Nicolas Cage came to Wondercon and told us how a chance encounter with Miles Davis transformed his acting style into jazz. And he explained how The Sorcerer's Apprentice was his idea.
At today's Sorcerer's Apprentice press conference, someone asked Cage how he chooses whether to go way over the top (like in Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call, New Orleans) or hold back (like in Adaptation.) And he responded:
Thank you for noticing, because first of all, it's difficult to talk about the work, right? Because when you talk about the work, it's kind of stupid because the work speaks for itself. I don't want to name it, because when you name it, if you name it then it loses its mystery. If I tell you exactly what I was thinking, or what I was up to - and I have been guilty of that - then you lose your secret connection with the work of art. And I digress, but I went on Dick Cavett many years ago and met Miles Davis. And I was talking about things like art synthesis and Picasso and you can do with acting what he did, or with music, and Miles came out and he got it, you know, he was looking at me, he gave me this, like - he nodded and he winked at me. Miles Davis, you know. And we were sharing the trumpet. And ever since then, because he accepted whatever my philosophy was, I believe that I wanted to approach acting as jazz. And so he became like a surrealist father of sorts, along with Walt Disney. And I thought, "Okay. Well, this time, I'm going to just let anything come out, whatever it may be. Like Bad Lieutenant, you know. But sometimes, it's really thought out and constructed and carefully thought out, like Adaptation. So I always like to mix it up.
Cage also talked about his crazy hair in Sorcerer's Apprentice, and said that he comes from the "Lon Chaney, Sr. School Of Acting." He added:
I want to transform myself every time i get. I'll wear wigs. I'll wear nose pieces. I'll wear green contact lenses in my eyes. I'll do whatever I need to do to create a character. That's what it's about. That's the fun of it, you know. So I wanted Balthazar to have a look, like - well, Jerry [Bruckheimer] says like an ancient rock star, you know. He has that kind of cool style that harkens back to the 500s or the 600s, which is where he came from, and Merlin was his teacher. He goes through different ages, and he really starts to look like an ancient magician. When we meet him in New York City. You know, I'm always changing the [hair] color, and right now I'm doing a movie called Drive Angry and I'm trying to tap into my Celtic roots, so I dyed it blond.
And he explained Jerry Bruckheimer's formula for successful movies:
One time years ago [Jerry Bruckheimer] was talking to me about algebra, about algebraic equations. And how he's always looking for the X factor or the Y factor in the formula. And I think one of the reasons why he has this genius ability to make these movies so successful is that he looks for actors who provide alternative ways of delivering dialogue, alternative contributions that give that X factor or that Y factor, he puts it in a formula that appeals to a lot of people all over the world, and that's fun, you know.
Cage also said that he came up with the original idea for the movie: "When I came with this idea, I was on Next. I was talking to Tom Garner, who was also the producer. I said, 'I want to play a magician. You know, I want to play like a sorcerer.' And he came back and said, 'I got it. The Sorcerer's Apprentice.'"
So how did a short segment from Disney's Fantasia become a full-length movie? Director Jon Turteltaub explained that "Jay [Baruchel] is cheaper" to use than Mickey Mouse nowadays. As to the iconic rebellious-brooms sequence, "You couldn't make it a whole movie.... but there's a segment of the movie that somehow recreates" that sequence. Baruchel says that sequence comes when he finally gets a date with his love interest (Teresa Palmer) and then literally everything goes wrong, due to that pesky magic. "I will infuse any part I play with physical comedy," adds Baruchel, so it was great to be able to have magical slapstick.
Cage explained the appeal of doing this film:
When you're playing supernatural characters like ghost rider or city of angels, next, and now SA, there's an infinite number of possibilities that you can do with the character and i also think it provides really wonderful entertainment for the whole family, you know, you don't have a high body count. You don't have to, if it's not your tastes. the children and their parents can congregate together and look forward to this together... That's important that families can get together and share this experience with each other. It entertains the adults as well as the kids. You can do that with a film like Sorcerer's Apprentice.
