Contributed by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for
February 23, 2011

In the supernatural action thriller Drive Angry, a tortured soul (Nicolas Cage) breaks out of hell to rescue his baby granddaughter from a Satanic cult and its manipulative leader Jonah King (Billy Burke), even as he is pursued by the enigmatic Accountant (William Fichtner), a bookkeeping agent of the underworld who is charged with bringing him back to his fiery place in the afterlife. With the clock running against him, he is assisted in his defiant mission by Piper (Amber Heard), a sexy, kickass waitress with a '69 Dodge Charger who is more than up to the task of stomping a few heads.

Directed by horror veteran Patrick Lussier (My Bloody Valentine) and shot in 3D, Drive Angry unapologetically embraces its over-the-top premise and pours on a steady stream of stylized action and gory mayhem, decidedly earning its R-rating for violence, nudity, and language.

In this interview, Nicolas Cage talks about his experience of working on the film. Conducive to the casual, laid-back vibe of this Q&A, Cage's awesome mad genius is in full effect, so it's best to envision most of his responses with a sly grin hiding just beneath his signature measured cadence.

MEDIA: So how was the experience of shooting your first 3D movie?

NICOLAS: I was very excited at first to see what I could do with the format. And you're right, it's my first live action movie in 3D. I was like a kid in a candy store, and I wanted to see if I could get my tongue into the fourth row of the audience in one scene--there's a scene in the diner where I kiss the young lady, and...Well, thankfully, they cut that out of the movie. But I wanted to try to do anything I could to mess with the format. And by the second week, it became very clear to me that it wasn't that different than making any other movie with a 35mm camera. And that is really a credit to Patrick Lussier, because he is a pioneer of the new wave of 3D, and he really sorted out all the bugs that might occur with it on his first [3D movie], My Bloody Valentine. And he knew where to put the camera at any time so that the actors didn't blow out the effect. Because you can do that very easily. If you line up in such a way, you blow out the effect, and it's caused a lot of headaches for many filmmakers, but not Patrick. So he was very confident, he knew exactly where to put the camera, and we really got the movie done quite quickly as a result of his expertise.

Your character Milton gets into a major gunfight while he is simultaneously having sex, drinking, and smoking. What went into putting that elaborate scene together?

Well, one of the things that I would like to say about the now infamous gunfight/sex scene in the movie was that I really had no idea how I would play that scene until almost three or four days before we shot it. [laughs] If that scene works, it's really because of Miss Charlotte Ross. What she does in that sequence is sexy, but it's more than that--it's actually quite tragic and heartbreaking, the nervous breakdown that she goes through. And it's a total credit to her acting ability to take us on that ride. And it took a lot of guts. I had this idea that Milton is a character that would raise more questions than answers, and he's the sort of character that would make you ask, "What is he thinking?" And how would I do that in that scene? I was thinking about, like, Kama Sutra positions, and what would be a position that would show Milton's sort of anti-divineness. [laughs] Because he's not a divine Hindu spirit, he's something from hell--a living dead man from hell. And so then the idea of being in the clothes before a gunfight, enjoying all the vices--the cigar and the Jack Daniels and the sex--to me, seemed like it would ring true for a guy that just broke out of hell. So that's how that scene came together. And then Miss Ross and I enjoyed a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken after the scene.

You said that you wanted Milton to raise more questions than he answered. Do you know the answers to those particular questions? Did you fashion a backstory about his past life and his time in hell?

Yeah. I mean, I have some answers that I will keep to myself. But for me, without saying too much about Milton, because I want to keep him in that mystery zone, he is like a ghost. He's a living dead man...If a ghost walked into a room, it might be like a vacuum, it might suck all the air out of the room, it might just be very still, and you would probably wonder, "What is it thinking?" And I was trying to find ways of kind of giving that aura to Milton at any moment. At least, that was the challenge I had had in my own mind while I was filming it. And I think the best examples of it are the scene in the church when Billy Burke's character is not giving me the child and then he's explaining what he did to my daughter, and whereas you would think that Milton would just start screaming and going nuts because it's in the title Drive Angry, it's not that--it's more like "amused by this person." And that's what I wanted to convey--a kind of otherness. And also the scene at the trash can, there's an otherness to Milton that makes you think that he's actually motivated by something more than just anger. The anger's from when he was alive. When he was alive, he was probably listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd and Buddy Holly, but after he broke out of hell, it's all just wind chimes and Ravi Shankar. [laughs] No lyrics. Absolutely no lyrics.

As an auto enthusiast, what did you think of getting to tear it up with the muscle cars in this movie? And what are you currently driving?

