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“Captain Corelli’s Mandolin”: Nicolas Cage Interview

MALIBU, Calif., July 27, 2001 — For every gun he’s brandished, Nicolas Cage has also wooed his share of actresses: Cher in Moonstruck. Kathleen Turner in Peggy Sue Got Married. Sarah Jessica Parker in Honeymoon in Vegas. Meg Ryan in City of Angels, Laura Dern in Wild at Heart, and many more.

But the 46-year-old actor with the gravelly voice and permanent hangdog expression hasn’t done too badly offscreen either: Recently divorced from actress Patricia Arquette, Cage is now dating Lisa Marie Presley. Now he’s about to serenade Penélope Cruz in the wartime romance Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, in which he plays a soldier sent to the Greek island of Cephallonia during the Italian occupation of World War II. The daughter of the town doctor (John Hurt), Pelagia (Cruz), who is engaged to her first love (Christian Bale), resents Corelli’s very presence and his cheerful penchant for making music during wartime. But inevitably, love seeps in — as do the realities of war.

Hollywood.com sat down with the on-screen ladies’ man to discuss the making of Mandolin — and why he always struck out in the game of love.

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How’s your Italian?

Nicolas Cage: Terrible. I’m trying to do something about it, though.

So you’re half Italian [Cage’s father is the brother of director Francis Ford Coppola], but you have to speak in accented English. Was that hard?

Cage: Yes, because I was training myself to speak in an entirely different way, and then wanting to act through that and make it soft and liquid and not stiff. That took time, and fortunately I had a really good vocal coach who with me decided that we would make him from Venice, Italy. And so I would go to Venice and listen to them speak. I love talking with them. I love their attitudes about life. That helped with it. I just tried to do as much as possible. Every time I was on the set, I was speaking in that. Whenever I was on set, I would speak in the accent.

The members of your men’s chorus were authentic Italians, though. Did you learn a lot from them?

Cage: I like them very much. They’re a blast, and they’re good people. It was weird though, because I was definitely the American on the island. There were two of us — John Toll, the director of photography, and myself. I was talking in an Italian accent with these true Italians; I just didn’t want to offend anybody.

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You do a pretty good job on the mandolin though. I bet you’ve got an extensive musical background.

Cage: I don’t, no.

You mean you just learned it for the movie?

Cage: Yeah.

Wow. That’s impressive.

Cage: Well it is and it isn’t … I just went into a focus mode where I was memorizing the four or five songs that they wanted me to play. [As] soon as the movie was over, forget it, I couldn’t play anything. I put it down and it all left my head and that was the end of it.

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But that’s you singing, right?

Cage: Yeah, that’s me singing. But I don’t do that much singing in the movie, do I? I guess maybe
I do, sort of opera.
Penélope Cruz is now the latest actress you get to romance on-screen. How would you rate your wooing methods back in the day?

Cage: I wasn’t any good at that. I was a total nerd. My thing is, I was just too romantic. I was the romantic goofball. I wasn’t cynical enough or harsh enough. I cared too much, so I always made a fool out of myself.

So you got your heart broken a lot?

Cage: Oh yeah, oh God, yeah. Major.

Ah, so it’s nice to be an actor and vicariously live through your characters, since they always get the girl.

Cage: It is nice. You know, I like love stories; I always have. I’ve always responded to that, and maybe one day I’ll direct one. We’ll see.

There’s a critical point in the film where Corelli confesses his feelings for Pelagia, knowing they’re on opposite sides of the war and knowing there’s very little chance they could ever be together. Why do you think he does that?

Cage: I think because he loves her, and he wants to move it forward. He wants to say, “This is how I feel,” and let’s go to the next step.

Yeah, but do you think that makes him naïve about possible repercussions?

Cage: Yeah. I don’t think he was being careful. I think he was sort of going, like, “Damn it all. I love you. I don’t care what the world thinks.” That sort of overly passionate man.

Which is a very Nicolas Cage thing to do, I assume?

Cage: Sure.

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin opens Aug. 17.

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