Mandy is out this week. Get your tickets here!
In Mandy, Nicolas Cage plays logger Red Miller, who goes on a bloody vengeance quest against the bizarro cult that has destroyed his life. Part of the buzz from festival showings and early reviews is that the movie, directed by Panos Cosmatos, showcases the oft-gonzo Cage at his most out-of-control. Yet Josh C. Waller, who produced the film with his SpectreVision partners Elijah Wood and Daniel Noah (among others), believes that sells it short, and that Cage’s performance offers a lot more.
“The thing is, Nic is not at his most unhinged in Mandy,” Waller tells this writer on the set of his latest project, Adam Egypt Mortimer’s psychological thriller Daniel Isn’t Real. “People have been getting a misread of the film, because obviously the thing everybody wants to shine a light on is, ‘It’s Nic Cage at his craziest! You’ve never seen him like this!’ And that’s kind of the opposite of the message we want to push, especially Panos. He didn’t want the film to get lumped in with other crazy Nic Cage movies, you know? Not that they’re bad or anything, it’s just that Mandy has so much more to it. I think that sometimes when people watch Mandy, it takes them a little while to adjust, because they go in expecting to see ‘Cage rage’ or whatever they call it, and the first hour-plus is setup and character-building and not some crazy, violent thing.”
Waller believes that this carry-over rep is partially due to directors of Cage’s past vehicles leaving his subtler side on the cutting room floor. “Nic is one of the most committed actors I’ve ever witnessed in my life. He’s going to give you what you want, and he’s going to give you new things you don’t think you want, and if you’re a lesser filmmaker, you’re not going to know what to do with it. You better know what the fuck you’re doing, because he knows what he’s doing, and then it’s up to you to figure out how to best use what he gives you. And I believe that where some people go wrong is, they just embrace the crazy part and put it in their films, and they don’t use all the nuanced parts of his performances—which he does give you. Any film you’ve seen where it’s just ‘crazy Nic Cage’ all the time, you can be sure he gave the filmmakers other shit to work with. There are probably quiet moments and somber moments where he’s not saying anything, where he’s not being crazy, and the filmmakers just used the crazy stuff.”
Waller and his SpectreVision partners discovered Cosmatos back in 2011 while at Fantastic Fest, where the director was screening his debut feature Beyond the Black Rainbow. Over the course of Mandy’s long development, the producers, who are also backing Richard Stanley’s upcoming H.P. Lovecraft adaptation The Colour Out of Space, snagged the late Oscar-nominated composer Jóhann Jóhannsson (Sicario) to do the film’s music. “We’d worked with him a bunch before,” Waller recalls, “and not long after we started working on Mandy with Panos and Aaron [Stewart-Ahn, co-scripter], we were talking with Jóhann, and he asked, ‘Aren’t you guys doing Panos Cosmatos’ new film, and also Richard Stanley’s?’ We were like, ‘Yes, we are,’ and he asked, ‘Do you have a composer for those? Can I read them?’ We said, ‘Yeah, hell yeah,’ and he came aboard because of his obsession with Black Rainbow. And I didn’t realize until later that Richard Stanley was one of a few directors who had filmed little pieces of a music video for Jóhann only a few years ago, for a track called ‘The Sun’s Gone Dim and the Sky’s Turned’…something depressing [laughs]. Jóhann was like, ‘Did you know that Richard shot this?’ ”
Jóhannsson died this past February, before he could collaborate with Stanley on the long-mooted The Colour Out of Space, which Waller says is getting very close to going before the cameras. “It’s moving along. We announced that we were going to be doing it, what, three years ago? Let’s just say that we’re getting a lot closer. Significantly closer. Like, it’s coming up, so I will be busy with Richard on set with that sometime in the near future.”
When he is, he vows that SpectreVision will give Stanley the support he famously did not receive on the notoriously ill-fated The Island of Dr. Moreau. “He got a bad rep because of what happened on Moreau,” Waller says, “and to me, Moreau is nothing more than an example of bad producing. It’s not his fault, what happened there, and when you watch [David Gregory’s documentary] Lost Soul, you’re like, ‘You fucking assholes, throwing him under the bus!’ It was an opportunity for some experienced producers and studio execs to work with a gifted young filmmaker, and help cradle him into the next phase of his career—not to be like, ‘Huh, why does this little gifted indie filmmaker not know how to handle all this money and all this pressure?’ It’s like, ‘Well, of course he fuckin’ doesn’t know how to handle this shit. He’s never done this before.’ You’ve got to nurture, and it hurt him for many years. Not just in the public eye, but I think it hurt him; it instilled in him a bit of doubt that he didn’t have the vision he clearly has.
“So part of our main goal with Colour will be to let him know that all producers aren’t dicks, and that some of us actually, 100 percent just want what’s best for him and the film. You don’t necessarily always align; sometimes filmmakers can get too focused on certain things to the point that they don’t know what’s best for the movie in the moment, and that’s when producers come into play. Good producers, where there’s a real strong sense of trust, where I can walk up to Adam or Panos and be like, ‘I love you, I think you’re amazing, I think you’re brilliant. This is a bad idea.’ [Laughs] You know what I mean? There’s a way of talking to artists that can be beneficial to them, where you can make the exact same point you’re trying to get across to them, and say it in a different tone. It’s like parenting, I would imagine; you can ask your child to do something politely and nicely, or you can yell at them and scold them, and then they just close off. Richard has been amazing, and I can’t wait to be on that set with him.”