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Nicolas Cage’s many fans rejoiced when word came down that
the actor would be taking another whack at Marvel Comics’ flame-headed antihero
in GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE (opening tomorrow from Columbia). But just
as exciting to another cadre of cult cineastes was the news that the new film
would be directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, the daredevil duo behind
the adrenalized Jason Statham vehicles CRANK and CRANK: HIGH VOLTAGE. Fango sat
down with the filmmakers to find out how they applied their anything-goes style
to the Ghost Rider’s latest adventure.
Scripted by Scott M. Gimple, Seth Hoffman and David S.
Goyer, SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE opens with Johnny Blaze (Cage) trying to keep his
hotheaded alter ego at bay. But it can’t help but flare up when he agrees to
protect a young boy (Fergus Riordan) and his mother (Violante Placido) from
evil forces—namely Roarke (Ciarán Hinds), a.k.a. the devil himself, who’s
responsible for Johnny’s fiery dual nature, and his minion Carrigan (Johnny
Whitworth). The pursuit stretches across Europe, encompassing gear-grinding
chases, fiery confrontations and lots of odd and amusing camera angles.
FANGORIA: This is the first film you’ve directed that you
didn’t also write; how was it working with material you didn’t originate?
MARK NEVELDINE: It’s not a big deal to us whether we write
something or not. It’s more about, do we like the material, do we want to do a
movie like this? And GHOST RIDER was kind of the perfect thing for me and Brian
BRIAN TAYLOR: We’re also super-lazy, and it saved us a lot
of time in front of the word processor.
NEVELDINE: I had arthritis for a couple of years, and needed
some time to let it go…
FANG: The film does have a number of stylistic flourishes
that are familiar from the movies you’ve written and directed. Did you throw in
a lot of your own little asides?
TAYLOR: Sure, yeah.
NEVELDINE: We tried to simplify it a lot. It was based on a
David S. Goyer script from 10 years ago, even before the first movie, which was
really cool but very dark and hard-R. Over the time since, it had gone through
a lot of iterations, different writers and development to the point where when
we got it, it was incredibly complicated. There was a lot of plot, a lot of
characters and it was kind of hard to follow. So mostly, what we tried to do
was just strip it down and bring the pace up to where we could cut through a
lot of the exposition and get to the meat of the story. So it was mostly addition
by subtraction. But a lot of the little things, like the animated sequences and
stuff like that, were intended to address the exposition in ways that were
hopefully entertaining, and a little out of the ordinary.
FANG: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE also has more humor than the first
GHOST RIDER; was that something else you brought to the table?
NEVELDINE: We definitely added more humor, yeah.
TAYLOR: And Nic added a lot too.
NEVELDINE: He added a couple of one-liners that were just
FANG: Did he have a lot of input into the overall script?
NEVELDINE: Well, he had so much input as the lead
characters, because he plays Johnny Blaze and Ghost Rider, he is part of the
script. It was kind of an organic process. He studied insects and African
tribal dancing to help him move as the Ghost Rider, so he brought that attitude
to it—doing the cobra and things like that.
TAYLOR: He’s not a by-the-numbers, generic actor who just
comes in and reads the words that are put in front of him. He’s totally invested
in everything, so the story kind of becomes him, and he becomes the story.
FANG: How did collaborating with Cage compare to your
teaming with Jason Statham on the CRANK movies?
NEVELDINE: Well, the movies are completely different,
because CRANK’s ridiculous, but one thing that’s similar is that they’re both
real physical guys. They aren’t afraid to do anything. Jason is more of a
mixed-martial-arts sort of guy in terms of fighting and stuff; that’s how he
tackles things. Nic is equally capable physically, but he also loves to study
his characters and get deep, deep, deep into the psychology of the roles,
whereas Jason will rely on his physical ability. He’s a great actor, he’s a
funny guy, and the difference is just between a Method actor and an action star.
But they’re two of the hardest-working guys we’ve had; they always show up to
set on time, super-respectful, super-professional and not afraid to do what we
want. They crave direction, both of them. They don’t want to do it by
themselves. That’s pretty awesome.
FANG: Was there ever a point where Cage wanted to do
something and you had to rein him in, in terms of either the performance or the
NEVELDINE: Even if something might have been too much of a
performance, we always wanted to shoot it at least five times, because it would
be awesome to watch. It was like sitting in the front row of a Broadway
theater, and for us it was great. I think once or twice, we pulled him back a
little bit. We love the crazy mega-acting Nic does.
