With the sci-fi/horror film Color Out of Space opening this weekend in theaters, I recently sat down with Nicolas Cage, Joely Richardson and writer-director Richard Stanley to talk about making the adaptation of the classic H.P. Lovecraft short story. During the wide-ranging conversation, they talked about why Lovecraft’s story has resonated for so long with so many people, how the film pushes boundaries of the human imagination, how the film doesn’t dumb itself down for the audience, deleted scenes, and so much more. In addition, Cage shares a great story about Leaving Las Vegas and Stanley Kubrick. Color Out of Space also stars Madeleine Arthur, Brendan Meyer, Q’orianka Kilcher, Julian Hilliard, and Tommy Chong.
If you haven’t seen the trailer or read the story, the film stars Cage and Richardson as a married couple living with their family on an isolated farm when an asteroid comes crashing onto their land, infects their minds and bodies with all kinds of classically Lovecraftian terrors, and wreaks havoc on the fabric of their life.
Check out what Nicolas Cage, Joely Richardson and Richard Stanley had to say below.
COLLIDER: This short story [“Color Out of Space” by H.P. Lovecraft] has been done in the past, and it’s universally praised as one of [Lovecraft’s] best pieces of work. What do you think it is about the story that has resonated for so long with so many people?
RICHARD STANLEY: Well, I think Color Out of Space was actually Lovecraft’s favorite work of his own material. He several times singled it out as his own favorite story, so that definitely puts quite a weight on us; quite an onus on us to try and get it right. I suspect this story was the origin of the basic template of what most people think of as your standard alien invasion story. The original story was written in the 1930s, and it’s that story where a meteorite comes from deep space and strikes a tiny remote farmstead. Then some hick farmer, usually in dungarees, comes up and pokes it with a stick which is something we’ve seen in a hundred different types of movies from the 1950s onwards. It’s like, in The Blob and It Came from Outer Space. We’ve seen various variants of this alien intrusion into the familiar, known Norman Rockwell-esque universe of New England.
RICHARDSON: Oh, yeah.
RICHARDSON: That’s right. We did a Norman Rockwell photo, didn’t we?
STANLEY: Yeah, and we got a [poster].
RICHARDSON: I never got it. Sorry, Nic and I did that, sorry.
NICOLAS CAGE: Yeah, with the —
RICHARDSON: We did it, trying to emulate that very famous picture.
COLLIDER: Oh, completely, yeah, with the pitchfork.
RICHARDSON: “American Gothic” [note: painted by Grant Wood, circa 1930].
STANLEY: Yeah, it’s very much an “American Gothic”.
RICHARDSON: Has anyone got it on their phone somewhere?
STANLEY: I haven’t got the photo on the phone, but yeah, it’s a great shot. I think Lovecraft himself said that what he was trying to do was to pinpoint the “essential weirdness of American culture”. So “American Gothic”, I think, does sort of put its finger on where we’re swimming with that.
RICHARDSON: Well, I would say briefly, you’re saying American culture. But, trying to distill what you said, I was thinking there’s that Shakespeare quote of, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.” [note: that’s the actual correct quote] I think something is rotten in the Western world. I think that would be […] the similarity between the short story and our film.
CAGE: It’s like, yeah, the meteorite coming, the alien force, coming from outer space and just completely disturbing “Our Town” — that play [note: play written by Thornton Wilder in 1938], and that alien entity. Also the effects on the animals, the effects on the plant life. The way all the flora and fauna begins to transmogrify, I think, is relevant and I think it continues to be relevant to what’s happening now with various effects on nature, on the environment, on the world, on the ocean. I think the story tracks in an unfortunate way with current events — and it always has.
COLLIDER: What I think is cool is that the alien is sort of outside the entity, it’s beyond the human imagination. Could you sort of talk about in regards to being able to push the boundaries of maybe what we’ve seen before and allowing to go further than the imagination has gone.