And he admitted that having kids made him more open to doing family-friendly movies. "I wasn't an anarchist any more you know? I love the Sex Pistols, but I kind of didn't want to be punk rock all the time any more."
We also got to see a couple of scenes from The Sorcerer's Apprentice at the film's panel.
First, there was an early sequence in the film where the ten-year-old Dave has a crush on the ten-year-old version of Teresa Palmer's character. He gives her a note asking her to check one of two boxes: She wants to be Dave's girlfriend, or she just wants to be friends. She checks one, but then the note blows away before Dave can read it. He chases it through the streets and it winds up at a creepy antique shop, the Arcana Cabana. The note gets caught in the store's mail slot, and then just as Dave reaches it, it blows inside. So Dave opens the creaky door and goes in.
The Arcana Cabana is full of weird objects and stuffed animals. Dave rubs an ancient lamp, and nothing happens - but then he knocks over a ton of stuff. Including an urn, which Balthazar catches just in time. The Second Emperor of the Han Dynasty trapped his least favorite wife inside this urn for ten years, and if you open it the same thing will happen to you.
Dave explains that he's just looking for a note which blew into the store. Balthazar murmurs that it's a coincidence. And he has something to show Dave. Dave wants to know how Balthazar knows his name. "Because I can read minds!" says Balthazar - but he's just kidding. Actually, it's written on Dave's backpack. He has a little metal dragon - if it likes Dave, Dave can keep it. Dave says he needs to get back, and the teacher knows where he is. Balthazar says Dave is a terrible liar, and that's a good thing. Dave tries to leave, but the door locks. He touches the dragon and it comes to life and crawls around his hand, turning into a ring on his finger. Balthazar tells Dave that he's going to be a very important sorcerer.
Balthazar is going to go do something, and Dave shouldn't move or touch anything. Unfortunately, while Balthazar is down in the basement opening up a brick wall, Dave knocks over a Chinese nesting doll, and it opens with lots of cockroaches pouring out. The roaches form into Alfred Molina, in a pimp hat and coat. He wants to know what the year is. Then Balthazar and Molina fight, with lots of flying around and energy blasts and telekinetic sword-fighting and fireballs and shit. Finally both sorcerers get pulled inside the magic urn, and Cage says "I'll find you in ten years." So will Molina!
And then we saw a scene, later on, in a bathroom at NYU. Dave has finally asked out Teresa Palmer's character, and she's said yes. And he goes to the men's room, and Molina's apprentice, a scuzzy Criss Angel wannabe professional magician, comes and confronts Dave. He's put out that Dave doesn't recognize him. "Are you in Depeche Mode?" Dave asks. Then the other apprentice says he's going to kill Dave and he doesn't want to hear any of his little-girl cries.
"Hit me with your best shot," the punked-out Criss Angel guy tells Dave. Who tries, but nothing much happens. The guy tells Dave to try and clear his mind and relax, maybe try it without the ring. Then Molina comes in and tells his apprentice to stop messing around and watch the door. Dave tries to run, but Molina imprisons him. "I'm going to kill you right here, in this dismal bathroom. It's not very classy, yes, I know." But first, Molina wants to know where the magic MacGuffin is. Dave says he doesn't know, but yet again he's a terrible liar. And it turns out the MacGuffin is actually a person, and it's a "she."
Molina asks if Dave has ever been in love - but before Dave can even answer, Molina can see that Dave is in love right now. Molina asks Dave to imagine losing his love forever, after which he'd be no better off than "the rest of us." Dave says he doesn't know where the MacGuffin is, but once again he's a dreadful liar. "That's what I keep telling him," Cage says, entering the bathroom. Cage and Molina fight, and Cage wins, mostly by accident.
The Sorcerer's Apprentice comes out July 16 - the same day as Chris Nolan's Inception. A fact which caused Turteltaub to bash his head against his microphone repeatedly, before insisting it would be fine, because his film is different.