Drive Angry is the latest 3D action-adventure from director Patrick Lussier and starring Nicolas Cage as Milton, a hardened felon who has broken out of hell for one last chance at redemption. Intent on stopping a vicious cult, led by Jonah King (Billy Burke), who murdered his daughter, he has three days to stop them before they sacrifice her baby beneath a full moon.
During a press conference held after their Hall H panel at Comic-Con, co-stars Nicolas Cage, Amber Heard (who plays sexy, young waitress Piper) and William Fichtner (who plays an enigmatic killer known only as “The Accountant,” sent by the Devil to retrieve Milton) talked about the appeal of this project and what it was like to adjust their performance to the 3D technology while they were filming. Check out what they had to say after the jump:
Question: Nicolas, as an actor, what was the appeal of this project?
Nicolas: The first thing I would offer is that this is a movie that hails from ‘70s classic films, like High Plains Drifter, and other movies that were a major factor in my decision to become a film actor. And then, on top of that, it’s in 3D and directed by one of the pioneers in this day and age of 3D, with Patrick Lussier. He’s a purist, so I knew it would be in the camera and that I would have an opportunity to try to work with the 3D camera and see how that would inform my performance, with different body language and different ways I could play with the format. That was a big draw for me.
What is the essence of this character for you?
Nicolas: I try to keep my characters raising more questions than giving answers. I don’t want to leave too much on the table. I want you to have your connection and your secret understanding of the character, so I hesitate to talk too much about anything specific about him.
Why do you think the aspect of retribution resonates so strongly with an audience?
Nicolas: Because everybody gets angry. Everyone feels like they’re being tested or they’ve gone through trials in life and, especially when loved ones are involved, this fierce, protective nature comes alive. This is happening in Milton. He’s on a mission to save this little child.
Do you consider Drive Angry one of your midnight movies, like Wild at Heart and Vampire’s Kiss?
Nicolas: Absolutely. I definitely feel that Drive Angry fits into that audience. I think my love for those kinds of films is the intensity and the adrenaline of them. They don’t compromise. They’re honest and they give it everything they have. I used to enjoy punk rock music, and I feel like it’s that kind of relentless intensity that I respond to. I feel that Drive Angry achieves that. I haven’t seen the finished result yet, but I’m very excited by the footage that I’ve seen. I do think that this movie is really in your face, it’s tough and it’s cool, and I’m excited about that.
How different was it to actually shoot this film in 3D?
Nicolas: For me, there’s no fun in [converting it later]. If you shellac the movie, I have nothing to do with it. It gives me no opportunity to work with the 3D camera. That way, it’s in post. This way, it’s a much more collaborative experience, where the actors get to work with the director and with the camera, and talk about it. Therefore, it’s exciting. Otherwise, I really have nothing to do with it, as an actor.
Were there specific ways it affected your performance?
Nicolas: In terms of perspective, I wanted to know how I was going to become friends with this new mechanism and machine. I would talk with Patrick and ask, “Can I move like this?” I even went so far, at one point, to try to stick my tongue out all the way, so I could get into the fourth row of the audience to see if that would have an affect. I don’t know if it made it into the movie or not. But, my point is that it’s that relationship with perspective in the camera, body language, dance and movement, and I wanted to see if there was anything we could do with that.
Amber: Elaborating on that, for me, part of it was feeling like you were a part of the audience, in a way, because you were participating actively while you were filming something. Acting and participating in how it’s going to be viewed later puts me in the audience’s position, and that was an interesting to go about filming something. I also know that we had certain shots, because this movie was conceived in 3D and not converted, where we had the privilege and opportunity to manipulate some of our actions and blocking around how it would be viewed later. I threw some punches directly into the lens and I backed the car up almost over the camera a couple of times, to create effects with specific results that it will achieve for the audience, viewing the film in 3D. I haven’t seen good examples of movies that have been converted later. I see a lot of good 3D that were shot in 3D, but it’s harder to convert something and maintain the quality, no matter what you’re converting.
William: It didn’t have any affect for me, as far as what the scene was and how we were going to play it, or what we were thinking about. But, as we went on and certain actions would come up, Patrick would say, “There was this very interesting thing that you just did in rehearsal when you moved this way and it was very cool,” because I wouldn’t know that. I wasn’t thinking about that, certainly in the beginning. As time went on, you would realize, “Oh, this is probably one of those moments.” I specifically remember Patrick saying one day, “If you turn sideways and keep that arm close to your body, it’s really cool.” That’s all I needed to know. I can make that happen. I trusted that and just went with it.