CAGE: Well, what I wanted to just say before Richard takes the floor is that one of the priorities of the story is that, as you said, it confounds the imagination in that the color itself is an alien color; it is not in our spectrum. So, how do you create a color that no one’s ever seen before? That is at the epicenter of Lovecraft’s story. I was telling other folks that, you know, I almost worked with Richard on Dust Devil a million years ago [note: so around 1991 since movie was released in ‘92], […] and I had seen his movie Hardware [note: released 1990]. Both those movies have a beautiful color to them in the frame. There’s a gold color to Dust Devil, like, the sand itself. There’s a red, violent, vibrant color to Hardware. I thought of all the filmmakers I could think of that would be able to create an effect with color that would be profound for this story in particular; Richard would have the best shot at that. To create something that would be outside our imagination. I’m told, having not seen the movie, that the color shape-shifts and it’s almost creating multiple colors, which I thought was a brilliant-sounding mechanism to achieve that unknown color experience.
STANLEY: Yeah, it extends beyond the color into also sound, and what we would imagine would be smell, into the olfactory spectrum. I mean, humans can see between ultraviolet and infrared, the two extremes of our spectrum. Smell: between them [it’s] a very sweet smell on the one side and brimstone on the other. Sound: it’s between ultrasound and infrasound. The stuff that goes on outside of that spectrum, which exists the entire time but we’re unable to see it. Animals can see more than us, or hear more than us. Dogs and [other animals] can sense some ultrasound or infrasound — and the same with cats — that humans can’t, which is how they can predict earthquakes or become uneasy just before something happens. They are able to perceive more of the spectrum than we can. All we see are the fingerprints of those things, the side effects of them —
COLLIDER: — Completely —
STANLEY: — Yeah, so trying to imply those side effects in the film, where there’s something there which we can’t directly show you, but we can show you the side effects of it. Moreover, it’s something that we will have no chance of ever understanding its motives or combating or changing because it’s something so far outside of humanity that we simply can’t even wrap our heads around it, let alone find some way of solving it.
COLLIDER: One of the things that I find unfortunate is that so many movies try to explain everything, and try to dumb it down to the lowest common denominator. You’re not doing that.
CAGE: Well, it’s getting worse […] and you’re absolutely right. I like movies that are enigmatic and don’t have an A-to-Z narrative and they take risks in terms of how they deploy the information. But you have these different political movements, which are important, which should be heard, but they really have no business confounding an artistic expression and taking freedom of expression out of the director or the writer or even an actor’s hands when they’re trying to be a reflection on society. Not a message, but a reflection on what’s happening in society. What happens is, more and more, these movements are infiltrating almost like a like a [political] party, the way the movies are being expressed. There’s no business doing that because it is censorship. It’s the freedom of speech is getting lost and I take umbrage with that. Sorry, I just had to spit that out.
COLLIDER: I 100 percent agree with you, and I think that it’s so interesting that, as we’ve moved on, we’re now in 2019 and I feel like there’s more censorship now than there was 30 years ago.
CAGE: It’s like, you know, your church and state. Now we’ve got censorship in art. I mean, it’s happening — and it’s really annoying.
COLLIDER: I completely agree.
RICHARDSON: Now do you know about this thing, trigger alert? Have you heard about this?
RICHARDSON: In schools, that teachers have to — if they’re going to talk about anything sensitive, before they talk about it, they have to issue trigger alerts so that any of the students can choose to leave if it triggers them in any way. It’s called a “trigger alert”.
CAGE: No, I have not heard of that. You could make a movie about that.
COLLIDER: I had not heard about this either.
RICHARDSON: Trigger alert, yes. A friend of mine’s a schoolteacher, and that’s how I know.
COLLIDER: Yeah. It’s —
RICHARDSON: — Because if a subject is talked about which is offensive to anyone, they’ll say it’s triggered them and they have therefore been damaged in some way. So, you have to issue a trigger alert on your subject matter.
CAGE: Well, yeah.
COLLIDER: Let’s jump, if you don’t mind, let’s jump back to the film. Did —
RICHARDSON: Can I just interject?
COLLIDER: Oh, of course.
RICHARDSON: Before, Richard was saying, on the long version, there will be some scenes that —
STANLEY: — Well, I’m hoping that we’ll have some deleted scenes on the DVD/Bluray release to fill this thing out, because we did a lot of improvisation —
RICHARDSON: — We lost some battles —
STANLEY: — There was a lot of stuff which took the material off book and into weird and disturbing territory, and I’ve just spent the last three months fighting furiously over shot after shot, to try to keep this thing as deeply strange and as left of field as it could possibly be.
