German arthouse icon Werner Herzog can be called many things — auteur, visionary poet, magic realist, experimentalist — but humble isn’t one of them.

The Bavarian force of nature behind such epic, earthy adventures as 1972’s Aguirre The Wrath of God, 1982’s Fitzcaraldo, and 2006’s underrated Rescue Dawn, is at TIFF this year to promote two feature films. The first is the existential, David Lynch produced horror mood piece My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done, with Michael Shannon (Revolutionary Road) as a young man courting madness. The other is a riotous, audacious in-name only remake of Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant starring Nicolas Cage.

The amalgam of Herzog’s arch humour and meditative observations with Cage’s wild-eyed, intense brand of performance art has people talking, claiming the role to be Cage’s best since his Oscar-winning turn in Leaving Las Vegas.

Herzog, however, takes exception to such comparisons. “How dare you say that?” he snarls.

“How can you be so vile and debased to say it’s his best since anything? I tell you, it’s his best role ever!”

While that kind of outraged, dramatic bravado is certainly tied somewhat to the director’s ego — his notorious, on-set battles of wills with the late, gloriously mad actor Klaus Kinski have secured him a devout, loyal cult — Herzog is also an artist who’s very aware of his own myth. Occasionally, he’ll take on acting roles where he, for better or worse, plays himself ... or at least the version of himself people expect.

“I’m good at acting,” he boasts.

“Am I aware of my persona? Sometimes, yes. In the film Incident at Loch Ness, I was given a chance to revel in such irony and play a character named Werner Herzog. I could not pass that up.”

Although he has flirted with mainstream Hollywood filmmaking — Bad Lieutenant has two major American stars in lead roles (Cage and Eva Mendes), and the POW drama Rescue Dawn featured Christian Bale and Steve Zahn — Herzog’s unique aesthetic, his language of cinema, has remained pure.

“Unlike Wolfgang Peterson (Das Boot, Troy), I have never wanted to be part of Hollywood,” he says.

“Peterson and others like him set out to be a part of that, and they’re very good at it. But I don’t function in this stream. I always stick to my own culture and always will.”