Well, what's in my garage is a Dodge Ram 3500 Laramie. I have a pickup truck. I like it. It's a diesel Cummins engine, which is the same engine they use in the trains, and it's actually really good for the environment, unlike the hybrid so many people think is good for the environment. You actually have to dump those batteries, and it actually pollutes the environment, so the diesel truck is a better way to go. [acknowledges his environmental tangent] Now, back to the movie...I love cars. There's no secret that the automobile and I have had a pretty good relationship. I'm a good driver. I wouldn't say I was an ace, but I'm a good driver. I grew up in the Wild West--I grew up here in Los Angeles, a city built around the automobile. I know what I'm doing in a car. And I thought it was just a real opportunity to drive as fast as I wanted and not get a speeding ticket. So that's what I did. When I drive in a movie, it's not unlike when I act: I go into a trance. I don't really have skills, but I just know what they want me to do, and somehow, it all works itself out. The only time that it's a problem for me is when somebody else is in the car, like Miss Amber Heard. And then I start getting nervous that if something happens to them, then I'm responsible, and then I'm not quite as effective.

How fast did you actually drive in this film, and what's the fastest you've driven in your own life?

Well, Amber still likes raising her eyebrow at me, because I said that I had been 180 miles per hour on the 405 freeway on a motorcycle, and she doesn't believe me. But it's a true story. And I did it coming home from work at three in the morning on another movie I made about cars called Gone in 60 Seconds. I bought a Yamaha R1 and I was doing 180 miles per hour on the 405, and that's really, really crazy, but I did it. In this movie, I went about 70 miles per hour at any given moment because we had cameras on the car, and that's about as fast as I could push it with cameras on the car mounted down onto the car. But still, it was mostly me driving, and going into oncoming traffic. Those were some pretty fun days.

Drive Angry clearly embraces its outrageousness. With what level of seriousness do you approach a story like this?

Even today, the way we're getting a chance to talk a little bit about it, I think you can see that anyone involved in the movie didn't take it too seriously--that there was a real sense of absurdist fun about it, knowing full well that the movie was going to be over the top and extreme and sort of celebrating the fun of that. But having said that, and even still, there is a heart in the movie. And the heart is generated by Amber Heard's performance and the relationship between her and my character. Because you see that it's not really a romance--it's something even more affectionate that goes into a familial place, where it's almost like an older brother or a paternal situation, where there's kindness towards one another. Even though they're these two whacked-out outlaws on the road, they still have feelings for one another. And I like that aspect of it as well. A good movie has to work on more than one level.

What was your initial reaction to the script?

Well, initially, what I was attracted to was the idea that I was going to get my eye shot out. The movie Season of the Witch, I wanted to get my eye shot out with a bow and arrow, and the producers didn't go for it. We never really got there. Even though they said they would, it never really happened. So when Patrick Lussier said to me, and just handed to me on a silver platter, "You're going to get your eye shot out in the movie" (and I don't know why), I just immediately said, "Yes, I'm in." Because it was something that I wanted to do. It's as simple as that. I was also uncomfortable with the script. And I was just going through this phase in my life where I had learned that if something makes you uncomfortable or fearful in any way--within reason--that's exactly what you should confront. And so it was an experiment on that level--that I should confront the violence in the movie. Because it had been a long time since I had made a violent movie. And it occurred to me that violence is--for better or worse--necessary. That it is part of the human condition, and that we all have violent thoughts within us, and we go through frustration and anger when someone we love is hurt. And so I thought why not make a character that could help us express those feelings vicariously, rather than go and do it somewhere in real life? And thankfully, most of us don't act out on our violence. But we go to movies because it's part of life, you know? And a character like Milton helps express that.

What was your impression of the scene in which Milton drinks beer from the skull of Jonah King?

I love that. First of all, Billy Burke is hilarious in the movie. I love his performance. He's just so much fun to watch in that part of King. Believe it or not, I was reading a lot of Walt Whitman at the time, our poet laureate, Leaves of Grass. And somewhere in Leaves of Grass, Whitman just says in a stanza, "drinking mead from a skull." And I thought to myself, "I like that. I would like to find a way to drink beer from a skull in this movie." And the reason being partly because I wanted Milton to have this kind of Celtic and Wotanic kind of modern-primitive style about him, and also, I wanted to see if there could be any way in my presentation of the skull (and I put a lot of thought into that, even did a few takes of it almost like a beer commercial) to make the beer splosh out of the eye in such a way that "my cup runneth over," and have it look really inviting and appetizing and make people in the audience go, "Wow, I know it sounds crazy, but I'd really kind of like to drink beer from someone's skull right now." And that was the challenge.

You had a particularly great rapport with William Fitchner. Could we see Milton and the Accountant back for a sequel?

Well, I really enjoyed working with every member in this cast--Billy Burke, William Fichtner, Amber Heard. All of them lent their own unique style and sense of humor. And one of my favorite lines in Drive Angry is from one of the supporting players, Joe Chrest, towards the end of the movie. [laughs] He says, "We're going to live forever!" And that was the line that made me crack up the loudest. I laughed out loud with my [20-year-old] son, and I haven't stopped laughing since, and it was last night. [laughs] But his delivery was hilarious. So yeah, I hope there's another Drive Angry, not only because of William Fichtner, but Billy Burke and Amber as well. Great time working with them, and Patrick.

Thanks for your time.

Thank you. Bye-bye.

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