CAGE: — Well, you have a record and you keep going after 40 years. Now, I want to boast. Can I boast a little bit?
COLLIDER: 100 percent.
CAGE: Good. Good. This is a true story, and you can call Mike Figgis up yourself and you can, you know, get it verified. When I did Leaving Las Vegas.
RICHARDSON: Do you have his number?
COLLIDER: No, but I can get it.
CAGE: When I did Leaving Las Vegas, okay, you know, Mike and I were going off book all the time. I was finding the libretto, had it in my body, memorized all the script. But I would come up with dialogue and I would improvise. I like to improvise — Joely knows this very well — and I like to be jazz about it; I’m a prickly pear. All those lines were all improvised. So, Stanley Kubrick called Mike and said, “Can I please have the script to Leaving Las Vegas?” And he said, “Sure.” So Mike sent Stanley the script. Stanley read the script. Called Mike and he said, “This is not the movie I saw. What’s going on?” And Mike said, “Well, all the best lines were Nic. He rewrote all the lines.” So I’m going to go on record with that, I want that story to be out there.
COLLIDER: First of all, that’s amazing.
CAGE: It’s a true story. Call Mike.
RICHARDSON: “Prickly pear” is very good.
COLLIDER: Wait, that’s amazing, and also any story that involves Stanley Kubrick, I want to hear every fucking one.
CAGE: Well, there you go.
CAGE: That’s a true story. So now, getting back —
COLLIDER: So, let me actually switch questions. How long was your first cut compared to the finished film?
STANLEY: I think we probably … It wasn’t terrible. We probably lost about 15, 20 minutes that I couldn’t hold onto. We’re now down to around 111 [minutes], which is, I think, a respectable length.
STANLEY: I also feel that if we went on much longer than 111 minutes, it might start to drag. I mean, I keep thinking that they should advertise [Color Out of Space] is shorter than Midsommar and more brightly colored than The Lighthouse.
COLLIDER: That’s very good. But nowadays with the ability to put out different versions on home video, or streaming, or whatever, do you sort of feel like the actual theatrical version doesn’t really have to be your final version? Or do you feel like what you put out in theaters has to be “the one”?
STANLEY: Well, I guess it was a psychological crutch when I lost some of the arguments, thinking, okay I’d have to harden my heart and accept that that moment’s not going to be in the release cut. But, if I can get Brett [W. Bachman, the Color Out of Space editor and an associate producer] to promise that the file is saved and on the drive, and that that thing will eventually be there on the Bluray or on the DVD, it means I could feel a little less grudging about having to give the scene up. I know that the scene is still out there in some form or another.
CAGE: It’s so frustrating. I mean, I’ve got to say, I did a movie a couple years ago called Army of One [and] Larry Charles was the director. It was a terrific script, and we had all kinds of shocking, irreverent scenes, and I knew it was going to be something really compelling to watch. Then Bob Weinstein — yes, the brother of Harvey Weinstein — took the movie, saw the movie, told Larry it was a terrible movie, and decided to recut the whole darn thing according to his tastes. He has no business doing that. There are so many cooks in the kitchen that really know nothing about making a movie. All they know is how to hit a little box and say, “This’ll sell.” Larry never got to get the original movie out. I thought he was going to get the director’s cut [on the] DVD. I still want to see the movie. But it happens time and time again. These conservative aliens that think they know what they’re going to do with the movie and they chop it all up and make it into mush.
COLLIDER: Well, the biggest frustration. By the way, I’ve heard this happen time and time again. Like, if you want to do that, when it hits Blu-ray or DVD or wherever it’s going to be, release both versions.
CAGE: Thank you.
COLLIDER: That’s it.
CAGE: I thought he was going to get that, and he never got it.
COLLIDER: But that’s it. Not to talk so much, but I think about even Ridley Scott on Kingdom of Heaven. There’s two versions. The director’s cut that was three hours.
STANLEY: I’ve seen both, yeah.
COLLIDER: The three-hour version is amazing.
CAGE: And he was upset.
COLLIDER: Oh, absolutely. But it can happen to Ridley Scott.
