In the new horror movie Pay the Ghost, Nicolas Cage plays a professor of literature who loses his son Charlie (Jack Fulton) while they are out celebrating Halloween and comes to believe his disappearance has a supernatural cause.
“There were two elements that I really responded to,” says the Oscar-winner of the film, which is out today in cinemas and is also available on VOD and iTunes. “The first was the emotional horror of every parent’s worst nightmare. Losing your child—this is something that I think all parents are terrified about. And then to roll from that to the idea of having to access another dimension to pull one’s son back from the supernatural realm. I had not really seen those two elements together before and that’s why I wanted to make the movie.”
It also didn’t hurt that Cage loves Halloween. “Oh, yeah, yeah,” he says. “I think it’s impossible for any actor not to love Halloween. It’s the only real holiday where you get to dress up and change yourself, which is what actors love to do. I enjoy watching the kids go trick-or-treating and then I enjoy watching the kids come over to the house and trick-or-treat. Usually, we’ll change costumes for that and then we’ll pass the candy out and it’s always a fun night.”
May we be so bold as to ask what Cage dressed up as last Halloween? “I was The Raven, from Edgar Allen Poe.” You dressed up as a bird? “I had a raven’s mask, yes,” he explains. “This is the part of the interview that’s inevitably going to circle the Internet and it’s going to be another ‘Crazy Nic Cage!’ story. But you have to dress up! Or it’s not fun for the kids!”
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Were you familiar with the work of your Pay the Ghost director, Uli Edel (Christiane F, Last Exit to Brooklyn)? He’s made some great films that I don’t want to see twice.
NICOLAS CAGE: [Laughs] Well, I have to say I did see some of his movies when I was quite a bit younger. I saw Last Exit to Brooklyn—that was a movie I only saw once. But I did enjoy it dramatically, I thought it was very well acted. I think he has made several other movies that have been quite impressive. Christiane F, which was one of the first movies I saw from another country, at quite a young age, in a movie theater, I thought that was also excellent.
What was your working relationship like?
Well, Uli is a very strong-willed filmmaker, who has a specific vision. I had to keep up with all the rewrites, which is systemic to the way things are in Hollywood these days. You sign on to a movie, and then it seems to be rewritten a month before photography, which is something that I take great umbrage with. But, to his credit, he was always trying to make the script better and to really be thorough with the details of the script and how it developed the suspense. This is something that mattered to him, and that’s why he was going through these different kinds of rewrites, as well as trying to get all the resources together to deliver the effects in the best possible manner. So, Uli really cared and I think that comes through in the movie.
Your wife in the film is played by Sarah Wayne Callies, formerly of The Walking Dead. Is that a show you watch?
No. I haven’t seen any of those shows. I haven’t seen too much television. But I was very impressed with her commitment to the role and I enjoyed working with her on a professional level. And, on a social level, she was somebody that I enjoyed speaking with. I saw that she was a dedicated actor, and I felt that she helped all the family scenes come through in a very honest and organic way, which to me is the key to any sort of horror film. The actors have to play it believably, otherwise it doesn’t anchor the audience, and I thought she did.
You’ve made a fair amount of films with young actors and you did so again in Pay the Ghost. Do you just treat them like short people or have you developed specific strategies to deal with child costars?
I find that if I approach it from an extremely professional standpoint that the young folks that I’ve worked with over the years are also very professional and on-point. I feel that to condescend, or to talk down to a young person, on account of their age in some ways would develop a lack of trust. Whereas I think the fact that I give them the respect of speaking to them as a colleague in a professional way, I think they appreciate that, and so there develops this understanding and trust between myself and the younger costars.
The main thing I’ve discovered working with younger actors is, you just have to be patient as to answering all of their questions. Because they’re curious and they want to know, “What was your favorite movie to work on?” and “What was that actor that you worked with like?” and “Who do you think is the best actor?” I think the best approach is be avuncular about it, and to provide them with support and answers, and even, in the right cases, give them movies to inspire them to learn a little more. I remember with Tye Sheridan (Cage’s costar in the 2013 drama, Joe), I gave him all the James Dean classics, and the Elia Kazan classics with Marlon Brando, because he had not seen those yet. We watched them and he was quite fascinated by Dean, especially, so I thought that was a good exchange.
It sounds like these kids are asking better questions than I am. I should have gotten a seven-year-old to interview you.
[Laughs] Well, I don’t know about that. From their perspective, it was more about the craft of acting itself and wanting to know more about that. Your questions more pertain to the film as a whole, which I think is probably more appropriate in this forum.
I’m just fishing for compliments, NIc. I just want you to tell me that I’m a better interviewer than a seven-year-old.
Well, you are, you are, Clark.
You can see the trailer for Pay the Ghost, above.