Nicolas Cage, a passionate admirer of Walt Disney’s 1940 animated masterpiece Fantasy, which included the iconic segment The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, has teamed up with Jerry Bruckheimer, director Jon Turteltaub and Walt Disney Productions to do a live-action updated version of the story.
Cage portrays Balthazar Blake, a master sorcerer in modern-day Manhattan trying to defend the city from his arch-nemesis, Maxim Horvath (Alfred Molina). Balthazar recruits Dave Stutler (Jay Baruchel), who demonstrates a hidden potential, to be his apprentice, and together they will have destroy Horvath before he decimates the city.
Was your love of Fantasy the reason you were attracted to this project?
The reason this all happened for me was that I began to have an interest in Arthurian mythology and the grail cycle, particularly in ancient England. And I was trying to find a way to make a movie that resonated that, in some way. At the same time I wanted to make (a) family (film).
I’m eclectic, I like the midnight movies as well. But I wanted to make family movies that would entertain parents and their children. 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.
You worked with Jon Turteltaub on the National Treasure franchise. What was it like working with him again on this movie?
Well first of all let it be known that Jon Turteltaub is a really, really good actor. We were in the Beverly Hills High School drama department together, and we both auditioned for the lead in Our Town. And he got the lead, he beat me out. I got to play Constable Warren, which was two lines of dialogue, and he will never let me forget it.
But what is interesting about this, a little bit of the magic of it, is that when the idea was created and developed to do Sorcerer’s Apprentice I wanted Jon to direct the movie. And there was a play happening at Beverly Hills High School and my son was in it.
So there we were in the old seats, in the old drama department, in the theater, watching this Inherit the Wind production, which was good as well. And we were talking about doing Sorcerer’s Apprentice together. So it came full circle. The whole movie has been like that. It has had that magical quality, which is amazing since the movie is about magic.
With the emphasis on 3D, and with so many wonderful 3D movies coming out, this seemed perfect for 3D. Why is it you chose not to make it 3D?
Our dream was to make a movie that aspires to be like The Wizard of Oz and that is 2D. So I think it can still work.
Did you find working with green screen difficult?
Well, acting is imagination; that is what it is all about. So I actually enjoy working with green screen because I can imagine all that stuff happening. I really cut my teeth on a movie I made called Adaptation, where I had to imagine four page dialogue scenes with my twin brother who was nothing more than a tennis ball on stand. So I was really up for it.
I do understand sometimes when actors say, ‘There is no one to talk to.’ Or, ‘You can’t react to (anything).’ There is truth in that, but for me I’ve always enjoyed green screen and blue screen.
What was it like working with Jay Baruchel in this?
Jay, in my opinion, subscribes to what I call ‘jazz-style acting’. He is not afraid to go off the page and improvise and throw something at you. So I could rip with him. And some accidents would happen where you get to a better, even more real, truth. And we kept that going the whole time.
I’ve always believed that the greatest actors are the ones that have the voices that are inimitable. My heroes are like Bogart and Eastwood and Cagney. Edward G Robinson. Marlon Brandon. Jack Nicholson. Jay’s got a voice. And that is hard to have. When you see How to Train your Dragon, it just jumps off at you. He gets in your head and he’s going to be around forever.
Balthazar is very theatrical, can you talk about his movement in the movie?
In terms of the choreography, I remember early on we were talking about Balthazar wearing these two bracelets. And that whenever he made magic he would put the bracelets together and then things would magically happen. But I really felt that it was important that my character use his hands like a conductor. Like magic is coming out of the hands.
That is where Michael Kaplan (the movie’s Costume Designer) so brilliantly offered the idea of all the rings on each finger and using the power ring as opposed to the bracelet. So that was always present on my mind to use that kind of choreography. Like a conductor.
There is group of religious believers that have taken Harry Potter to task for being about witchcraft. And here you actually have occult symbols, and raising the dead. Was it a concern of how deep into the occult you could go?
No. No, no, no. This is a fantasy movie. This is a movie that is designed to make kids smile. To make kids happy. And it is based on one of the great short animated elements to the original Fantasia. That’s it. And that is what we were going for.