It may seem like every day that Nicolas Cage releases a new movie, but it's far less frequent that critics and reporters get to talk to him about them. His latest is The Sorcerer's Apprentice, in which he plays an age-old caster of spells who stumbles across a protégé, played by Jay Baruchel, who can possibly carry his wand (and we mean that literally). What's interesting about Cage is the way in which he really constructs his character, a kind of method beneath the seeming madness, and in the film, which is directed by his National Treasure helmer (and longtime friend) Jon Turtletaub, the actor turns in a predictably, uh, unpredictable, but always watchable performance as Balthazar.
Cinematical spoke to the cast and crew at The Sorcerer's Apprentice Los Angeles press day, where Cage, Baruchel, and Turtletaub described their experiences making the film. But rather than simply providing a prosaic rundown of all of their comments, we've picked a few choice quotes that reveal the most important and interesting facets about the movie.
1. Although The Sorcerer's Apprentice marks Nicolas Cage's first sort of full-fledged fantasy film (not counting Ghost Rider, because who wants to), the subject matter was something that dovetailed into both longtime and short-term interests. "The reason this all happened for me was that I had an interest in Arthurian mythology, and the Grail cycle, and particularly, ancient England," Cage explained. "I was trying to find a way to start making a movie that resonated that in some way. At the same time, I'm eclectic, [and] I like the midnight movies as well, but I wanted to make family movies that would entertain parents and their children - give them both something to look forward to, congregate together, and smile together. So it made sense to me that if I could do a character that relied on magic, and not bullets, I could entertain the family. And Jon has always made positive movies that never resorted to gratuitous violence or gunplay - that's his vision, and he's made people happy, so I knew he was the right director for it because of our experience together with National Treasure. And, well, I've made seven movies with Jerry, and he always entertains the world; nobody can make a movie as exciting as Jerry Bruckheimer. You know when it's a Jerry Bruckheimer movie that it's going to have lots of chrome and gloss, it's going to be sexy, and it's going to be big and fun. So he put it on a fast track, and that's how it happened.
2. Notwithstanding their longtime friendship and creative collaborations, Turtletaub felt equally confident that Cage was right as the movie's leading man. "Nic is a powerful presence, as a person," Turtletaub explained. "He has an intensity, and there's something very strong and masculine about Nic, actually, that you feel when you're around him. It was really important that this sorcerer be a daunting and intimidating figure. We always feel safest, I think, around the most dangerous person who's on your side, more than the nice good person who's on your side. And Nic really is able to bring all that without losing that sensitivity and heart, and a sense of goodness, because that's Nic. Nic as a person, and I think most actors do this, they draw on the elements in themselves that feel right for that character, and then pick the spots to push a little more."
3. Meanwhile, Balthazar's apprentice, played by Baruchel, is stepping into a considerable legacy given the foundations of the film in Disney's opus Fantasia, and the young actor didn't take that challenge lightly. There's a gravity to it, it's not lost on me," Baruchel confessed. "When we were shooting the sorcerer sequence, the famous Fantasia sequence, doing our version of it, where the mops come to life, every day I came to work, I was like, "You reeeeally can't mess this up." Worst-case scenario, anytime someone else sees the cartoon Fantasia, I will be irrevocably connected to – "that punk kid," or how terrible that was. This sounds cheesy, but I felt like the ghost of my grandparents were kind of watching me. When you're paying homage to one of the more iconic sequences in film history, it's like, right up there with those people making out on the beach in From Here to Eternity - it's a big one, you know? I tried my best to fulfill everything I had to do in terms of paying homage to the character and the sequence, whilst looking for moments I could maybe do my own thing with. But I was scared sh*tless.
4. Knowing that modern magic often gets a bad rap, Turtletaub enlisted actor Toby Kebbell to provide a comic interpretation of the opportunism and empty spectacle of contemporary illusionists. "Without getting into too much trouble, we wanted to mock really what magic has become in our day and age," Turtletaub admitted. "Magic has a spiritual element, and is considered very important and of value, and magicians have always been a little bit silly, so if you're going to portray a modern day magician, there's got to be a little silliness, I would say. And even a counter-magician like David Blaine, it can get silly after a while. That's when we turned to Toby, who created somebody."
5. Ultimately, however, the most important legacy to live up to was the animated short from Fantasia, which Baruchel said was not only an influence but an essential point of inspiration. "Anytime you're referencing or paying homage to something that has meant a lot to a lot of people for many generations, you've got to approach it with a degree of reverence," he insisted. "I'd like to say that we have a really great seed to start from, because The Sorcerer's Apprentice sequence in Fantasia is the seed to our oak tree, and you can pick a lot worse seeds to start from. If we failed, it would have been a big, big, big mess, because "Sorcerer's Apprentice" is two words that have meant a lot to a lot of people for a long time, and hopefully we've given them what they're used to, and then some.