At first, director Werner Herzog was reluctant to make this movie as he was concerned the public would think it was a remake of the 1992 Harvey Keitel film. When screenwriter, William Finkelstein, gave him a solemn oath that it was not a remake, the producers still insisted on calling it ‘Bad Lieutenant’. Herzog wanted to entitle it ‘Port of Call: New Orleans’, and now the film combines both titles.
The movie stars Nicolas Cage as a rogue detective, who is fast and loose with the law – oh yes, he’s also a drug addict who suffers from hallucinations.
We spoke with Werner Herzog two weeks before its opening.
I know you were worried that people might think this movie is a remake of the 1992 film.
Bad Lieutenant was the title of the screenplay, and it was an idea by one of the producers to start a franchise apparently, they owned the title to it. I’d never liked it and tried to have it changed to Port of Call New Orleans, now we have a hybrid. But the question about a remake is off the table since people have seen my film.
There is a lot of humor in this.
I think we always sensed that there was a dark subversive humor in the screenplay, however we emphasized it. [We always felt the more] vile and as debased the character gets the more he should enjoy himself, so there’s such a thing as a bliss of evil that creates a strange humor. It becomes hilarious almost, and people laugh and respond and this is wonderful to see.
Would you tell us about the hallucinogenic scenes.
I love to cast animals in important roles in my films, and the iguanas were a demented fantasy which I liked creating. It came more or less spontaneously. Nicolas Cage very often had complete liberty, like in jazz music, to add his own voice to improvise. So those are the real, convincing and strong moments in the film.
Were there any taboos connected with this film that you couldn’t go?
Taboos, not really, although I always had some hesitation to go too far into drug taking. I have no experience with it and I do not like the culture of drug taking, so that was one thing. I wouldn’t have shown someone injecting heroin into a vein, it’s not my thing.
What was the atmosphere like down there, are they still in recovery mode?
In New Orleans there is a strong sense of recovery. And I do remember very often when we were filming outdoors people would come by and say, ‘Are you making a film here? Welcome, it’s so wonderful that music is coming back, movies are coming here, thank you for doing this.’ You had the sense there was a void that had to be filled, and the void is vibrant culture. That will ultimately be the guiding light of New Orleans’ recovery.
Is the opening sequence in the movie, where Nicolas Cage and Val Kilmer bet how long it will be for a man to drown in the original script?
No, the original script was written for New York, and it started out in the subway with a suicidal man throwing himself in front of an incoming train, and the lieutenant saves him. I thought in New Orleans there’s no subway, and we should start it as vile and as debased as it gets, with the two detectives placing bets how long it will take for the prisoner to drown, however Nicolas finally jumps and saves him.
You said earlier that they wanted to create a franchise.
That was not my idea. I think I wouldn’t be on board. I’m not the man that would do Rocky 7. Yes, it is thinkable because the character is fascinating enough to continue and place him in other situations. I think there is something valid about it.