Here’s our interview with ‘Season of the Witch’ cast members Nicolas Cage, Ron Perlman, Robert Sheehan, Stephen Campbell Moore and newcomer Claire Foy. The supernatural action-adventure film, which hits theaters on January 7, 2011, follows crusaders Behmen (played by Cage) and his closest friend, Felson (portrayed by Perlman), as they desert their mission to fight for the Church. In order to avoid prison time for their desertion, the two are required to accompany a young girl (portrayed by Foy), who’s accused of being a witch and bringing on the Black Plague, to a distant village to stand trial.
Question (Q): This film is deep-rooted in the Crusades. What would you say makes it relevant to today’s world?
Nicolas Cage (NC): Well, I think there’s enormous parallels to be made in all many different parts of politics, and also religion. I don’t want to dwell on it, I’ll leave it up to you guys to sort out.
Ron Perlman (RP): Very, very good answer!
Q: Nic, your first dialogue in the first battle scene with Ron, the two of you were talking about buying drinks after the battle. That seems like a current-day dialogue two guys would have before they compete on a hand-ball court, instead of in the 1300s.
NC: I think there was some desire on the part of the producers to try to give it somewhat of a contemporary feel, to hopefully make it connect to modern-day audiences.
Q: So it was intentional?
RP: Yes. It was an attempt to draw attention to the fact the last thing these guys want to do, before going into their possible last battle, is to draw attention to the heaviness of the situation. It was probably more internal of what warriors do, than allowing themselves to get caught up in something so negative, doom-oriented.
Claire Foy (CF): In a period piece, everyone thinks the characters have to talk in a certain way in order for it to work. I think that’s not really the case. I think it’s a lot more accessible to people if characters have real relationships and behave normally, as opposed to just playing a knight.
Q: Nic, you had said a minute ago that it’s up to us to look at the political-religious parallel. What made you want to do this movie when you read it?
NC: Well, first of all, I really wanted to be in the forest. I had just done a little movie called ‘Bad Lieutenant’ in New Orleans, and it was very hot. I was in these tiny, little humid offices, and I was dreaming about making a movie in the forest. Then this script came along, and I said “I’m going.” I was in the Austrian alps, which was divine, in Hungary. Then I found myself living a dream, because I had always wanted to play a knight. I’ve been doing it since I was very small, in my backyard. It was my dream. That was really the connection. I like to keep it mixed up. I want to keep trying to find new looks, new styles of movies to work in because its been 30 years now. I like to go into different careers. I’m embracing, celebrating the careers of Vincent Price and Christopher Lee, who I was fortunate to work with. (Lee portrays Cardinal D’Ambroise in the movie, and orders Behmen and Felson to make the voyage with the girl.) I liked those movies, they’re sincere. Those are the movies I watch. I thought, maybe now I should try that.
Q: Ron, you’re doing the third season of ‘Sons of Anarchy.’ Do you enjoy playing these parts where you’re invading, arguing with people?
RP: It allows me to do what I’d like to do at home! (laughs) I think one of the lures of the profession is immerse yourself into parts that you’d like to exercise more freely in the real world, but are not able to. You get a chance to be that guy for 10, 12 hours a day, for a time. You get to work out fantasies. The notion of why I have of late seem to be in this pattern of playing very combative characters, they’re the things that come along. Characters that I find that are dynamic and compelling, I take them. There’s really no other criteria besides that for me.
Q: For a period piece like this, did any of you do your own research for this period besides what was in the script?
NC: Well, we weren’t really there! But I tried to open up the imagination of what it may have been like. The truth is, for example, the understanding is that there’s sort of a posh-British accent. But that didn’t happen until his experiences in France, where they were trying to sound more like that. The hypothesis of the sound of those times would have been a little more like early America, the settlers here. There would have been more of a mid-Atlantic sound. Quite a bit of thought went into that. It was interesting to me because I was working with all these brilliant British actors, but they were being made to sound a little bit more Americanized, where I was sounding a tad more European. So it was a strange kind of mix to create a sound that was accurate in the eyes of what we were trying to put together with the producers and the director (Dominic Sena).
