Over three decades into his big screen career, Nicolas Cage remains one of the most prolific actors working in Hollywood. At least in recent years, that quantity hasn’t always guaranteed quality, but his new movie, a political drama called The Runner that hits theaters on August 7, is one of his best in a while.
Cage stars as Colin Pryce, an idealistic and ambitious Louisiana congressman who rises to prominence by leading the fight to compensate victims of the 2010 BP oil spill, and then falls from grace once his affair with a constituent is exposed to the public. What follows in the drama from first-time feature director Austin Stark is Pryce’s struggle to redeem himself as he figures out how willing he is to compromise his ideals.
The 51-year-old Oscar-winner spoke with Yahoo Movies earlier this week about the politicians and their scandals, his thoughts on Superman Lives, and more.
A story about ethically compromised politicians and sex scandals seems particularly timely now.
That’s exactly why I made the movie. I wanted to reflect something that I — from a place of neutral — see happening at an increasingly high rate of speed in our country: the decline and fall of politicians who mean well, but get derailed by personal issues that snowball in the media and become the story and eclipse any chance they have of staying in office.
Do you follow politics closely?
I mean I watch the news, I read the New York Times, and I’ll watch CNN. I like to see how things play out just from a human standpoint; being a film actor I find it interesting. Without mentioning names, I can tell when someone’s lying or isn’t lying just by having studied human behavior for a long time. But yes, it’s something that I was interested in and I wanted to find a movie that could be topical in that way. And lo and behold Austin Stark came along with this story of a fictional politician.
In New York, we’ve had Anthony Weiner, Elliot Spitzer, and others taken down by affairs. I’m amazed that some survive the scandals — the film alludes to Louisiana’s David Ritter as one of them — and some are cooked forever.
That’s true. Again, I did this from a place of neutral, but I see it even in my world. I see how someone’s personal flaws can eclipse the movies they make. Even in Film Comment, which at one time was a real gold standard of criticism, with people like Paul Schrader when he was a critic and Pauline Kael and Roger Ebert, they were all about the film and the process and the performance, and, “is it a quality film or not a quality film?”
But it never got into somebody’s personal lifestyle making it’s way into the review, which is something I think has started happening on a more regular basis, ever since this cultural shift that we’ve experienced with the outlets like TMZ and gossip becoming the new gold standard. And I think a good critic will probably keep it out, but you’d be surprised at some of the places where it can turn up in somebody’s review.
I’m sure it’s sort of daunting to try to convince people you’re a different character when you have the media reporting on your love life, finances, and politics.
It’s true. It’s something that I wanted to again hold a mirror to and reflect. You know, dirty laundry sells, but I never thought it would make it into film reviews at the rate that it has. There was a clear line at one point that this is a movie that we’re reviewing based on the value of the work, not on the value of the personal life. But that line has become increasingly blurred.
Do you find that it’s showed up in reviews of your films?
I think without mentioning names — there was one review that from a pretty important periodical. I was like, “Well you’re that paper —what would my personal life have to do with the performance?” It has come across, but not very often. I have been pretty lucky to have been treated on the merit of the work whether they liked it or not, it has been mostly an honest approach from my perspective. But I have seen it once I can think of for my own work and also a few times with other people who I thought did a marvelous job, and then they were being judged on their personal lives in their film performance, which I thought was unreasonable.
There’s a new documentary about the Superman movie you almost made with Tim Burton. Your costume as the Man of Steel is quite something.
The only thing I’ll say about that — because that is such a lighting rod hot topic and if I say anything at all it just seems to snowball — but I will say that I had great belief in that movie and in what Tim Burton’s vision was going to be for that movie. I would’ve loved to have seen it, but I feel that in many ways, it was sort of a win/win because of the power of the imagination. I think people can actually see the movie in their minds now and imagine it and in many ways that might resonate more deeply than the finished project.
People have really done a lot of imagining about how the film would have looked.
Tim is the total artist, a pure artist with a real vision, and I’ve often said that he can create worlds and that’s exactly what he does. I saw some of the tests of different characters and costumes for Krypton and they were just so surreal and so magical and beautiful. He’s definitely one of my favorite filmmakers because of his originality, because of his vision.
Can you tell me about working on Oliver Stone’s Edward Snowden movie?
I was very much a cameo [in Snowden.] I did it because I’m a friend of Oliver’s and I like his incredibly provocative and entertaining dramatic style, with very relevant and topical events. The Snowden story has fascinated me ever since it broke. I have to give you the full disclosure that I’m only in it for a couple of scenes, but I wanted to be a part of it.
Do you play a politician in that?
I’m basically playing his teacher and someone that was working with him in the CIA and trying to guide him.
You have so many movies coming up, including Army of One, a comedy about hunting Osama bin Laden. What is the most extreme preparation you’ve done for a movie?
I was much more extreme when I was starting out, because this was when Raging Bull came out and we had all heard the stories of the Method actor who lives the part. I would do these things to kind of believe I was the character. It’s very hard, when you’re playing a character that is hated or feared, and then you try to live that and it just of course ruins your family life and everything else. So I’ve developed an approach now that I think is much more sensible, and probably more effective, which is really just power of imagination and to give myself over to the imagination and to believe that I’m the character as opposed to taking it home with me.