NICOLAS CAGE and JON TURTELTAUB on
'THE SORCERER'S APPRENTICE'
Contributed by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for RadioFree.com
June 24, 2010
Set in modern day New York, the fantasy adventure The Sorcerer's Apprentice follows the exploits of immortal spellcaster Balthazar Blake (Nicolas Cage) in his centuries-old search for a chosen successor to the legendary wizard Merlin. Believing he has found this singular protege in science geek Dave Stutler (Jay Baruchel), Balthazar trains the reluctant youth in the ways of magic, with the hopes that they will be able to thwart the nefarious plans of his ally-turned-adversary Horvath (Alfred Molina), who intends to unleash the evil sorceress Morgana (Alice Krige) upon the world.
Inspired by the beloved sequence in 1940's Fantasia featuring Mickey Mouse and a legion of runaway brooms that have been magically animated, The Sorcerer's Apprentice reunites Nicolas Cage with his National Treasure director Jon Turteltaub and producer Jerry Bruckheimer. The fun, family-friendly epic, which boasts some cool visuals and a unique car chase scene between dueling wizards, also stars Teresa Palmer as Becky Barnes, college radio enthusiast and Dave's lifelong object of affection, and Monica Bellucci as Veronica, Balthazar's self-sacrificing love and fellow sorcerer.
In this interview, Nicolas Cage and Jon Turteltaub go behind the scenes and talk about some of the magic that went into the making of the movie.
MEDIA: Nic, what sparked your initial interest in the film?
NICOLAS: Well, the reason this all happened for me was that I began to have an interest in Arthurian mythology and the Grail Cycle, particularly ancient England. And I was trying to find a way to start making a movie that resonated that in some way. At the same time, I wanted to make a family [movie]. I'm eclectic. I like the midnight movies as well, but I wanted to make family movies that would entertain parents and their children--give them both something to look forward to, congregate together, and smile together. I think that's one of the better ways I can apply myself as an actor. So it made sense to me that if I could do a character that relied on magic and not bullets, I could entertain the family.
What was attractive about re-teaming with Jon and producer Jerry Bruckheimer?
NICOLAS: Jon--if you really look at his career carefully--has always made positive movies that never resorted to gratuitous violence or gunplay. And that is really hard to do in Hollywood, to pull that off. But that's his vision, and he's done it, and he's made people happy, and it's a very positive vision. So I knew he was the right director for it because of our experience together on National Treasure. And Jerry...Well, I've made seven movies with Jerry, and he always entertains the world. I mean, no one can make a movie as exciting as Jerry Bruckheimer. You know when it's a Jerry Bruckheimer movie, it's going to have lots of chrome and gloss, it's going to be sexy, and it's going to be big, and it's going to be fun. And he put it on a fast-track, and that's how it happened.
What are some of great things for you about working with young actors like Jay Baruchel?
NICOLAS: Well, first of all, I just want to say that I love working with younger actors because they always come into the game full of energy and ideas that challenge me and keep me learning something and stimulated. But Jay is somebody [who], in my opinion, (and I was so thrilled to see this and work with it) subscribes to what I like to call "jazz-style acting." He's not afraid to go off the page and improvise and throw something at you, so I could riff with him. And some accidents would happen where you get an even more real truth. And we kept that going the whole time. And the other thing I want to say about Jay is...I've always believed that the greatest actors are the ones that have the voices that are imitable. My heroes are like Bogart and Eastwood and Cagney, and Edward G. Robinson, and Marlon Brando, Jack Nicholson. Well, Jay's got a voice, you know? And that's hard to have. And when you see How to Train Your Dragon, it just jumps off at you. He gets in your head. He's going to be around forever.
Jon, what special qualities do you think Nic brings to the role of Balthazar?
JON: You know, Nic is a powerful presence as a person. Nic has an intensity, and there's something very strong and masculine about Nic, actually, that you feel when you're around him. And it was really important that this sorcerer be daunting, and an intimidating figure. We always feel safest, I think, around the dangerous person who's on your side more than the nice, good person who's on your side. And Nic really is able to bring all that without it losing that sensitivity and heart, and a sense of goodness. Because that's Nic, you know? And so Nic as a person...And I think most actors do this: they draw on the elements in themselves that feel right for that character, and then pick the spots to push a little bit more.
Given the recent success of big 3-D movies, why did you choose to go 2-D with The Sorcerer's Apprentice?
JON: Do you want to hear the honest answer? Are we allowed to do that in this day and age? We went to Disney two years ago and said this is a perfect 3-D movie, and they said, "Oh, that's silly, no one's doing 3-D and it's a waste of money." True story.
NICOLAS: Well, my dream was to make a movie that aspires to be like The Wizard of Oz, and that's 2-D, so I think it can still work.
Nic, do you enjoy working with the whole greenscreen process?
NICOLAS: Yeah. Well, I mean, acting is imagination. It's acting, and that's what it's all about. So I actually enjoy working with greenscreen because I can imagine all that stuff happening. And I really cut my teeth on a movie I made called Adaptation, where I had to imagine four-page dialogue scenes with my twin brother who was nothing more than a tennis ball and a gas can. So I was really up for it. But I do understand sometimes when actors say there's no one to talk to, or you can't react to [something or someone]. There is truth in that. But for me, I've always enjoyed greenscreen and bluescreen.
