For Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, Nicolas Cage is back as Johnny Blaze, a man who struggles with his curse as the devil’s bounty hunter. Hiding out in a remote part of Eastern Europe, he is recruited by a secret sect to save a young boy from the devil and, although he is reluctant to embrace the power of the Ghost Rider again, he knows it is the only way to protect the boy, and possibly rid himself of his curse forever. With a new villain, a new sidekick and a new look, Ghost Rider is now seen through the eyes of filmmakers Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor.
Following their Comic-Con panel presentation in Hall H (read our recap here), co-stars Nicolas Cage and Idris Elba, along with directors Neveldine and Taylor, talked about what they wanted to do with the story and character this time, how the chose not to consider the first movie in making this one, pushing it to the limits for stunts, all of the extras they’ll have for the eventual DVD/Blu-ray release, and what they enjoy about the Comic-Con experience. Check out what they had to say after the jump:
Click here for the audio. Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance hits theaters February 17, 2012.
NICOLAS CAGE: An interesting story is that, when I was trying to think with Brian [Taylor] and with Mark [Neveldine] about how the Ghost Rider would move, because they both really wanted me to play Ghost Rider in this, I was thinking about trying to find something really weird, which would be like levitating in circles. We called it “the compass” together, to mess with how he would attack his enemies. And then, I looked up in the dictionary, and the word weird literally means “to turn around,” so I thought that was an interesting thing. But, it was like trying to design a body language from another dimension. We worked in a room together and looked at different animals, like cobras and insects, and tried to find ways of moving that would hopefully scare you and entertain you.
So, it’s scarier this time?
CAGE: Oh, yeah. When I did the first Ghost Rider, I wanted it to be like a Grimm’s fairy tale – scary, but still something that children could enjoy, like that first trip to the principal’s office, where you made a mistake and you’re in trouble, but don’t give up. You can still rise above and do something good with the experience. This one, with Mark and Brian, will go into the wonderful bliss of the nightmare imagination. I think it will be very entertaining. I haven’t seen anything yet, but they’re excited.
What opportunity did this give you to re-imagine the story and character?
CAGE: This is Spirit of Vengeance. It’s not a sequel.
BRIAN TAYLOR: We didn’t really consider the first movie, at all, in making this. You can’t really. We just wanted to make a great movie, on its own terms. The first movie, we think, is really valid. It’s like a Walt Disney take on the character, which is totally cool. This version, we wanted to give people what we think comic book fans really want to see with Ghost Rider. It is darker and more intense. He is from a nightmare. He will scare the hell out of you. He’s not a superhero that wears tights and does nice things. He is more of a villain than he is a hero. He’s a dark entity. He sucks out your soul. That’s his superpower. We wanted to really embrace that and give people that vision of Ghost Rider that we always wanted to see.
CAGE: In this day and age, where you have a lot of comic book movies made every day, and most of them are really good boys, it’s important to have a couple bad boys out there, too.
What Ghost Rider stories or story arcs really inspired you?
TAYLOR: A lot of times, even in the comic books, it hasn’t really been as intense as you might want for Ghost Rider. We really like the stuff that Garth Ennis did. That darker version of the Ghost Rider, even in terms of they way he looks, was a big inspiration for us. When you see what he looks like, I think right away, you’ll know that you’re in a whole different world. He’s dark, literally. It’s a black skull. He doesn’t look like his clothes or his bike were designed by fashion designers. He looks like he crawled out of hell and straight into your face. We just think, immediately, you’re going to know you’re in a different world.
What has this experience of Comic-Con been like for you?
CAGE: I’m always happy to be here. I relate to these people. I am one of them.
IDRIS ELBA: This is my second time. I have a great time here, always. People are very embracing. I just love that everyone has a huge imagination here, knows how to celebrate it and don’t feel silly. I love that.
Idris, what was it like to work with Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor for this?
ELBA: I was a fan of their work. What I like about their films is that you actually feel the momentum of whatever they’re shooting. So, if someone’s falling out a window, it gives the opportunity to show what that might feel like. This film adopts, I would say, some of that. I liken them to being a hybrid between an actor, a sweaty crew member and a director. That’s what they’re like. They do it all. That, for me, was a great part of bringing my character to life ‘cause I do a lot of action stuff.