COLLIDER: Even on a huge movie like that. So —
STANLEY: Yeah, and that’s a battle every day.
RICHARDSON: Did you agree with that? If you’ve seen both?
CAGE: Oh, yeah.
STANLEY: Yeah. Yeah, the—
RICHARDSON: The three-hour was great?
STANLEY: The three-hour version is definitely better. I’ve still got issues with it.
COLLIDER: Oh, I’m not… I just, I’m fascinated with history.
COLLIDER: That movie brought me into another time and era. Anyway, that’s not about your movie. So, let’s go back into —
STANLEY: Oh, I’m fascinated with medieval siege dramas too, but yeah, it’s the wrong subject for today.
COLLIDER: So I guess my last thing for the three of you is: No matter what movie you’re making, there’s never enough time and there’s never enough money. While making this project, what was the thing that you felt was going to be the big hurdle that you had to overcome with the obstacles that you had in front of you, if any?
STANLEY: Well, I think really the biggest challenge for me was making the Gardner family become a real family unit, and come across as being a genuine nuclear family. I mean, the issue of showing a color from beyond space, or showing the face of God or the formless forces of chaos is a huge challenge. But I think it’s even more challenging to try to define the human condition, and to see all these people around the dinner table and to feel that we really are seeing a human family unit. In many movies I go to these days, I find the special effects are more believable than the human beings.
RICHARDSON: Yes, yes, yes.
STANLEY: So, the effects odyssey was one part of it. But I think the other part of it was rooting that in some kind of emotional truths.
CAGE: There was a time when I was very ironic, and people would say self-aware and sarcastic in my performances, which I can do very easily. But I really made a conscious choice to be naked emotionally, almost embarrassingly naked emotionally. Like the scene in Mandy when I’m crying in the bathroom [and] drinking. When I first saw the movie at Sundance, you know, people were laughing. They didn’t know how to respond to that kind of nakedness. The challenge for me is to not worry about that, but to be emotionally naked even if it evokes laughter. I think what that ultimately is is a transition, a communication with the audience that something uncomfortable that we can identify with but we’re afraid of is happening. I’m fairly certain, you know, in [Color Out Of Space] there might be moments like that, even though I haven’t seen it, because I know where I had to go with some of the scenes. The key for me was not to let my critical mind want to kill that baby, and let my heart just bring it on out, and not censor myself.
RICHARDSON: That’s a tough question. My biggest thing was the leap of faith. The day that I read the script, I was really, really ill with food poisoning and I was running a fever and I thought, “Oh my God, what is this thing?” The first time I read it, I was like, “Are they kidding?” […] And so then I thought, okay, well Nic’s doing it, and Richard. So then I looked into Richard, and then I was like, “God, he’s really compelling. Everything he says is grounded in real truth.” Then it was just the leap of faith to believe it. I mean, I think that what Richard said is that if the special effects are more real than the performances, then it dead in the water. No one cares. So I felt that we, whether it happened luckily, whether it was our rehearsal period, that jelled really quickly. —
CAGE: — Yeah. Yeah. —
RICHARDSON: — Richard, for me, like I felt more with Nic, he said free reign. With me, you were quite specific about what you wanted. So it was a leap of faith, really.
CAGE: The best example of what I think she’s talking about is Ellen Burstyn in The Exorcist. To get to that level of reality —
RICHARDSON: Yeah. Yeah.
CAGE: — believability, emotional, you know, abandon, in the face of what’s Linda Blair going to be looking like throwing up green puke. I mean, and not being laughable. Just give yourself over to that and go with it. That’s a leap of faith.
RICHARDSON: Yes. I actually, again, not giving too much away… Oh God, I suddenly feel like I’m going to cry. But we have a scene, when you see it later, that’s sort of a love scene. Do you remember? […] That was actually, like, really heart wrenching. And I mean, when you’re — am I allowed to say? [turns toward Cage and Stanley to consult]
STANLEY: — Yeah. Yeah, I guess you could. But that’s really strong. That’s one of the ones we managed to keep in the movie. And that’s —
RICHARDSON: — It was heartbreaking. When I still think of that scene, it makes me, kind of, want to cry, so. But yes. Yes. It’s very strange how the thing that is the most out there becomes the most real.