Nicolas Cage talks Mom And Dad, breaking taboos and Hammer horror

“It’s irreverent, it’s punk rock, it’s all wrong!” We talk to Nicolas Cage about playing a killer dad in Brian Taylor’s Mom And Dad

Horror fans are used to killer kid movies. We know the drill. There’s a pasty-faced child, possibly wearing an anorak, almost certainly singing some kind of nursery rhyme, whose angelic demeanour is masking the soul of a psychopath. But while it’s pretty common to see parents wondering what on earth is going on with their suddenly-murderous offspring, it’s rare to see the tables turned. That’s exactly what happens in Mom And Dad, as some kind of mysterious virus turns parents into rampaging monsters whose only mission is to find and murder their child. Add Nicolas Cage in the paternal role and the fact that this movie is written and directed by Brian Taylor, one half of the team who made Crank, and you’ve got something pretty sensational.

Cage goes all-out in a brilliantly unhinged performance as Brent Ryan, a father of two in the midst of an epic mid-life crisis that he’s channelling into hiding from his similarly depressed wife Kendall (Selma Blair, who is superb and matches Cage every step of the way) and remembering the glory days. When the switch happens, Brent and Kendall rediscover their teamwork abilities to stalk their teenage daughter Carly (Anne Winters) and young son Josh (Zackary Arthur). As mad-cap, hilarious and ludicrous as the film gets, there’s a real sharpness to it and a commitment to fleshing out these characters which makes it much more interesting than a lot of high-concept schlock out there.

“Whenever I try to talk about the movie I can’t stop laughing about it,” Cage tells us after cracking up while describing a scene. “Because everything, even in trying to describe it, is completely upside down and out of its mind!”

You’ve worked with Brian Taylor before on the second Ghost Rider, how did he approach you for this?

Well, what happened was, Brian and I, having done Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance, had a terrific working rapport on that. I really like his style, I like his sense of humour, I like the way he works with the camera, he keeps things moving. We had talked about doing something else together and we weren’t able to find anything. He actually asked me to do television with him, which is something that I thought about but wasn’t really ready to do. I kind of wanted to stay making motion pictures as long as possible, and so when he sent me this script to a show called Happy, which I thought was very good by the way, I said I don’t think I’m ready to make the format change. And then about a week later he sent me the script to Mom And Dad, and with a message saying, “Now this is something I think could be absolutely one of the best.”

I read it and within about two hours I called him and said “I’ve gotta make this movie, this is really irreverent, it’s punk rock, it’s hilarious, it’s taboo, it’s all wrong and it’s the kind of thing that I think really, I’ve never seen in a film before.” Probably the most dysfunctional family ever put on celluloid and a great mix of horror and comedy so that I felt that I could apply myself bringing the madness to it that would be a lot of fun for myself to play and hopefully fun for audiences to watch.

But the problem was we couldn’t find anyone to make the movie. Because the subject matter is so taboo that it wasn’t the sort of thing that people with money wanted to back because it was so…not just taboo, but maybe socially distasteful. It took a while to find some people that had the guts to make the movie and then that happened with XYZ so that got the movie back to life again. I knew all along that the film could be a hit, I knew that it could really land with audiences because it’s the kind of thing that people sort of shake their head at a dinner table conversation, “Did you see that movie where these parents start inexplicably trying to kill their kids?” I could see the conversations starting from that and so I always had faith in it.

You’ve seen it with an audience, right? How was it?

Yeah, the first time I saw it with an audience was at the Toronto Film Festival and that was a blast. They were really along for the ride, they knew when the movie was being comical, and they knew when it had to slow down and be more menacing again. And there are moments that are quite explosive and operatic but also moments that are more mundane and quiet and I could tell the audience was with both polarities when they were watching the film in the theatre, and that was a great time.

It does have a wit and intelligence to it, and we do actually get into the characters of the parents…

Yeah, very much so, and Brian has that wit. There was some social commentary going on with the movie. That scene at the school, the teacher’s talking about how the cell phone is obsolete and the idea of planned obsolescence, it’s talking about children and their parents, the parents are going to become obsolete and the kids are going to take over. And the frustrations that come along with middle age and not being the man that you once used to be, and that was something that I could really organically tap into.

