Nicolas Cage is a renowned Hollywood tough guy. He is Ghost Rider, the Lord of War and The Bad Lieutenant. But Cage, the 49-year-old acting legend, cries at kids’ animations – at least this is what he tells us happened the first time he saw The Croods. The latest animation from Dreamworks is set in a prehistoric era when primitive man is under threat from an evil genius, and Grug – played by Cage – is forced to protect his family.
In what way did the story in The Croods speak to you?
I think this film is really for the whole family, not just the kids. Look, I’m a pretty emotional guy and I’m in touch with my feelings – I wouldn’t be able to do the work that I’ve selected for myself if I wasn’t – and I didn’t want to go on that stage (after the film’s premiere in Berlin) and have tears in my eyes. Towards the end when Grug is throwing his family to safety from the edge of the cliff, I had to look at the ceiling to stop from welling up. I really had to pull my stuff together. And that’s all down to the power of the storytelling.
Do you regard each film you make as an adventure and an experience in itself?
That’s exactly right. I think it was Martin Sheen who told me that all that matters is whether you like the people you’re working with and you like where you are. And if you look at it, as simple as it sounds, he’s right because that’s what it’s about.
Do you enjoy acting as much as you did when you started out?
You have to stay interested and you have to find ways of always staying fresh, because the older one gets, the more one has experienced, and you can be old and rude and not find things interesting. [Laughs] But I find interesting things and yes, I do enjoy it now as much as I ever did.
With your family background, was it always the case that you would act?
It’s kind of funny now, but I do remember there was some discussion about movies and acting when I was young. I was with [uncle] Francis [Ford Coppola] and we were riding in a car and I guess I was 12 or 13, and at one point I said, ‘If you want to see acting, give me a screen test and I’ll show you acting.’ And there was just silence in the car – no response. [Laughs]
You said that you first met Werner Herzog when you were just a boy, and you later worked with him on Bad Lieutenant. It sounds like an extraordinary childhood.
What’s even more remarkable is that he remembered me and wanted to put me in a movie.
Has the criteria that you use to choose a film role changed over the years?
I need to know that the filmmaker I’m working with has a vision of me in some way, where he can help me find something new, reinvent myself. I find that if I work with younger filmmakers, who are enthusiastic, who maybe understood me or grew up with me in some way, they will have a vision of what to do with me.
You directed yourself with crime drama Sonny back in 2002. Would you direct again?
I want to. It’s on my radar and I’m getting close to it. It’s a big-time commitment, but I talked about it with [director] David [Gordon Green] and he moves quickly, you know, it’s like, ‘Don’t dwell on the perfection, but find the energy and the movement and keep going, keep creating.’ I like that idea.
You travel a lot with your work. Are there things that you take with you to remind you of home?
Yeah, I’ll have some trinket of some kind, and a book that I’m interested in, some music. If you have a nomadic lifestyle, you soon find that you start making investments in things that you can take with you. I bought a prayer rug when I was in Turkey and I take that with me. I also have my rocks, little sculptures that I can put in my room wherever I am so I feel like I’m at home even though I’m not. You find that these little accessories are more important than your car because you can’t take your car with you. So your pen, your watch, a nice lighter in case you want to light a lady’s cigarette – these are little things that have more value because you can take them with you.
The Croods is in UAE cinemas now.