Nicolas Cage promises that “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” (due for a U.S. release on February 17, 2012) will be much scarier and darker than the 2007 film “Ghost Rider.” Cage is the star of both films (based on Marvel Comics’ “Ghost Rider” series) as Johnny Blaze, the tortured anti-hero also known as Ghost Rider: a demonic stunt motorcyclist who is also a vigilante with the power to take souls from evil and corrupt individuals. In “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance,” Johnny Blaze is in exile in Eastern Europe when he is given the task of protecting a mother and son from a villain named Roarke, also known as Blackout (played by Johnny Whitworth).
Sneak-preview of “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” was shown at Comic-Con International 2011 in San Diego during a July 22 discussion panel. At a Comic-Con press conference for “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” that took place before the panel, Cage joined Whitworth, Idris Elba (who plays Ghost Rider’s sidekick Moreau) and “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” directors Brian Taylor and Mark Neveldine to share behind-the-scenes stories about making the movie. Here is what they said at the press conference.
Nicolas, you’re always able embrace the weirdness in your performances. What can we expect from your performance in “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance”?
Cage: “Weirdness” is a really good word. An interesting story is when I was trying to think with Brian [Taylor] and with Mark [Neveldine] about this [new] “Ghost Rider” movie would be — because they really wanted me to play Ghost Rider in this one — I was thinking about trying to find something really weird which would be levitating in circles — we called it the compass — to sort of mess with how we attack these movies.
And I looked it up in the dictionary. The word “weird” literally means “turn, to change and turn around.” I thought that was an interesting thing. But what turned design and the body language from another dimension, we worked together with different animals, like cobras and insects, to try to find ways of moving that will hopefully scare you and entertain you.
So Ghost Rider is scarier in “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance”?
Cage: Yeah. When I did “Ghost Rider,” the first [movie], I wanted it to be like a Grimm’s fairy tale: scary but still something that children could enjoy. It’s like that first trip to the principal’s office where you’ve made a mistake and you’re in trouble, but you don’t give up. You can still rise above and do something different with the experience.
But with [“Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance”] — Mark and Brian, we wanted to go into a wonderful bliss of a nightmare imagination. I think it will be very entertaining. I haven’t seen anything yet. I’m very excited.
The first “Ghost Rider” movie didn’t get a great reaction from the critics. Is that something you kept in mind when making “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance”?
Cage: I’ll let [Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor] talk, because they’re the designers of the whole book and everything, but this is “Spirit of Vengeance.” It’s not a sequel.
Taylor: Yeah, we didn’t really consider the first movie at all in making [“Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance”]. You can’t, really. We just want to make a great movie on its own terms. The first [“Ghost Rider”] movie we think is really valid. It’s like a Walt Disney take on the character, which is totally cool.
In this version, we wanted to give people what we think fans will really want to see from Ghost Rider, which is it’s darker, it’s more intense. He is like a nightmare. He will scare the hell out of you. He’s not a superhero who wears tights and does nice things.
He’s more of a villain than he is a hero. He’s a dark entity. He sucks out your soul. That’s his superpower. And just to really embrace that and give people the Ghost Rider we always wanted to see.
Cage: In this day and age where you have a lot of comic-book movies being made every day, most of them [the protagonists] are really good boys. It’s important to have a couple of bad boys out there, too.
What story arcs inspired you in making “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance”?
Taylor: Even in the comic books, it hasn’t really been as intense as “Ghost Rider.” We really like the stuff that [“Ghost Rider” writer] Garth Ennis did: that darker version, in terms of the way he looks, was a big inspiration for us. When you see what he looks like, I think you know right away that you’re in a whole different world.
He’s dark — literally, like a black skull. He doesn’t look like his clothes or his bike were designed by fashion designers. It looks like he crawled out of hell, straight into your face. We just think that immediately, you’re going to know you’re in a different world.
What do you think of Comic-Con this year?
Cage: I’m always happy to be here. I relate to these people. I am one of them.
Elba: This is my second time. I have a good time here always, and the people are very embracing. I just love that they have a huge imagination here and knows how to celebrate it. I love that.
Whitworth: That was beautiful. Yeah, so am I. I am one of you guys. I’m just excited that I actually get paid to come here. Well, not that I’m being paid to come here, but do something that I’m able to be here for.
Visual effects in movies have come a long way since the first “Ghost Rider” movie. How did the 3-D and other visual effects have an impact on how you made “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance”?
