The last year has been one of the most difficult in Nicolas Cage's life. He and his wife Patricia Arquette went through hell trying to keep their marriage together while both maintained busy filming schedules. Cage's marital woes were further compounded by rumours from the set of his latest movie, Captain Corelli's Mandolin (2001), about an affair between Cage and his beautiful Spanish co-star, PenÚlope Cruz. Cage denies the rumours, as does Cruz, who had previously been linked with Matt Damon.
Plainly, Cage would rather be talking about his work than gossip, especially inasmuch as he believes that Captain Corelli's Mandolin (2001) is one of the finest films he has ever worked on.
"I'm not thinking about what the press writes about my marriage, because no one knows the truth except Patricia and I and neither of us is going to discuss our problems in public," declares Cage. "Obviously it's been a difficult year for me personally, but I think that spending a few months working in Greece was a very beautiful and relaxing experience. This (Mandolin) is one of the best movies I've ever made. It's a beautiful story, and I think audiences will be touched by it."
Based on the 1994 novel by Louis de Bernieres, the drama centers around the Italian occupation of a small Greek island of Cephalonia during WWII and the tragic romance between the mandolin playing Captain Antonio Corelli (Cage) and Pelagia (Cruz), the attractive daughter of the Greek doctor (John Hurt) in whose house Cage is being billeted. The wartime love story is complicated by the imminent arrival of the Nazis who intend to retake command of the island from their former Italian allies, and by the presence of Pelagia's husband (Christian Bale) who is a member of the Greek resistance.
Directed by celebrated British filmmaker John Madden, (Shakespeare in Love (1998)), CAPTAIN CORELLI's MANDOLIN is expected to be one of the most important films of the year, and represents Cage's first venture into romantic territory since his ill-fated 1998 pic, CITY OF ANGELS (1998), co-starring Meg Ryan. But this time around, industry experts are betting that this wartime saga has every chance of racking up shakespeare-style numbers.
This is one of the few love stories you've done in your career. Are you giving up on the action genre?
No, I'm simply choosing projects on a one by one basis. I've had fun doing some action films and at the same time I've done more difficult kinds of projects like Scorsese's Bringing out the Dead (1999). I don't have any big plan for my career other than to do work that I find stimulating creatively or emotionally. Some people have picked on the fact that I did films like Rock, the (1996) or Con Air (1997), but I liked doing those movies and audiences liked them as well.
Captain Corelli's Mandolin is a romance set amid WWII. What attracted you to the story?
I thought it had a classic quality to it. It's a love story set on this breathtakingly beautiful Greek island in the middle of a war. There's always an eerie beauty to people who are frozen in those kinds of moments where the future is very uncertain and yet they are having this intense relationship. War is an event that intensifies and focuses our passions because the present takes on an incredible urgency when you're not sure what the furutre holds for you. It was very interesting and moving for me personally to put myself in the head of my character.
PenÚlope Cruz is one of the rising new stars in Hollywood. What was your experience like working with her?
She's an incredibly gifted actress. The emotions just come in waves over her face which is very, very expressive and you never get the sense that she's "acting" or having to work at playing a scene. Her performance flows seamlessly and it makes you feel more present and concentrated when you work with someone of that calibre.
Do you feel that there's a sexual electricity between you in your scenes together?
(Laughs) I don't know what the voltage level was, but I think the relationship between our characters is very movingly told. I don't think of their love for each other as erotic as much as it is deeply felt and deeply emotional. They find themselves caught up in the middle of a terrible situation and they need each other at that moment in time. There's a war going on, and both of them feel adrift and drawn to each other.
Do you have a sense that her beauty and talent are going to make PenÚlope Cruz a very big star in this business?
I wouldn't be surprised. There are a lot of talented and beautiful actresses in Hollywood, but PenÚlope brings something more than that. There's an aura and sense of mystery to her that audiences are bound to pick up on.
Does she seem to be conscious of becoming a Hollywood star?
I don't think she cares about that. She's much more concerned with working with good directors and finding her way around. She's already been a huge star in Spain for years as a teenager so she understands the kind of pressure that comes with celebrity. I don't think Penelope is going to let the press get to her at all. She's pretty cool and carefree about things. I don't see the pressure getting to her.