TAYLOR: Insurance wouldn’t let the guys do all of their own
stunts, but they did close to all of them. And we always push to try to get as
many real stunts as we can from the actors. It’s just night and day; you can
feel the performance in the action. Not that stunt guys aren’t great actors…but
stunt guys aren’t great actors [laughs]. We had a great stunt team, but there’s
nothing like Nic Cage really giving you a performance right in the middle of
all this chaos.
FANG: He also put on that Kabuki-esque makeup and black
contact lenses to assist the other actors when he was playing the Ghost Rider.
TAYLOR: That was awesome.
NEVELDINE: It was amazing. He didn’t want to just show up on
the set as Nic playing the Ghost Rider, and then the digital head would be put
on later. He wanted to be intimidating to the other actors and really be the
Ghost Rider, and be frightening. He thought the black contacts and the makeup
would help him, and I think they did. In fact, he wouldn’t even talk to us; he
would only whisper to us, through this translation of what the Ghost Rider
meant to him. It was actually a lot of fun.
TAYLOR: It set a tone on set that was palpable. You could
really feel it. When he walked in like that, there was sort of a tension. It
was like there was something bad in the air, and hopefully that bleeds into the
FANG: You also have Ciarán Hinds, who we just saw in THE
WOMAN IN BLACK giving a completely different kind of performance, as the
devilish Roarke. This is the first time I’ve seen him cut loose and go a little
crazy. Was that intentional casting against type?
NEVELDINE: Oh yeah, we wanted him to give this big
performance, and he just wanted to come out and play.
TAYLOR: He had a lot of fun, and pure evil is always better
to play against type. The character who looks evil is never really as
interesting as a guy who looks like Ciarán, who’s so charming and
FANG: It’s the same with Johnny Whitworth, who’s
traditionally handsome and plays this really awful character.
NEVELDINE: It may be a little bit close for Johnny, though [laughs].
Johnny’s great, because he’s troubled in all the best ways an actor should be,
and that came out in all of his nuances in the way he tackled his dual role of
Carrigan and Blackout. He’s another guy who’s fun to watch, he’s electric. He’s
got a lot going on.
FANG: Speaking of taking risks, I’ve seen some of that
behind-the-scenes footage of you shooting scenes while flying around in a
harnesses or racing down the street on rollerblades.
NEVELDINE: Yeah, I liked being on the wires. I didn’t get to
go to Six Flags in the last couple of years, so I do it on set as much as I
can. I’ve done that since CRANK; I’ve been on rollerblades on all our films,
and this one specifically. For GHOST RIDER, I actually had the opportunity to
be on a wire 5 or 600 feet above a cliff, off the edge. I shot the scene with
Idris [Elba] going off the cliff and flipping his motorcycle, which was fun. We
wanted to shoot that in camera and make it look real, and our stunt guy said,
“I think I have a way to do this.” We were all crazy to go through with it, but
it looks great.
TAYLOR: And that’s the best way to convince actors to do the
stuff, if you’re doing it right there with them. Then it’s kind of hard for
them to be like, “OK, I’ll be in my trailer” [laughs].
FANG: Brian, did you also go out on the wires or the
TAYLOR: I don’t do rollerblades; if I tried to do that, I
would be the one getting injured, definitely. But we’ve always tried to put the
cameras as close to the action as possible, and we don’t have a very good sense
of self-preservation. We’re pretty much willing to do anything to get the shot.
That has resulted in some shooting techniques that may be a little scary and
unorthodox to observers, but to us it’s just like, the adrenaline gets going
and you get the shot.
NEVELDINE: I remember on CRANK: HIGH VOLTAGE, Brian and I
were in a helicopter, each out one side with our cameras chasing the motorboat
while Jason was being dragged. At any moment, we could’ve died; I mean, we were
so close to the water, so close to hitting the boat, both hanging out on one
wire. But it looks great, and it feels fun and frenetic because we really did
TAYLOR: This is a cool job. You know, a lot of directors get
a 2nd-unit guy to come in and do all that action stuff, and we’ve never
understood that. We’ve never had a 2nd unit in our whole career, because it’s
like, “Really? Why would you let someone else have all that fun? What are you
doing that day, golfing?” This is awesome; this is why people want to make
movies, to be able to travel to incredible places and…
NEVELDINE: Blow shit up.
TAYLOR: Blow shit up and do this amazing stuff.
TO BE CONTINUED
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