MARK NEVELDINE: We wanted to bring a lot of adrenaline to this movie. Obviously, you have to have a little bit of CG in Ghost Rider, but we come from the background of, “Let’s get it all in camera.” We never had money to make movies, so we got creative. We get on rollerblades and we hang off the back of motorcycles and we hang out of helicopters. We try to get as much in camera as possible, and just enhance with the CG, as opposed to going to complete CG models. We had to do a little bit of that, but we’re more about enhancing and extending and getting the visceral action of crashing cars and getting Nic on the motorcycle. We wanted to get that in camera.
TAYLOR: We really like to use the real actors, as much as possible. In this movie, you’re going to see Nicolas and Idris doing most of their own stunts. They would’ve done all of them that they could, but insurance doesn’t always let them do the things they want to do. But, we think it’s so important to have the soul and the intensity and character in action scenes, that you really can’t get from a stunt guy. You’ve got to have the real guys. We try to put our actors in peril, as much as possible. If it was dangerous, it’s probably going to look dangerous. In this case, having Nic be so brave as to do this as a dual role, as the Ghost Rider and Johnny Blaze, and play the Ghost Rider all the time, you’re getting performance and you’re getting a character that’s fully realized. It’s not a CG creation. Somebody in a computer lab in New Zealand didn’t come up with what the Ghost Rider is. Nicolas did. It’s a whole different character. At that point, you’re capturing real action, real stunts, real car crashing, real bike action. When it comes to the CG part, you’re just taking this amazing performance that you’ve captured and saying, “Light his head on fire, turn his flesh to bone, and we’re done. We’ve got it.”
Were there any stunts that really stood out for you, that really pushed your own personal limits?
CAGE: All the wirework was very stimulating, but also very nauseating, literally. I was going around in circles, upside down, and I really trying not to throw up because it kept spinning and spinning. It’s one of my favorite things that we all came up with together, so I’m glad it’s there. It was well worth it.
ELBA: When I was 19, I fell off a motorcycle and never wanted to get onto one again until this movie. Brian was like, “No, man, I want you to do the stunts.” I was like, “What did the insurance company say?” And he said, “I don’t know, but you’re doing your stunts.” I love bikes, but I had been nervous about getting on one. This film, for me, the boundary was doing these stunts down a Romanian highway on a bike. It was good fun, though.
TAYLOR: In the script he’s supposed to crash, so we figured, “It’s fine.”
Did you have any pressure to make this film lighter?
CAGE: I’ll speak for myself, but there’s a lot of humor to be found in sarcasm and darkness. You talk to any paramedic, they survive by developing a pretty off-kilter sense of humor. I think Blaze, with any luck, has that because he’s really dealing with the fact that his head goes on fire, for years now. In the first movie, he kept it at bay. He was more like an innocent goofball. In this movie, there’s been a little fire-y tapdance on his head, for several years. I think it should change his personality quite a bit.
TAYLOR: There was never any pressure to lighten it up. The tone of the movie is the tone. It’s got dark humor. It’s got scary stuff. It’s got action. It’s kind of just our thing. It’s what we’ve always done.
NEVELDINE: It’s a dude on a motorcycle with a flaming skull.
Do you have a lot of extra footage and behind the scenes stuff for the DVD?
TAYLOR: If you’ve ever seen any of our DVDs or Blu-rays in the past, you know we do a lot. We’ll have at least 6 hours of bonus features on this thing. We shot every single day, behind the scenes. It’s going to be an awesome opportunity to see some of the work that went on behind the scenes. One of the most fun things for us was what Nic brought to the Ghost Rider character. He didn’t just want to show up and be Nic. He wanted to feel different and he wanted everybody around him to feel different, so he devised a make-up that was this nightmarish, terrifying, Santaria, voodoo-ish thing. The first time he showed up as Ghost Rider on set, it was this silent, creeped out feeling, where nobody wanted to say anything. It was just like, “Nic’s in a weird place.” It was awesome! He wouldn’t talk. He was very quiet. He had glass eyes. At one point, Mark said, “Do those things hurt?” He said, “It’s personal.” He would not talk about it. Everybody was in such an interesting state of mind that it made those scenes even creepier than it possibly would have been otherwise. It was a really great thing. So, when he would do what we would call a penance stare on a victim, when Nicolas had you like that, looking at you with that make-up, you’ll see the performance of that guy. He was authentically scared and creeped out. That’s the kind of stuff you’re going to be able to see on the behind the scenes, that of course was all replaced by CG later.
