a graphic novel and when we get that, then if it works, I would try to develop a script from it. That's the idea.

Question: How much of the motor biking is you? Do you do a lot of your own stunt stuff?

Cage: I did a lot of it, but I didn't do all of it. I enjoy riding, I haven't been riding for some time though since my youngest son has been born. I really want to try to ... I don't want to be the kind of role model that inspires him to get on motorcycles and, you know, I'm looking more towards, maybe he'll try sailing or something. But, I do enjoy riding motorcycles.

Question: Did you get to a point with Mark about riding where he was saying, "No, you can't do that"?

Cage: No, it wasn't like that. The only thing is my character was really mostly on Grace, the chopper, and that bike isn't really my kind of bike. I prefer more the race bikes like Takati or Yamaha, I like the whole cyborg thing where you become man and machine and the bike does exactly what you think, I love that. But, Grace is a '70s chopper, you know, it's got a front rig that's really rigid and it doesn't corner, it's just a point and shoot bike. That doesn't turn me on. I want to get into corners and I want to drag my knee and do all that.

Question: Do you collect motorcycles?

Cage: I used to, I don't anymore. I have a pretty interesting library of motorcycles.

Question: What's the pride of your collection?

Cage: The pride is, I have something called called the Bocker Barracuda, which came out of the Netherlands, which is really unusual. I had one of those. And then, some of the early Cafe Racers, I don't have those anymore. And then I really did like the Yamaha R1, believe it or not, and I have some Harleys that I really like.

Question: Did they give you the Ghost Rider biker at all?

Cage: They didn't, they were supposed to give me that Hellcycle and I was gonna put it in New Orleans and I never got it. (laughs) I don't know what happened.

Question: Do you still collect comic books?

Cage: I don't, no, I don't. I still like them and I like the idea of them. As you know, Weston and I are developing that character. I want to be more involved in the creating of them than the collecting of them.

Question: So do you see yourself making one for maybe Marvel or DC or anything?

Cage: Not in the immediate future, but I wouldn't rule it out.

Question: Did you ever write your own comic books as a kid?

Cage: I did, yeah, I did. I used to, well it's really kind of horrible, but I used to destroy my comics with scissors and cut all the characters out and glue them on to my notebook and write what they were saying and reconfigure them into my own comics.

Question: So you didn't make like, Nicolas Cage presents?

Cage: There was some of that going on too, but it was Nicolas Coppola back then.

Question: Can you tell us what some of the characters were?

Cage: I had a character that was based on The Spirit that I just called Spirit, he was a kind of a superhero with a boomerang --- weird.

Question: Did you save any of those?

Cage: I wish I had, I don't know where any of those are, that would have been a good thing to pull out of the closet.

Question: Is Weston comic-book crazy?

Cage: He likes comics, yeah, we are all comic-book crazy in my family, Francis (Ford Coppola) likes comics, my dad liked comics, it's just American mythology.

Question: Some of the behind the scenes footage that's been going up on Mark's blog showed you doing a take where they actually set your feet on fire during a transformation. Did they just pad you up from the feet up to the knee?

Cage: Yeah, and they put that sort of chemical on that burns without burning you.

Question: If the story was good and you do a sequel, where do you see Ghost Rider going?

Cage: I think, there's a line in the movie where Johnny Blaze says to the police force that he really admirers the job they do and that when he finishes his stunt cycle career he intends to apply his skills as a motorcycle policeman (laughs), so I can sort of see Johnny Blaze ­ Super Bike Cop (laughs).

Question: Did you talk to Peter Fonda, and trade bike stories with Easy Rider himself?

Cage: Oh yeah, he still rides, he's still into it.

Question: This is your first time working with Sam Elliott?

Cage: Yeah, he was my neighbor for the longest time. He used to live behind me in Malibu.

Question: So you guys got along on set?

Cage: Oh yeah, yeah.

Question: What is his character? Can you tell us what your character has in relationship to his?

Cage: A lot, and I don't want to give it away, but it's a lot. But Sam's character is the Caretaker. He's the one that really understands the mythology and he understands the history of the Ghost Rider and, sort of, is the mentor to the Ghost Rider and explains to Johnny Blaze what his problem is and what he is in danger of, what can happen to him. But, there is a reveal that is bigger than that.

Question: Did getting this done take away any disappointment you may have had from the Superman project that they offered you?

Cage: From the Superman project? No, I'm not disappointed by that at all, I am a big believer that things that are meant to be are meant to be and I don't hold on to things and I let things go when they don't work out.

I also believe that the right cast for a movie are the ones that usually end up in the movie and I think the Superman movie that came out is a good movie and a very nostalgic movie, but I'm not interested in repeating things so I would rather, and I was going to, turn that character on its ear. Maybe, obviously, wasn't what the studio wanted, they went with a more traditional approach.

Ghost Rider, for me, is a better match. It gives me the chance to do the unique approach to things I want to do and to maybe introduce a character to a wider audience. There's a hardcore group of Ghost Rider fans and I want them to be very happy but I also want to introduce Ghost Rider to the mainstream who don't know who he is.

Question: Do you understand that frustration when they voice it on the web, they say, Mark's screwing up by doing this, or he's changing the mythology for that reason, do you understand where they are coming from?

Cage: Yeah...

Question: Or do you wish they would just let it go...

Cage: No, no, I mean that's their identity, you can't tell them to let it go, that's what gives them something to get excited about. Even if it means they don't want to be excited about the movie, that makes them excited. They gotta complain about something, that's part of the fun of being a comic-book fan. No, complain all you want, have at it. Go see it and then complain some more if you want (laughs).

Question: What's the message you want to give fans out there that might be on the fence?

Cage: I think my message is, go check out the whole thing and then let's talk.

Question: Will there be an action figure that looks like you or just will it just be the flaming skull?

Cage: I have no idea, we'll see. I'll probably get freaked out in Toys R Us one day (laughs).



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