Q: Was that your own research?
NC: It was stuff that was discussed and sorted out amongst ourselves.
Q: Nic, you’ve been a master of gun-play, driving cars. Talk about your experiences getting your swordsmanship up.
NC: That was very exciting. I really did enjoy that. The two ways of being a viable knight were the sword and the horse, and if I could get those two down fairly well in training, then maybe you’d go along with me for the ride. That’s also one of the reasons why I became a film actor. I couldn’t really figure out who I wanted to be, and I figured if I could make movies, then I could start learning all these different skills. I could be a boxer, a swordfighter. That’s always interesting to learn these things when you make movies.
Q: Does anyone else want to add about their swordsmanship?
Robert Sheehan (RS): I think it was great that we were brought over two weeks before we started filming. They said, you’re going to learn sword choreography, you’re going to learn how to ride a horse, ride a carriage. We were in Budapest, and we were in the forest, and they said “enjoy yourselves!” We were given these great trainings over the course of two or three weeks before we started shooting. It was just like a gift. We learned all these different skills that I otherwise what have not learned to do, or not have done, or not gotten around to do, because I’m lazy by nature. (laughs)
RP: We had some great second assistant directors. (Fight director) Kevin McCurdy was our swordsman for most of the film. The fight that happens between Felson and Kay (an alter boy, played by Sheehan, who accompanies the men on their trip, as he’s determined to become a knight) was rehearsed for about a month. He set a very specific style of swordplay. Now that I’ve got ‘Conan’ coming out, in one style, there’s all different ways of handling the sword, depending on what the period is, the cultural environment is. Then we have the great Armstrong brothers, Vic and Andy, to choreograph the Crusades sequence. So we really were blessed. We were in great hands. I think it was important for all of us to keep checking with them, “Am I getting this right?” The last thing you want to look like when playing a lifetime warrior, professional soldiers, is a guy from the Bronx playing stickball. (laughs)
RS: I think one thing Kevin had to keep reminding me of is “to stop squinting when the sword comes near your face.” I had to keep my eyes open.
Q: Claire, regarding your character, the witch, did you do any research into witches of any kind?
CF: Yes, I think I had an obligation to because it was something everyone knows about, and there’s so much writing about it. So I did do quite a bit of research. My character wasn’t necessarily that clear-cut in my mind, in the sense that it wasn’t just a story of a witch. There were lots of other things going on in it as well. But it did help, in the ways they behaved, the ways people thought they would behave as a witch. I looked on YouTube very briefly.
RP: And Google Witch. (laughs)
Q: Did you do any improv?
CF: I went onto YouTube for about a second and half, and then was like “No, no, no. That’s not it at all.” If I did that, I thought I would go out of my mind. I wanted to stay sane, and made up a bit.
Q: With the wolf attack, how much of that was real, and how much of that was technology?
NC: That was a scary day, that really was. I had a wolf that was snarling, a real wolf, in my face. I was holding onto him, and was only a foot away. A few things did flash in my mind, that I was going to lose my face, I was going to be bit.
Stephen Campbell Moore (SCM): The guy that was in charge of the wolves was called Zoltan.
CF: Zoltan the wolf man.
Q: How many wolves did he have?
NC: There were six.
Q: A lot of people are spooked by the supernatural. Did anything spooky happen on the set, anything supernatural?
NC: No, nothing comes to mind at this time.
RS: Budapest is a scary place. You think someone’s following you home. But no, nothing.
CF: It was scary enough doing the shoots in the forests, and not being able to see your hand in front of your face, because they put so much fog around.
SCM: We did run off with horses one night. We had this spectacular night shoot. There was a snow storm one night.
CF: It was the opposite of scary.