Elba: You actually feel the momentum of whatever you’re shooting. If someone is falling out of a window, it gives us an opportunity to share what that might feel like. In this film, I liken it to being a hybrid between being an actor and a swinging crew member and a director. And that, to me, was a great part of bringing my character to life. I did a lot of action stuff.
Neveldine: If you’re wondering about the technology, obviously, you have to have CG [computer-generated imagery] in “Ghost Rider,” but we come from a background of “Let’s get it all on camera.” We got creative.
We got the roller blades and the motorcycles and the helicopters. We tried to get as much in the camera as possible and just enhance with the CG, as opposed to having CG models. We had to do a little bit of that. We’re more about enhancing getting visceral action of crashing cars and getting on a motorcycle, we wanted that on camera.
Taylor: We really like to use the real actors as much as possible. And in this movie, you’re going to see Nicolas and Idris doing most of their own stunts. They would have done all of them if they could, but insurance doesn’t always let them do the things we want to do.
But we think it’s so important to have soul and the intensity and character in an action scene that you really can’t get from a stunt guy. You’ve got to have the real guys in them. We try to put our actors in peril as much as possible. You may think it looks dangerous. If it was dangerous, it’s probably going to look dangerous.
In this case, having Nic be so brave to do this was like a dual role. As Johnny Blaze playing the Ghost Rider all the time, you’re getting a performance, you’re getting a character that’s fully realized. It’s not a CG creation. Somebody in a computer lab in New Zealand didn’t come up with what the Ghost Rider did, what Nicolas did.
And it’s a whole different character. And at that point, you’re capturing real action, real stunts, real car crashes, real live action. When it comes the CG parts, you’re just taking this amazing performance and you capture it … We’re done. We’ve got it.
Were there any stunts that you did that stood out and were new to you?
Cage: Well, going back to the compass, as we called it, all the wire work was very stimulating, but also very nauseating — literally nauseating, because I had to go around in circles upside down, and I was really trying not to throw up, because I kept spinning and spinning. It’s one of my favorite moves that we call came up with together, so I’m glad it’s there. It was well worth it.
Elba: When I was 19, I fell off of a motorcycle and never wanted to get on again until this movie. Brian was like, “No, man, I want you to do the stunts.” I was like, “What did the insurance company say?” “You can do your stunts.”
And that was actually good. I love bikes, but I have been known to [be reluctant] to get on then. In this film, for me, the boundary was doing these stunts down a Romanian highway on a bike.
Taylor: [He says jokingly] And in the script, he was supposed to crash, so we figured, “It’s fine.”
Was there a lot of pressure to make “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” lighter in tone than the first “Ghost Rider” movie? Or did you have the freedom to go as dark as you needed to go?
Cage: Obviously, I can only speak for myself. I think there’s a lot of humor to be found in sarcasm and darkness. You talk to any paramedic, they survive by developing a pretty off-kilter sense of humor. And I think Johnny Blaze has that because he’s dealing with the fact that his head goes on fire — for years now.
And in the first movie, he kept it at bay. He was more like an innocent goofball, whereas in [“Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance”], there’s been fire doing a little tap dance on his head for several years. And I think it should change his personality quite a bit.
Taylor: We didn’t really feel any pressure to lighten up. The tone of the movie is that it’s got dark humor, it’s got scary stuff, it’s got action. It’s kind of our thing. It’s what we’ve always done.
Neveldine: Dude on a motorcycle with a flaming skull.
What can we expect from the “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” DVD/Blu-ray?
Taylor: If you’ve ever seen any of our DVDs and Blu-rays in past, we do a lot. I think we’ll have at least six hours of bonus features on. We shot every single day on those [DVD/Blu-ray extra] scenes. It’s going to be an awesome opportunity to see some of the work that went behind the scenes.
One of the most fun things for us that Nic brought to the Ghost Rider character … He didn’t want to just show off and be Nic. He wanted to feel different, and he wanted everyone around him to feel different. So he kind of divised makeup that was this sort of nightmarish, terrifying, like a Santeria, blueish thing …
The first time he showed up as Ghost Rider on set, there was this silent, creeped-out feeling where nobody wanted to say anything. It was like, “Whoa! Nic’s in a weird place.” He wouldn’t talk. He was very quiet. I think he had glass eyes. I remember at one point, Mark said, “Do those things hurt?” He would not talk about it.
Everybody was in such an interesting state of mind. And it made those scenes ever creepier and more awesome than they would’ve been otherwise. It was a really great thing. So what he would do what we call an “intense stare” on a victim.
