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Bad Lieutenant’s Nicolas Cage on Working With Herzog, and Demons

In Werner Herzog's new Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, a sort-of remake of Abel Ferrara's 1992 classic, Nicolas Cage delightfully portrays Terence McDonagh, a crooked New Orleans cop battling drug addiction and singing lizards. The film was a hit with critics at the Toronto Film Festival, where Vulture caught up with Cage to discuss Herzog, Ferrara, and how shooting in New Orleans "put me face-to-face with demons."

What was it like working with Werner Herzog?
What I enjoy about Werner is his confidence and his precision. He knows what he wants and he does it in two or three takes, maximum. I find that very liberating as an actor. I come in ready to go. I don't want to waste my energy on too many takes. I knew that Werner would give me the freedom to shape the performance and to be extreme.

What made you sign up for the film?
When it was announced that we were making Bad Lieutenant, people thought it was a joke and I liked that. It was such a crazy and wonderful idea. A lot of people at Cannes thought it was a gag and that made me want to do it more.

We loved Terence's facial expressions; they were like something from the age of silent cinema.
That was from the hideous impact of the drugs.

In Leaving Las Vegas, your character was also extreme.
I think of Leaving Las Vegas as a natural performance. I would have a couple of drinks before takes to have the taste of alcohol in my mouth. This was different. I was totally sober when making Bad Lieutenant.

You've said prefer movies like Bad Lieutenant because of the artistic freedom. If you could, would you work in independent movies all the time?
I make movies that appeal to me, and I have very diverse tastes. I want to make movies that entertain whole families. I like the National Treasure movies and I like the idea that it's a movie parents can watch with their children.

We spoke with Abel Ferrara and he said how much he wants to work with you. How ironic that you made a remake of one his best-known films.
Abel Ferrara is a great director and I would like to work with him one day

He would be happy to hear that.
My feelings for Abel are mutual. I know he was upset when I did not do The Funeral with him. Abel is not one to filter his feelings, but I know Abel has no ill will towards me. Abel has a unique and raw way of working and if Abel wants to do something together, I would do it.

Did you talk to Harvey Keitel about the movie?
I've worked with Harvey a couple of times but I did not speak with him about the role. There was no reason. I wanted this to be different, and it is different. However, Christopher Walken's King of New York performance is an inspiration.

Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant is a classic New York story. Why set your Lieutenant in post-Katrina New Orleans?
New Orleans is the birthplace of Jazz. It's African, French, and full of magic. The city itself is a character and it informed my performance. I directed my movie Sonny, there and I wanted to go back. Now, I had some experiences in New Orleans that I don't want to talk about. Let's just say that I knew that returning would put me face-to-face with demons. So, filming in New Orleans could be a disaster or it could be cathartic and fantastic.

Ferrara has criticized the movie without seeing it.
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans is a lot more existential. But I don't take his criticism personally.

You don't pay attention to criticism?
It's a job, and I do it. I can't take things said about me personally. In the beginning of my career I wanted to stand out and be noticed. I wanted to please the critics. I don't think that way anymore.

Photo: Getty Images