NEVELDINE: There were a couple cut scenes that we can’t bring up because they’ll get really pissed off at us.
Idris, who is your character in the film?
ELBA: In the history of the comic, there’s a character that keeps coming up, called Moreau, and he never really takes on the same form. He does a different type of Moreau in the whole series. And so, Moreau is a character that comes from different types of Moreau, but in this film, he is a warrior monk. That’s how he’s described. Basically, his journey is that he has this mission to find the Ghost Rider and take the Ghost Rider on a journey with him. My character is definitely the sidekick of the Ghost Rider, but he’s a pretty cool sidekick. I had fun playing him. He’s a French, drunk monk.
ELBA: Yep, that’d be me. Heimdall (in Thor), Moreau – I do ‘em all.
Nicolas, you played a character who had escaped from hell in Drive Angry. Are there any similarities or differences between that and this version of Ghost Rider?
CAGE: They’re totally different. In Drive Angry, I was playing a living dead man. This is a living man who turns into a demon, so it’s a totally different kind of energy. A living dead man has to be a little bit more dead, whereas a living man who turns into a ghost can still be very alive when he’s living.
ELBA: Good answer.
How scary is it to be at Comic-Con among all the geeks and get their approval?
CAGE: I’m not scared at all. I feel like we all did our work and we all worked really hard, and now it’s in the hands of the Gods. I know that I like coming here, and I always love the exchange with the folks that enjoy comic books ‘cause I’m one of them. So, something always interesting happens, and I look forward to it.
NEVELDINE: It’s always nerve-wracking to throw your work up in front of people, but this is a giant shot of adrenaline for us. This is our fifth time here, and this is the most important time here. It’s the biggest, most mainstream movie we’ve ever done, with the biggest actors we’ve ever had. We’re just super-happy with how everything came out.
ELBA: We’re obviously not fighting, but there’s an association to the first Ghost Rider. This is a very different film. As an actor approaching it, I wasn’t a fan of the Ghost Rider comic books, but having seen the script, and having seen Neveldine and Taylor’s vision for it, I thought, “Wow, it’s revolutionary to try to do this, with this type of a title and this type of a film.” There is definitely the nerves that come with, “Will the audiences love it?” But, whether they’re comic book fans or Bourne Identity fans, they’re going to love this ‘cause it’s a wicked film.
When you read comic books as a kid, it wasn’t always the coolest thing, but now you’re in a position in Hollywood to make those seemingly uncool things, cool for everybody. What’s it like to be in this moment in time, when all these characters you loved as a kid are being loved by the masses?
CAGE: I actually had a vision of it, when I was 9, that this was going to happen. It took a while because we didn’t have the technology to make them come to life so magnificently, as we do today. It was always so goofy, the stupid costumes of Spider-Man in the old movies in the ‘60s and ‘70s, and Captain America. But now, it’s become all the rage because there’s something in it for everybody. It’s perfect entertainment. It’s exciting for me. I love seeing all the movies happen. I loved the movie Idris [Elba] made. I was just telling him earlier that I thought Thor was wonderful.
What comics do you read now? What are you passionate about?
CAGE: First of all, I want to say that, if you get a chance, whenever you’re traveling, do go to the local boutique comic book shop and don’t buy your comics online ‘cause those guys are going to go extinct, in a minute here, and we want to be able to have those experiences with our kids. But, I was into Planet Hulk. I thought was pretty inspired stuff. I went back in time and looked at Batman vs. Predator. I just had to see who won that battle. There’s a lot of fun stuff. It’s always a good experience to go shopping in a local comic book shop.
Who won that battle?
CAGE: It was kind of a tie-breaker, but they usually are. I think Batman won, which was a bit of a stretch.
TAYLOR: We’ve decided that Ghost Rider can kill all the other superheroes. Ghost Rider can beat Superman.
CAGE: Because he has the penance stare, and everyone’s done something wrong. He will just look at you over and over and over and over again, kind of like the internet.
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
CAGE: I’m just boring. I love to go for walks and read books at home and stare out my window. How’s that for excitement?