At the Cinema Society and Amnesty International–hosted screening of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Vulture spoke with Nicolas Cage about how the movie was conceived, the distractions of shooting in New York City, and the character’s hairstyle. Cage also discussed his wide range of roles and how the success of the National Treasure franchise has made him a devotee of family-friendly fare. Regarding his now-legendary spending binges, Cage simply said he is no longer a collector.
You’ve done Leaving Las Vegas, Raising Arizona, and numerous blockbusters. What do you look for in a role?
It’s true that I’m eclectic, and in order for me to stay fresh, I have to keep mixing it up. And I do enjoy the midnight audience, which is why I make movies like Bad Lieutenant and Drive Angry, but I also think one of the better ways I can apply my abilities is by making family-oriented movies. I’m one of those people — part of the reason why I’m even here tonight is that I believe world peace begins at home. And if I can, in my own little way, contribute to that, if I can keep kids smiling with their family, with their parents and vice versa, that’s one less angry child that goes out in the world and makes a mistake, like drugs or violence. And so if I can keep making happy movies for the kids, I want to keep doing that.
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is by the creator of National Treasure …
[Interrupts.] Correct. It was an idea that actually came to me first from an interest I had in ancient English mythology. I was trying to find a way to coincide my personal interests and put them into my professional life. Which, as we know, in order to make a family movie you can’t use bullets, you can’t use high body counts, but you can use magic. So I thought, I’ll take an ancient sorcerer from the time of Merlin and put him in a modern-day Manhattan story, and a friend of mine and I discussed it, and we thought The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. A vignette from that Fantasia classic, that would make a perfect building block for a two-hour, live-action feature film.
Your movies in this genre, like National Treasure, have been really successful. Do you think you’ve sort of found a niche in these family-friendly, action-adventure type movies?
I think it was something that happened almost subconsciously, and then consciously, because, as I said, I really do want to make movies that can be like a family ritual. Jerry Bruckheimer wanted me to do the National Treasure series. And the first time I did it, I got excited about it, but then as I started to proceed with the second one, I realized there was some value in that. Not only because the movie is a great, fun, popcorn movie and a ride, but because I do see the value, being a parent, in family rituals.
You shot The Sorcerer’s Apprentice all over New York — Brooklyn subway stations, in Chinatown, Wall Street. What was the funniest or weirdest on-location experience while shooting?
It all was, you know, very charged. Shooting in Manhattan and driving around in an old 1934 Rolls Royce Phantom; talk about a head turner, that car really stood out, so there were people shouting things out and asking about National Treasure 3 while Jay Baruchel and I were trying to remember four pages of dialogue. So that was maybe a little distracting, but at the same time, I think it was exciting, and it made us both want to do our best. You know, we’d get on top of our game when people are shouting like that.
You described your hairstyle as “Liszt.”
Franz Liszt, definitely. In the movie; not now.
Not now, right. Why not David Byrne or White Snake?
Well, Balthazar is a thousand years old; I’m sure he liked Liszt. And then he probably liked “Lisztomania” when that came out. But that whole big, sort of sorcerer, conductor, mad musician, mad scientist look is sort of what I was going for.
If you could have one magical power, what would it be?
I’ll just keep it where it is. I’m very happy with the idea of making movies or coming up with a concept and seeing it on the big screen. To me, that is magical, so I’m happy with the way it is.
You collect a lot of different things — comic books, boats, cars. Is there anything you’d like to collect that you haven’t yet?
I’m not a collector of anything. [Pause.] In a former life, I was a collector.
Did you get to keep the Phantom you drive in the movie?
No, that’s a sad story. That was my car. Honestly. I put it in the movie. I put it in the movie because it had the Merlin engine, which was designed at the same time they were building the Warbirds in the Spitfires and the Mustangs that defeated the Nazis in World War II, and they called it Merlin. And my character is an apprentice of Merlin, the Merlin, so I thought, This is interesting for the movie, that the Merlins were at war, even then, behind the scenes, trying to help world peace and keep people from being enslaved and dominated.
And what happened to the car?
That remains to be seen.