All That Jazz

When Nic Cage and John Woo talk, it's a friendly face-off

The humidity outside, and even inside the Adolphus Hotel's hallways, is stifling, but Nic Cage doesn't sweat it--even in a leather jacket (with requisite fringes), black boots (wrapped in silver chains) and dark jeans, which makes one think he's still Wild at Heart. He's dolled up junket-style, playing mean and lean to the TV cameras and print journalists' tape recorders shuffled through the hotel to play meet-and-greet with the Oscar-winning actor--and (oh, yeah) Windtalkersdirector John Woo and Cage's co-star Adam Beach.

Fifteen minutes with three men--doesn't really garner a lot of meaty info (it's less an interview than cocktail-hour small talk only pretending to be deep and meaningful). One could and should spend hours with either Cage or Woo; their reps and résumés merit more than a few moments shared in a hotel room, where their handlers look on with stopwatches to make sure no one interviewer goes over his allotted 15 minutes. But this is the interview circuit, and these men have a movie to promote: the Woo-directed Windtalkers, in which Cage plays Joe Enders, a physically and psychologically damaged Marine charged with protecting a Navajo codetalker, played by Beach, who previously starred in the art-house hit Smoke Signals. If the film's a bit of a bore--I'm reminded of Tom Carson's comments in the recent Esquire, in which he writes that Windtalkersexists as if to prove only that some men really do look silly in a soldier's helmet--the men who made it are far from it.

This chitchat takes place at a conference table in a hotel suite: From left to right, Cage, Beach and Woo sit across from their interrogator. Cage wears an affable scowl, in addition to his midnight-cowboy garb. Beach is all grins--dude, he's just happy to be here. And Woo, legendary for his work in Hong Kong (A Better Tomorrow, The Killer, Hard-Boiled,for starters) and liked for his work in Hollywood (Hard Target, Face/Off with Cage, Mission: Impossible 2), is warm and open beneath his coat-and-tie facade.


Dallas Observer, to John Woo:Despite the press kit's insistence that this is a departure for you, Windtalkers seems very much of a piece with much of what you've done, especially the Hong Kong films. How do you reconcile this kind of grand-scale World War II epic with what's essentially a very intimate story between Nic and Adam?

John Woo: After Mission: Impossible 2, I really wanted to try something different, to go back to my own style, you know? My movies are always so much concerned about human nature; that kind of topic always attracts me. So when the writers, John Rice and Joe Batteer, pitched their story to me, I was deeply, deeply moved. I almost cried, you know, because before then I had never heard anything about "codetalkers" or Navajo people. After I heard their story, I was so touched by what they had done for the country, their great contribution to the country. So I think this is very brave and patriotic, and the movie's all about friendship. Friendship's always the theme of my movies.

DO:It's funny, because it's often something that's overlooked. They're often described and taken as very visceral action films, but at their core they're all really films about an emotional relationship between male characters, the bonding that goes on between them. And that's sort of why I thought it was inevitable, in some ways, that you and Nic would work together again--because the two of you come at the same ideas from different angles. You both seem obsessed with the idea of men being vulnerable, being naked about their emotions--but always with this veneer of toughness.

Nicolas Cage: Yeah, when I first discovered John's movies, I had an epiphany, 'cause I was, of course, blown away by the choreography, the action, but even more so, I was taken with the acting in his movies--with Chow Yun-Fat and Tony Leung--and I just thought, "These are great actors." They seemed to be dancing in a place that is almost operatic. I've always tried to figure out what the next level is in acting, you know--where can you go; can you think beyond naturalism as a style. You know, like art synthesis: There are other art forms that can become abstract; why not do it with acting? John was really the first director I worked with that understood the idea of going there. In fact, he encouraged it and showed me how when we did Face/Off, and I was just blown away by the performances. Then when he called me about Windtalkers, I saw once again that he was going to transform himself and go into a more documentary style, a more real, natural-style approach.

And that sounded exciting to me, because John's the type of artist that continues to grow and transform, you know, and I see myself still very much as a student of acting. With him, I know I'm going to learn something. So we have a lot of mutual respect on the set, and I think his thematics and his movies appeal to me. I like the themes of emotion and friendship amongst men and bonding, and that kind of loyalty is important to me. I think we understand what the other wants when we work together.

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