Nicolas Cage On The Old Way And Looking To Charles Bronson For Inspiration [Exclusive Interview]

I read that “Once Upon a Time in the West” is one of your favorite movies of all time.

Yeah. Yeah, one of them.

It’s one of mine as well. This being your first Western, for the role of Colton Briggs, I’m curious as to who you looked to for influences in portraying this character?

Charles Bronson, Charles Bronson, and Charles Bronson. I think “Once Upon a Time in the West” might even be my favorite movie. I think his performance as Harmonica is arguably one of my top five favorite performances ever because he was able to, with [director Sergio] Leone, convey so much and do so little, and it looked like he meant it. He’s acting opposite Henry Fonda, who is a hugely lauded film actor, with “Young Mr. Lincoln” and “The Grapes of Wrath” and all that -– even “The Oxbow Incident.” But Bronson don’t give a s***. I mean, just like, “Well, you’ve got a Purple Heart, and you almost got shot down in a B-52. You’re on set. You’re looking in his eyes, and you mean it.” I grew up watching that. When I got invited to do Colton Briggs, yeah, he was always on my mind. I don’t know if I got close to that, but that’s certainly what I was aspiring to.

Colton lends himself to that because he’s a spooky character. He has a condition. His daughter, Brooke, has a condition. They can’t feel love. They have to act like they’re laughing at jokes. They have to act like they’re crying at funerals. And they both have a propensity towards violence. And yet, somehow … what really brought me into the movie … somehow they learn to love and love one another. And I think that, yes, it’s framed as a Western, and it’s in the West, and the clothes are Western, and the period is Western, but ultimately, it’s an independently spirited family drama, which is my favorite genre.

He’s a reformed murderer who then lapses for very understandable reasons. How do you tap into that kind of pain and unsettledness?

It’s always a nebulous and difficult thing to quantify. There’s a little element of magic to it. It’s like I remember when I was doing the monologue, which I prepared ad nauseam for. It’s a small movie, and you don’t get a lot of takes, and you don’t have a lot of time. So I had to be ready with the dialogue. But that night, Ryan and I walked out to the set, and they had the campfire going, and there was a full moon, and it was like, “Oh.” It just happened. I had the libretto, but the location and the atmosphere really informed the performance. I just took it all in, what I was seeing, what I was feeling, where I was, and with Ryan and her performance. That’s a hard thing to really try to articulate because so much of it is a mystery, even to me still. It’s about imagination. It’s about being open to your environment. It’s about dreams. It’s about what you’re feeling in the moment and what you felt in the past.

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