Nicolas, what do you think of 3D movies of the past, in comparison to 3D movies of today?
Nicolas: The 3D movies in the ‘50s never worked for me. I just thought it didn’t look right. I would not go into that dimension. They just turned me off because they looked so goofy. Today, this is the time for 3D. I think Avatar really showed that, in terms of not just pop-ups, but perspective and depth. It’s almost like painting. Some of the shots that we did in Drive Angry, when I would look at the monitor, I saw those depths of field. You see the dimension. There’s no better word for it than beautiful. It’s a very beautiful format for filmmaking.
Amber, what was it like to do such a physical role?
Amber: It’s one of the only movies where I’ve actually gotten to kick some ass, but it’s surprisingly not too far from home. I’m from Texas, and guns and fist fights are all part of the gig. Everything from the hot rod to the cowboy boots was close to home for me. I was happy.
Do you think roles are changing and becoming stronger for women?
Amber: Yeah, I’m excited by that. I’m excited that more writers like Todd [Farmer] and directors like Patrick [Lussier] are more willing to see a woman as something other than a victim, and that leaves a woman to be her own person and her own character, and not need to be saved. For me, as a woman, that’s particularly interesting because it’s easy to get bored by the bathing suit roles, not that I’m shy of those either. I’m honored to do something other than just lounge around in a bikini. This is really cool for me. I got to flip cars, shoot guns, run my mouth and get into fist fights. I was in heaven.
Nicolas: I always preferred the Chevelle. It just has a gorgeous aesthetic. But, I predominantly drive a Charger in this movie, which is also beautiful. My character prefers a Chevelle as well, so it works.
Amber: I’m all about the Charger, baby. I think that was part of what interested me. They were like, “There’s a ‘69 Charger,” and I was like, “Okay, I’ll do it.”
William: I liked my hydrogen tanker. I really did. It had 152 speeds, and I only needed to get through seven of them. There were six of those cars, and I’d really like to have one.
William, do you feel like you’re always playing a bad guy?
William: I don’t think I’ve ever played a part where I thought the character was a bad guy. If I thought he was just bad for bad’s sake, I’m quite sure I wouldn’t know what to do with it. But, I like characters where there’s something going on and something to make him real. If you find out what somebody cares about, all of a sudden, the whole world opens up. I remember the first time I read this script, there was a moment up in the guard tower with Amber and I tell her to go, and that was the moment for me where I found that grounded thing. Whatever that sensibility is for that character, he has a sense of right and wrong. When I find that, it means the world to me. You can go back and forward from there and fill in the blanks and hopefully find a real guy, no matter what he’s going through.
What’s next for you?
William: I don’t know what’s next. I’m working on something that I’m writing. I have to clean my garage.
Amber, do you feel like genre films have stronger roles for women?
Amber: This seems like an action film to me. It does have supernatural elements to it, but in terms of strong female characters, that’s why I’m doing this job. I would be a model, if I didn’t want to do something. For me, the genre serves sometimes as a good vehicle for young women in this business to actually have a role. It might not always be saving the day, but you certainly get to more than just play the girlfriend in horror films and thrillers. I’m drawn to them because I actually get to do something in them, most of the time. And, this one was on a different level completely. Piper, my character, is this bad-ass, potty-mouth, Daisy Duke-wearing, Charger-driving, gun-toting motherfucker, and she doesn’t take any shit. Where else am I going to find that? This is the only script I’ve ever read with those elements.
Nicolas, what is your character’s relationship with anger?
Nicolas: It’s really not that simple for me. I can’t encapsulate everything about Milton in the word anger. There are other things also motivating his drive. Hopefully, when you see the movie, there are other dimensions to the character. It’s more like a sense of otherness and a purpose, but the anger is an anger that’s a residual anger of something that happened in another life. I’ve probably said too much.
Can you talk about the relationship between Milton and Piper?
Nicolas: Piper provides the heart in the movie. When you see the movie, you’ll see what Amber did with that so beautifully. There is another element that may surprise you, where the film actually has a pretty deep, strong heart that’s not romantic. It’s like a partnership. It would be great if we could do another film because I love that relationship between Milton and Piper.
Amber: I’m in!