Knowing's Nicolas Cage on sci-fi, plane crashes and seeing the future

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Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

In the second part of our interview with Knowing star Nicolas Cage, he talks about the appeal of sci-fi, working with director Alex Proyas, shooting the film's pivotal post-plane-crash sequence, and what he'd do with the power to see into the future. (Part one posted yesterday.)

The sci-fi thriller, which opens on March 20, explores what happens when papers in a 50-year-old time capsule are revealed to contain predictions of every major disaster since it was buried--as well as prophecies of disasters yet to come. Cage plays John Koestler, a professor who attempts to stop predictions of upcoming disasters from becoming reality.

Cage spoke to journalists this past weekend in New York, and the following are edited excerpts from the interview. Knowing opens March 20.

What about science fiction as a genre appeals to you?

Cage: Well, good science fiction is intelligent. It asks big questions that are on people's minds. It's not impossible. It has some sort of root in the abstract. So automatically you're getting closer to potentially divine sources of interest, because it is abstract. It's one of the only ways that a film actor can express himself in the abstract and have audiences still go along for the ride. They don't contend it. They accept it, that they're going to go places that are a bit more of the imagination, a bit more out there, and that's more and more where I like to dance.

The other thing is that I got a little tired of movies where I had to shoot people, and I got to thinking about the power of film and what that power is. The power is, in fact, that it really can change people's minds. I had that experience with The China Syndrome. It made me aware. So I thought if it was this powerful, the power to change people's minds, then perhaps I should just be a little more responsible with that power. That's not to say that I don't believe in freedom of speech. I do. It's just that at this point in my life, in my interests, I would rather entertain you with the spectacle and with the imagination as opposed to servicing your bloodlust appetites. But that's not to say that I might not find myself in that situation again. There are ways of doing it, even by showing it where it can be ironic, and there can be awareness in that as well. Just not gratuitous in the sense that I want you to get off by watching someone's head explode.

Director Alex Proyas has talked about the value of the rehearsal process and insists on it. Does that help you, too? And did Alex allow any improvisation or let you put your spin on things?

Cage: Yeah, I generally do enjoy the rehearsal process, because that's where you can share your ideas, get your thoughts and feelings out and see whether or not they're going to land, whether or not people are going to agree with them, particularly the director. So you can sort out in that process any elements that need to be sorted out before you're on the set. And, of course, that saves time and it also makes everyone more comfortable working together. And, yes, Alex is the sort of director that's open to suggestions and makes you feel comfortable, relaxed enough to be able to create. It's quite liberating, and he was open to various ideas.

This film talks about randomness versus fate, science versus fate. Do you think there's room for both those phenomena on the same side of the coin or are they always going to be diametrically opposed?

Cage: Without impinging on your own personal choice, there are going to be those that wear the hat of religion and those that wear the hat of science, and I still don't really understand why they can't wear both hats because personally I think that they go beautifully together.

Can you talk about filming the plane sequence? How much of that was real and how much was CGI?

Cage: That particular sequence, with the exception of the plane [crash] itself, was all real. It was one shot, and we rehearsed it all day long. That made it both easier for me to do the scene and also really difficult. ... It was easy in that those were real people, and I was genuinely scared for them. So I didn't have to act that. You are actually seeing a guy who's terrified, because those are people who are on fire. They're stunt people, but they're still people, and I took it personally that none of them get hurt. So I had to really rehearse it all day and get to the end of the shot without any mistakes, because I didn't want to go back to the beginning again and have them light those people on fire again. I don't care if they get paid again. I was worried about them. That was the difficult part of it, making sure that no one got hurt.

How do you think you would handle the gift of knowing the future like this movie deals with?

Cage: I think that for me I would want to know, when it came to my children, if there was a way that I could prevent something. I don't think there's anything that would take over my parental survival instincts. But other than that I like surprises. I think that if we knew everything that was going to happen it would be very, very boring.