And that was all in the script, and the kind of jealousies that occur between parents and their children. The parent is no longer the individual he or she was once, and the children have all their youth and therefore the future and the power, that was part of the conversations that I’m sure people talk about all the time. All that is carefully thought out and Brian carefully wove a horror film around that genuine social commentary.

How did the experience of working with Brian solo compare to working with him and Mark Neveldine on Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance?

Brian and Mark are brothers and they work beautifully together, in different ways they’re bringing something to the table, but I could tell that Brian wanted to try something perhaps on a slightly smaller scale, something from scratch from his own imagination. But what I understood having done Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance with Brian is that he had a real sense of me and my absurdity, and I began to develop a real understanding of his absurdity or style of the absurd. And the pacing of his movies, the rawness, the edge you see in the Crank pictures, and that I would be able to fit into that world.

So everything I did with Brian when it came to Mom And Dad was really carefully designed together, and he would give me the leeway or the space to bring things like the hokeypokey to the sledgehammer pool scene. That wasn’t in the script but we understood each other enough to know that we could try things and if it worked he would use it and if it didn’t work, he would have the good taste to throw it out. And so, I trusted him with that in every way. And I think he trusts me too. So, I guess that’s a long-winded way of saying that there was a shorthand to our teamwork between myself and Brian that got a lot of work done very quickly without wasting a lot of time and energy. We definitely understood each other’s process.

Selma Blair is amazing in the film! Did you enjoy having a partner in the more outrageous scenes?

Absolutely. Selma was magnificent and somebody that has true movie star charisma reminds me a little of in terms of appearance Lauren Bacall, but she really is terrific at small moves and just knowing the right amount to bring in a little bit of irony and also the authenticity of the actual emotions that her mother or that the role of the mother she was playing was going through. And I think she really roots the film, I think it was a great combination, a duet if you will, between some of the more western kabuki operatic places I wanted to go and then this more quiet and more maternal places that Selma wanted to go and I think there was a terrific balance between the two of us together and I think her performance really shines and stands out as kind of the centrepiece of the movie.

Lance Henriksen is a genre movie legend and you two have such a great scene late in the film. How was it working with him?

Well, Lance Henriksen was somebody that I knew a million years ago. Because, believe it or not, at one time Lance and I used to hang out and take acting classes with Mickey Rourke. This was before certainly I was well-known, Mickey was already pretty well-known, but Lance was always friendly with me and we would go to Mickey’s acting classes and then we would go and see movies. I remember he went to see the premiere of Valley Girl with me. I hadn’t seen the movie yet and I didn’t know what was going on, I saw it, I was 20 and I thought it was a disaster, a failure and a total flop, and Lance looked at me, patted me on the back and said “You know what kind of an actor you are” and then I exhaled and I felt better about myself.

I never forgot that moment so when Brian told me that he would have Lance to play my father I thought that was inspired and I really wouldn’t have to act so much because I have those memories with Lance. And of course, the situation between the two of us in the movie is terrifying and hilarious, but I was able to play the stabbing sequence with genuine shock and horror and emotionally distraught place. It was like adding insult to injury that this man who I thought was my loving father was now stabbing me!

How was it working with the child actors in the film? Was it tricky dealing with those more intense sequences?

Yeah, Zackary was terrific. There were some moments with him where I felt like he was getting genuinely scared. And I was always worried, I didn’t want him to become too real but at the same time the way he was playing the part gave the film an authenticity that it was both terrifying but also in between takes I’d make sure that he was OK. We’d talk, and he would let me know that he was alright. But those moments where I’m barking like a werewolf, I could tell they got into his psyche a little bit which I felt somewhat bad about but at the end of the day we were always good, a lot of hugs and it was OK.

Finally, we’ve read that you’re a big Hammer Horror fan and we wanted to ask if you had a particular favourite?

Yeah, I think anything that Terence Fisher did was really the pinnacle of the Hammer horror films because Frankenstein And the Monster From Hell, Curse Of The Werewolf, these movies really went above and beyond just horror in terms of shock value. There was a real emotional story going on, and almost spiritual stories going on in terms of the scenarios and the performances were always excellent. They were always beautifully shot. So, I would say that Terence Fisher was really the main reason I got into the Hammer film collection.

Mom And Dad is in UK cinemas now. Read our review here and keep up with the latest genre news with the new issue of SciFiNow.