RS: Stephen Graham (who played Hagamar, a con man who serves as Behmen and Folson’s guide during their journey) had a flambeau in his hand one night, and it set fire. He said “Sh*t!,’ and set fire to the woods, and bolted. There were fun events like that.
NC: Wasn’t there that one sequence, where we were all on horseback, going flat-out on the mud? There wasn’t anything supernatural, but it was dark. Ron had a lot of good jokes, and shared them with me.
SCM: There were a lot of good ones you made up on the spot.
NC: We all got along quite well. It was a good time.
RP: We did some stuff in Shreveport (in Louisiana). I got thrown out of the original hotel. It was the Hilton, and I got thrown out for life. I ended up staying in a casino hotel. There are a lot of casinos in Shreveport. Some supernatural stuff happened to me in that room, but that had nothing to do with the movie. If you want to know what happened, you can check my blogs. I have blogs (laughs). That will be the number one story on there.
NC: Why did you get thrown out?
RP: It’s so unsexy. It’s not like I’m Kurt Cobain, Mick Jagger or Keith Richards getting thrown out of a hotel. So I won’t go into the details. I just like to leave it as I’m never allowed to go back to the Hilton in Shreveport.
NC: I’m amazed I didn’t get thrown out.
RP: I’m always amazed when I don’t get thrown out.
Q: Nic, you talked about your fascination with knights and castles. Since you’ve collected so many things over the years, were you allowed to bring anything home from the set, any props, any costumes?
NC: No. I’m not a collector anymore, that was a different life. I don’t collect.
Q: Does it (his reported recent tax and real estate problems) affect the kind of work you do, what things you’ll choose to do?
NC: I’m making the movies I want to make. I’ve been very blessed that way. I can say every movie I’ve made, I’ve found inspiring, and there’s always something interesting and new in them. I’ve gotten to work with some really talented people on very interesting scripts.
Q: The last year, you’ve been sporting the long hair. Are you happy to be back to the short hair again?
NC: Historically, screen actors and theater actors have always experimented with different looks. Since I do create quite a few movies, I like to keep changing it up, transforming myself. Anything I can do, whether I wear a prosthetic nose, or if I decide to wear a wig in one movie, and don’t wear a wig in another movie, I just like to play dress-up when I’m working. That’s part of the fun of it.
Q: Nic, (Director) Sophia (Coppola, Cage’s cousin) has said that she feels comfortable and in control of her work, but always shows her finished work to her father (director Francis Ford Coppola, Cage’s uncle). Do you ever show your work to anyone for approval or acceptance from any family member?
NC: No. I’m all on my own that way. I’m on a different path, in many different ways. It’s whatever I feel I have a connection with. I don’t really share my work with other folks before.
Q: Nic, are you going back to directing?
NC: I hope so. I don’t really know when exactly, but that’s one of my plans. I really do want to get back to that. I have an idea. I might have someone else direct it for the time being.
Q: Nic, you learned to ride for the film. Have you, or any of the other actors, returned to horseback riding?
NC: No. I can speak for myself, I don’t know what they’ve been doing, but I’d like to get back. I haven’t had the time.
RS: I have, for the past year-and-a-half. I’m quite good now, but I actually lied to Dominic Sena, the director. The actors always lie about it when the directors ask if they can horseback ride. I said, “Of course I can!” I actually can now, which I’m happy and proud of now. I’ve done quite a bit over the past year, year-and-a-half.
Q: Nic, like you mentioned before, you worked with Christopher Lee in the movie. What was it like working with him in a supernatural film?
NC: He was hilarious. He said some very cool things. One of the cool stories he shared with me was he was with some friends in Hollywood in the ’70s, I think it might have been a Hollywood party in Malibu or something. Muhammad Ali said after a fight, “I just want to thank my friend Christopher Lee.” And then Christopher Lee told me that everyone at the party asked, “How did you get Muhammad Ali to do that?” He said “Magic. Black Magic.” I love that about him.
Written by: Karen Benardello