Rising out of the haze of cult movie geek controversy is Werner Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, an in-name-only remake of the legendary Abel Ferrara/Harvey Keitel corrupt cop shocker.
So notorious — and thus, so revered — is the original melodrama that fans universally sneered when the redux was announced last year, an Internet-fuelled tirade led by Ferrara himself.
But then word got out that often untamed Hollywood actor Nicolas Cage was to essay the role of titular naughty officer Terrence McDonagh, whose dabbling into hard drugs, extortion, prostitution and general debauchery eventually get the better of him.
Suddenly, ears were pricked up: It was revealed German art house guru Herzog was directing, and the sheer freakishness of the enterprise seemed irresistible.
“I wanted to do this film because I knew Werner would let me go a bit crazy with it,” says Cage of his delightfully unhinged turn.
“Werner has a high tolerance for intensity, having worked so closely with Klaus Kinski for so many years on so many films, and he gave me the freedom to experiment with my performance.”
Indeed, the relationship between Herzog and the late Kinski is the stuff of myth, with the two eccentrics even plotting to murder each other on set of their most staggering achievement, 1982’s Fitzcarraldo. Cage himself has often channelled the same kind of lunatic energy Kinski was famous for, in films as diverse as John Woo’s Face/Off, David Lynch’s Wild at Heart, and the brilliantly deranged and less discussed Vampire’s Kiss.
“I never reference previous parts I’ve done, at least not intentionally,” he says.
“But I’m sure it all comes from the same place. Peter Loew in Vampire’s Kiss and Terrence are both over-the-top characters, but Terrence’s mania comes from the fact that he’s an addict. Peter, well, y’know ... he’s just nuts.”
For every gritty, offbeat and graphic film Cage does — and Bad Lieutenant certainly counts as one of them — Cage will star in several mainstream pictures, like National Treasure, Knowing, and the upcoming Disney blockbuster The Sorcerers’ Apprentice. Cage credits fatherhood and a social responsibility as the main reasons for the balance.
“When you incorporate fantasy into your films, you can give audiences and families all the entertainment and escape they want,” Cage says.
“With all of the despair in the world and the state of the economy, that really affects my choices.”
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