In this first installment of our series of chats with the cast and crew of Left Behind, we open with Oscar-winner Nicolas Cage (I probably don't have to list any of his credits for you to discern who he is) about why he got involved in a project this divisive and how his own personal familial experiences help inform his choices as an actor.
Jason Howard: What do you hope that viewers take away from this movie?
Nicolas Cage: I was very taken by the family dynamic that plays out in this script. That’s what drew me to the project. That, and an opportunity to work again with Vic Armstrong. I had a good rapport with him on another movie, so I felt that I could get to where I wanted to go with Captain Steele. Because this is a person who is in an extraordinary situation and realizes really what his values are, he reaches a catharsis through the experience of this extraordinary flight that he’s on. He gets back to the heart, which is his relationship with his family and his relationship with Chloe, his daughter. Cassie Thompson is so powerful in this movie. If there’s anything for me, I want it to come across that people realize, ‘yeah, we all make mistakes,’ but in a moment of crisis, what we really want, what we really go back to is the love we have for our families. That’s what pulled me into this project. That, and also how you make such an extraordinary set of circumstances authentic and how you make that real That was a tremendous challenge for all the actors to play it almost ‘Cinéma vérité’ that this is really happening and we’re really believing in this situation and it’s to convey that to the audience is the challenge. I’ve always been attracted to movies that aren’t afraid to venture into the unknown. City of Angels, movies that were knowing, movies that aren’t afraid to face the possibility of these extraordinary circumstance and the challenge of making that real.
JH: What is it about our current culture that makes a film like this, and other similar Biblically proportionate projects like The Leftovers, so popular?
NC: I think all artists, if you’re tapped in, if you’re tuned in, to the zeitgeist, similar things can happen I think. I really believe things happen collectively around the world. I didn’t know about The Leftovers. I didn’t know that was a television show that was already happening but you can pick up on these things. I mean, at one time, I think someone invented a steam train in one part of the world and another person was inventing the same thing and they had never talked. So, there are times when you can tap into something subconsciously. But that wasn’t on my mind, I wasn’t aware of any of it. I just felt that the script was a challenge and it gave me a chance to really try to make the extraordinary, believable. And, to do something authentic within a performance so that everything around me was going into chaos. People were just appearing on the airplane and how did I make that organic? How did I make that authentic? And again, all the actors, Chad Michael Murray, Cassi Thomson, Nicky Whelan, they were all on-point. And I find that exciting. To me, it was an exercise and I’m very happy with the results.
JH: How would you describe the relationship between your character and his daughter and how it relates to your own personal experiences as a father?
NC: Ray Steele is a captain of a transatlantic jumbo jet going to London, England. He’s an important guy on that airplane and he has a flirtation and a chemistry that’s happening with the flight attendant, so marvelously played by Nicky Whelan. He loses track and loses sight of what’s really valuable to him in terms of his treasures within, which is his love for his family. It’s not that he’s a bad guy, but he’s making a mistake that many people make that are in powerful positions where they lose track of the importance of family. They’re drawn away, or they’re seduced or they’re taken from their true inner-values by something attractive, or something flirtatious, or something that has the call of the wild. They lose their place, and what I like about that is that many people do it. But, that Ray Steele gets back to his true need for family through this experience, through this extraordinary experience and understands the value of family and just wants to get back to that no matter what happens. Just to be able to get back on the phone with his daughter. Say ‘I’m sorry’. And say ‘I love you.’ And I think that it’s as simple as that. I think that is heart-wrenching. And if you have a heart, I don’t think it’s possible to see the movie and not get a little verklempt. I mean it, there’s some very poignant, emotional moments.
JH: Were you familiar with the story before you got involved?
NC: I’m familiar with the rapture, of course. I mean, I’m not familiar with it in any aspect outside of what the Bible says, but you know, I was not familiar with the Left Behind series. My brother, Mark, is a Christian pastor, and he was very excited about this. He said, ‘you know, Nicky, you’ve really got to to do this.’ So, I’d already wanted to make the movie because I thought it was such a great script and an opportunity again to do something challenging. But, when I saw how passionate he was, I thought, ‘well, yeah I want to make this movie for my brother too.’
JH: Do you gravitate towards roles that have the potential to affect viewers in a profound way?
NC: If you look at my filmography, there’s no secret to the fact that I am drawn to movies that aren’t afraid to take on spiritual themes. And you know, without going into my own personal spirituality, which is very sacred to me and not something that I think is for public consumption or to be put in the media but, but I like to let my work speak for me. I like to find movies that allow me to explore these inner or outer worlds through the work, without having to really talk too much about it. The other thing that I would mention is that I want this movie to work for people of all faiths. It’s about when you have those moments, there really are no atheists in fox holes. So, when you’re in a crisis like that, I want people from all faiths be able to say, ‘you know, we’re all invited to the table.’ I mean we’re all going to get something from this movie.
JH: What was it like working with Vic Armstrong as a director?
NC: Well actually I’m very comfortable working with Vic. I got to spend quite a bit of time with him on another movie that we made, called Season of the Witch. It was a good experience and I thought that he directed me to a good performance and something that I was very proud of and wanted to work with him again. I knew that I would be able to relax with him and that I would be able to go within and just sort of exhale and be in the moment, be in the scene. He would allow his actors to breathe and to be relaxed and to find the truth of their performances. And it really shows in the movie. I mean, across the board, of Chad Michael Murray, and Nicky, and Cassi again just powerfully real performances. And I knew that that would happen working again with Vic.
JH: Did making this particular movie have meaning to you personally?
NC: Well, anytime I make a movie, no matter how extraordinary the circumstances, I try to come at it from a place of truth, even if it’s truth in my imagination. I don’t want to act because, in some way, that implies lying. For me, acting is trying to get the truth of an experience in my past or within my memory, almost like an impression and try to make it, you know, real within a performance. Recall it, and then bring it to the situation that my character finds himself in. And, it was, without thinking too much about it or breaking it down too much, more about recalling emotions that I may have experienced in my own life, and applying them to the relationship between Ray Steele and Chloe, his daughter. And having a chance to say what I wanted to say through that character. I think I’ve already probably said too much. But, in other words, I don’t want to fake it, I want it to be authentic. And this character, in this movie, you know, within the context of the extraordinary circumstance gave me the chance to do that.
So, there you go – Nic Cage (now that I’ve spoken with him, I will assume I am at liberty to call him Nic) is an actor who makes any and every project he appears in a fascinating one. Even a movie about a Biblical apocalypse that can make planes disappear (that’s the gist, I think – once I see it, I’ll provide a new gist if necessary as I try to pride myself on my gists). Heck, you’re talking to a guy who recently attended a five-movie Nicolas Cage mystery marathon in Austin, TX in honor of the man’s 51st birthday and I look forward to doing so again when he turns the big 5-2! He’s a vampire! He’s a vampire! He’s a vampire!