Balthazar is very physically active and does a lot of hand gestures when he uses magic. How did that character choreography come about?
NICOLAS: I remember early on, we were talking about Balthazar wearing these two bracelets, and that whenever he made magic, he'd put the two bracelets together, kind of like Sinbad pulling his belt, and then things would magically happen. But I really felt that it was important that my character use his hands like a conductor--like magic is coming out of the hands. And that's where [costume designer] Michael Kaplan so brilliantly offered the idea of all the rings on each finger, and using the power ring as opposed to the bracelet. So that was always present and on my mind to use that kind of choreography, like a conductor.
Jon, Toby Kebbell plays a Las Vegas type of magician who's all about flash and glamour. Did you pattern his character after Criss Angel or similar performers?
JON: Without getting into too much trouble, yeah. We wanted it to mock, really, what magic has become in our day and age. You know, magic has a spiritual element and is considered very important and of value, and magicians have always been a little bit silly. And so if you're going to portray a modern day magician, there's got to be a little silliness, I would say, to it. Even a "counter-magician" like David Blaine...It can get silly after a while, too. So that's when we turned to Toby to create somebody.
Is Balthazar's shop a real location or a set? It looks like something in Greenwich Village...
JON: We spent a lot of time looking at shops in the Village and going through. It was a set. We built the whole thing because most stores don't want you to go and set them on fire. But the trick to that is not just the set, but the set dressing, and filling it with that much stuff. I mean, they kept coming in and I kept saying, "More, more, more!" And they're like, "Well, there aren't a lot more real crazy, weird things around. You want blouses, we can get you 8,000. Bear heads are harder to find." [laughs]
You both attended Beverly Hills High School. Any memories of working together back in the day?
NICOLAS: Well, first of all, let it be known that Jon Turteltaub is a really, really good actor. We were in the Beverly Hills High School drama department together, and we both auditioned for the lead in Our Town. And he got the lead, he beat me out, and I got to play Constable Warren, which was two lines of dialogue, and he will never let me forget it.
JON: [jokes] Warren is W-A-R-R-E-N.
NICOLAS: But what's interesting about this--a little bit of the magic of it--is that when the idea was created and developed to do Sorcerer's Apprentice...You know, I wanted Jon to direct the movie. And there was a play happening at Beverly Hills High School, and my son was in it. And so there we were, in the old seats, in the old drama department, in the theater, watching this Inherit the Wind production (which was good as well), and then we're talking about doing Sorcerer's Apprentice together. So it came full circle. And the whole movie's been like that--you know, it has had that magical quality, which is amazing since the movie is about magic.
Any other particularly magical moments in the making of this film?
NICOLAS: Well, there were many magical moments throughout the whole film. One of the more interesting things that comes to mind is Nikola Tesla, and that coincidentally, we wrapped the movie on his birthday...And I found out that the day he died is the same day as the day I was born. And so with that in mind, I went to stay in Nikola Tesla's room at the New Yorker Hotel to try to just see if I could call up the spirits, figuratively speaking, and see what came to me. And then I was in the room, and nothing really happened, but something hit the window. And I think it might have been a pigeon. And I read a little bit about Tesla and I found out those were his friends--he loved pigeons. And he really cared about them, and he would take care of them. That was it for him: his pigeons and his science. And so I thought, "Okay, that's the gift." And so I said, "I'm going to try to find a way to put a pigeon in the movie, and I'm going to fix his leg, and it's for you, Nikola Tesla."
JON: To go even one step further, we were shooting at Bryant Park, which is the building that's Toby's character's apartment, and we were there a lot. And as we were pulling in our first day, which was on, I think, 40th Street...It's actually Nikola Tesla Way...We were like, "Okay, this is getting weird."
NICOLAS: And he's all over the movie, as you know. It's very interesting.
If you were able to do magic once, what specifically would you do?
NICOLAS: I would just keep doing what we've been doing. I just want to keep making movies that hopefully make some kids smile.
JON: [jokes] I'd see through ladies' clothes.
Jon, in creating a live action homage to the Mickey Mouse scene in Fantasia, was there anything daunting about referencing such a beloved moment in film history?
JON: I think the big fear comes from fear of all of you, actually. I don't think we go into it worried that the audience will be too judgmental of our place in movie history. They just want us to make a really good movie. But the way the movie's going to be talked about by the press, or by critics, or by people who write (like you folks)...That's where we have to be careful, because you're also going to tell the public whether we succeeded or didn't. So there was a lot of that. I think that was always in our mind, which meant that section of the movie...It had to be done in a very modern context. But the most important [thing], I think to all of us, is that it had to feel like it's part of the movie--that it affected the story, it was related to the character, that it wasn't just a little scene on its own, or else we could have just cut it out. So that was really the hardest part of it.
Nic, in the final analysis, how would you characterize The Sorcerer's Apprentice?
NICOLAS: This is a fantasy movie. This is a movie that's designed to make kids smile and make kids happy. And it's based on one of the great short animated elements to the original Fantasia. That's it. And that's what we were going for...I just really wanted to entertain you with Balthazar and with Dave, and this connection we have...For me, it was also something that I wanted to do as an homage to teachers in general--to sing an ode to teachers, to sing their praises, these people that are social workers, who are devoted to expanding young people's minds, and who get paid nothing. But they don't care about that. They don't care about money. They just want to educate people. And that's my father. So it was sort of my gift to him.