Is it disturbing to you that there were so many rumours about an affair between you and PenÚlope Cruz?
It's not pleasant. And I think it cheapens your work and that you may have shared a good experience working with someone on a film. But those kinds of rumours are par for the course on any film. Whenever you have two actors playing lovers in a movie, the media just jumps on that and tries to turn it into some kind of real life love story. Those kinds of reports come out all the time so it's hard to take them seriously. You can try to laugh about it, but it's hard to have a sense of humour about those stories if it affects people around you and creates a false impression.
Did you feel that your personal life has become overly public over the last few years?
Yes. Every couple goes through ups and downs and, in the case of actors or other celebrities, if you do go through a crisis it's going to wind up in the news. Sometimes the stories are true, sometimes there's a grain of truth in them, and most of the time they're false.
But your wife Patricia did file and subsequently withdraw a divorce petition in court. Those are facts?
We went through a particularly hard time last year, I won't deny that. But in some ways nothing has changed between us. I don't know what's going to happen between us, but sometimes you have to go through trying moments and go through a crisis in order to see things more clearly. But I'm not going to say anything more about that.
Last year you commented about how much you fell in love with Greece?
Oh, I did. The Greek islands are some of the most heavenly spots on earth. You almost think to yourself why the hell am I living in Los Angeles when I could just retire and live the rest of my life in paradise. Those thoughts really enter your head because there's so much beauty and tranquility to the islands.
What about the Greek taxi drivers?
I still have nightmares about nearly getting run off a cliff one day. I was jogging along this winding mountain road and this driver came up behind me at sixty miles per hour and drove right past me with maybe a foot to spare. Either they really hate joggers or that's the way they like to drive over there, but everybody drives like a kamikaze on those tiny roads.
Some of the other actors like Christian Bale complained about the heat?
I kind of like the heat so it didn't bother me that much although I know that a lot of the crew was really suffering because they have to do the hard work.
How do you see your position in the industry today. Are you happy with the kind of freedom you seem to have in choosing your roles?
If I look at how hard I worked about ten years ago to get any kind of decent role, I'm absolutely thrilled to be in the position I'm in today. This is what most actors dream about - having the chance to play different kinds of characters and enjoy the process of being in interesting films. I know I'm in a very rare position and I appreciate it. At the same time, I feel I've worked hard to get here and now it's time for me to enjoy these opportunities.
Do you feel that you're a different person today and better able to enjoy your success now than when you were in your late twenties and known as a hellraiser?
Yes. When I was in my twenties I wasn't at all clear about who I was and what I wanted out of life. So you go through a process of sorting things out and figuring out the things that really matter to you and you stop living up to some stupid image of yourself.
I eventually realized that his whole rebel image was something I had created to cover up the fear that maybe I wasn't good enough to make it. You have this sense of panic that you're not going to be able to measure up to your own ideals and expectations of what you want to achieve. I managed to break out of that trap and simply took things in stride, learned to relax and not worry about the future. Then came films like Kiss of Death (1995) and Leaving Las Vegas (1995) which really boosted my standing in the profession. Ever since then, things have been pretty easy for me creatively.
Do you still have existential doubts?
Honestly, no. I mean, I have my issues and worries like anyone, but nothing compared to the kinds of things I was going through as an adolescent or in my twenties. I needed to go through an identity crisis in order to find out what I was all about. Going through a lot of turmoil was my path to self-revelation, if that doesn't sound like too much of a cliche. But I wasn't self-destructive in a bad way. I never did drugs or went around being cruel to people. I was a little over the top.
Would you ever again take the microphone on an airplane and tell the passengers that they were making an unscheduled stop in the Caribbean?
No. But in some ways I'm not ashamed of having done those kinds of things. I had a lot of fun being outrageous until that whole thing became I kind of act that I had to play up to. I still have that sense of wanting to provoke and stir things up a bit, it's just that now I keep those feelings to myself. I guess getting older takes some of the wildness out of you. But you never want to lose your sense of spirit or adventure. That's what makes life interesting.