All That Jazz

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

DO: It's interesting, because this is, in some ways, the antithesis of Face/Off. In this film, yours is a very quiet performance in a lot of ways. It's done mostly with the face, mostly with the sort of buried pain and anguish.

Cage: For me, that was where I wanted to go with John. I have a lot of heroes in film, like Steve McQueen or Clint Eastwood, who have this magical ability to just do very little, and they emanate a great presence. You know, I always wanted to try to aspire, on some level, to be able to capture some aspect of that. With John's help, that's where I was trying to go with all that.

DO, to Woo: This is a film that's deeply rooted in very tiny moments--the look of an eye, the silence of a character. Putting those small moments into a film that is a sweeping epic, yet making it about these people and not just about the things going on around them all the time had to be difficult. As someone who admired Bob Fosse the way you did...

Stephen Vaughan

Cage, sounding surprised: Wow. I didn't know you liked Bob Fosse. That's wonderful.

Woo: Yeah, I love his movies; I love him. I think he's just a real genius.

Cage: Yeah, me, too.

Woo: It's soulful.

Cage: Yeah, All That Jazz.

Woo: I keep watching it all the time, because I saw myself in a movie--the same kind of emotion, the same kind of creative way...

Cage: I want to do that moment with you, where the pencil's behind Roy Scheider's back and it breaks in half...

Woo: Yeah, yeah...

Cage: That would be cool.

Woo: Yeah, you know, I learned so much from that scene. It's so incredible, how could they think it up? The people talking, all silence, no sound, only the sound of him holding the pencil and breaking it. You know, I used that in The Killer.

Cage: Ahhhhh....

Woo: When, uh, Danny Lee...I mean, the inspector of the cops chases the bad guy, and the bad guy runs into the train, and he looks around in slow motion. People are walking by, in slow motion, and there's no sound. All of a sudden, the whole world is quiet and we see him pull out the gun and pull the trigger. Click!

Cage: Wow!

Woo: Then all of a sudden, he sees the bad guy holding a woman, and he just fires one shot--pow! That was from All That Jazz.

Cage: And then you both came from dance, right?

Woo: Yeah. I love dancing. I got so much influence from musicals and, you know, even camera moves and the editing also, also, I learned--or stole--from Bob Fosse.

Cage: Do you think you can take a dance move--an actual step in dance--and think about it for a camera and make a camera move the way a dancer moves?

Woo, excitedly: Yes! Actually, if I have the chance to make a musical, I'm going to do it that way.

Cage: That would be beautiful. That would be amazing. That's extraordinary.

DO: Obviously, that's the way the camera moves--like a dancer--throughout your movies. They are balletic and operatic, musicals without any music. When one watches your films, you're thinking not just about what these people are doing, but about what they're feeling. What's that process been like for you in figuring out how to reconcile, or balance, the action and the emotion?

Woo: Well, you know, while we're shooting a movie like Windtalkers, the first thing is, it's hard to keep the balance with action and drama. It's very, very challenging. When I am shooting on a set, for a drama scene, I will let the actors do whatever they want to do. I will see how they feel, of course, and then I will let them know how I feel. Also, there's no limit. They can use any kind of method to deliver that emotion, so I will shoot all I can get. I like something more than from the script--something very fresh, something very new. So that's why I'm so happy working with Nic. He's such a creative actor. He always gives me a lot of big surprises, a good surprise. Also, it helps to make all the characters so strong, so convincing. After I capture all the great moments, then I decide in the cutting room what all the drama is. Just for myself, I really enjoy the great performance, you know? I love it. Then when I'm shooting an action sequence, it's the same thing as when I'm shooting a drama. I take it very seriously.

DO, to Cage and Beach: When you guys are watching this, when he's talking about letting you have free reign to find your voice, when you then see it edited together for the first time, can you be surprised by your own performance and by things about the characters that perhaps you didn't realize at the time of shooting?

Cage: Absolutely. Especially with John Woo. You see things you don't know how he put it together; it's very magical. It's like you watch the movie as an audience member, just really wowed by it. I don't know how he does it, but he can get so much out of a look. It's all in the details, you know? When you see it cut together, he can take the most far-out concept and make it work, make it actually be cogent in the film. And that's totally a surprise and exciting to watch.

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