When Nicolas had that look with his makeup, you’ll see in the performance of the guy, I think we scared him and creeped him out. That’s the kind of stuff you’ll see on the behind-the-scenes [footage]. And of course, the [makeup] is all replaced by CG later …
Johnny and Idris, what are your roles in “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” and how do they compare to what they may be in the “Ghost Rider” comics?
Whitworth: For all intents and purposes, I’m the villain. That would be the bad guy, badass Blackout. And as far as the comic is concerned, they took a little liberties to make him a little cooler [in “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance”], in my opinion.
Elba: In the history of the comics, there’s a character that keeps coming up called Moreau, and he never really takes on the same form because there’s a different type of Moreau in the whole series. Moreau is a character that I guess comes from different types of Moreaus, but in this film, he is a warrior monk — that’s how he’s described.
And basically, his journey, his mission is to find the Ghost Rider and take the Ghost Rider on a journey with him. My character is definitely a sidekick, if you like, of the Ghost Rider, but he’s a pretty cool sidekick. I had fun playing him.
Taylor: You left out one adjective. He’s a “drunk” monk.
Neveldine: It’s the first black French alcoholic priest.
Nic, in “Drive Angry,” you also played someone who escaped from hell. Can you compare and contrast “Drive Angry” with “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance”?
Cage: They’re totally different. In “Drive Angry,” I was playing a living dead man. In [“Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance”], this is a dead man who turns into a demon. It’s a totally different kind of energy. A living dead man has to be able to perform dead, where as a living man who turns into a ghost can still be very much alive. He’s living.
Are you scared about “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” not getting the approval of the Comic-Con crowd?
Cage: I’m not scared at all. We all did our work. We all worked really hard, and now it’s in the hands of the gods. I know that I like coming here, and I always love the exchange with the folks that enjoy comic books, because I’m one of them. Something always interesting happens. I’m looking forward to it. What about you? Are you scared?
Neveldine: It’s nerve-racking to talk in front of people, but this is like a giant trial run for us. This is our most important time here. It’s the biggest, most mainstream movie we’ve ever done with the biggest actors we’ve ever had. We’re just super-happy that everything came out.
Elba: The thing as well is that we’re obviously not fighting, but there’s an association with the first “Ghost Rider” — and [Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance”] is a very different film. As an actor approaching it, I wasn’t a fan of the “Ghost Rider” comic books, but having seen the script and [the directors] telling their vision for it, I thought, “Wow, it’s revolutionary to try and do this with this type of a title and this type of a film.”
There are definitely nerves that come with, “Will the audiences love it?” But I think the audiences, whether they’re comic-book fans or action fans, they’re going to love this, because it’s a wicked film.
There used to be a time when it wasn’t cool to love comic books. Nic, what does it feel like to be in this moment in time when comic books and movies based on comics are now cool?
Cage: I actually had a vision of it when I was 9 that this was going to happen. It took a while because we didn’t have the technology to make it come alive so magnificently as we do today. It was always so goofy: those stupid costumes of Spider-Man in the old movies of the ‘60s and ‘70s. And Captain America.
And now it’s become all the rage because there’s something there for everybody. It’s kind of perfect entertainment. It’s exciting for me. I love to see all the movies [based on comics] happening. I loved the movie that Idris made. I was just telling him earlier that I thought “Thor” was wonderful.
Nic, since you’re such a fan of comic books, what comics are you reading now?
Cage: Well, first of all, I want to say that if you get a chance, whenever you’re traveling, do go to the local boutique comic-book shop and don’t buy your comics online, because [the local shops] are going to go extinct, and we want to be able to have those experiences with our kids. I was into “Planet Hulk.” I thought that was pretty inspired stuff. I went back in time and looked at “Batman vs. Predator.” There’s a lot of fun stuff. It’s always a good experience to go shopping in the comic-book shops.
Who won in “Batman vs. Predator”?
Cage: It was a bit of tie-breaker, but I think Batman won, which is a bit of a stretch.
Neveldine: We decided that Ghost Rider can kill all the other superheroes. Like Ghost Rider can beat Superman.
Cage: Because he has the death stare, and everybody’s done something wrong, and he’ll just make you look at it over and over and over again — kind of like the Internet.
Are there any hobbies that you’d like to see get more mainstream attention?
Cage: I’m kind of boring. I like to go for walks and read books at home and stare out the window.
Idris, who would won in a battle: Russell “Stringer” Bell (your character on “The Wire”) or Ghost Rider?
Elba: Ghost Rider.
For more info: “Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance” website
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