Review/Interview: ‘Joe’ director and Nic Cage talk on Southern Culture

Joe,” 117 min.
Rated R for violence, disturbing material, language and some strong sexual content.
Stars: , , and

Rating: 4.5/5

When it comes to actors, they don’t come much more iconic than Nicolas Cage. His résumé includes work with Spike Jonze (“Adaptation”), Martin Scorsese (“Bringing Out the Dead”), the Coen brothers (“Raising Arizona”) and Werner Herzog (“Bad Lieutenant”) among many other notable filmmakers.

After a slew of critical misfires such as “Drive Angry” and “Season of the Witch,” Cage is back in high gear in David Gordon Green’s latest, “Joe.”

In this violent and mesmerizing tale, Cage gives a career-defining performance as an ex-con who’s trying his hardest to steer his life clear of worry and trouble, until he meets a hard-luck kid (Tye Sheridan) who awakens his fierce but protective side.

Last month, the North Texas Daily had the chance to sit down and speak with Cage, Sheridan and Gordon Green at the South by Southwest Film Festival for “Joe,” which is holding a premiere at the Dallas International Film Festival tomorrow night at 7 p.m. at the Angelika Film Center at Mockingbird Station in Dallas.

A lot of the people in the movie feel like real people you picked off the street. Could you talk about the people you used in the movie, particularly Gary Poulter, who plays Tye’s alcoholic father in the movie? He had no acting experience yet stole the show.

David Gordon Green: “I really wanted to have a real, raw, southern authenticity and not have the Hollywood polish. I wanted these characters to feel from a real world, where we’re just dropping in. But outside of Nic, we cast all Texans— people who were living here and had the voice of here.

But yes, the hardest character to cast was the role of Tye’s father in the movie. I knew we needed a movie star with the magnitude of Cage. And I didn’t want the cynical Hollywood villain. I wanted a character that felt sad and had a depth and darkness behind his eyes. And I auditioned a lot of actors — incredible and well-known actors.

But the casting directors met Gary Poulter at a bus stop downtown. He was on the way back from his father’s funeral and was living on the streets. He just had this personality and charisma that you can’t find, that you can’t access with an actor who hasn’t lived it. There was a look in his eye and a texture of his skin, and he was missing half an ear. There were some beautiful qualities in him that for our purposes brought out an authenticity of the role. We had a wonderful time working with that guy.”

Nicolas Cage: “It’s sad because I told Gary to keep it together for just one year, just one year and his life would change dramatically. He would get all kinds of phone calls and make all kinds of movies. Sadly, he passed on two months after we finished the movie.”

There’s a line in the film that really stood out to me: “I can’t get my hands dirty in every little thing that I get.” Do you feel that this idea of getting your hands dirty applies to you, whether it’s your career or otherwise?

Cage: “I certainly understand that line and a need to have a strength. I mean, I have friends – I won’t mention any names – that could be liabilities. They don’t want to go to jail and you don’t want to go with him. So you can’t get your hands dirty in every little thing.“

In the film, you guys do tree poisoning work for a lumber company. What is the most labor-inducing or backbreaking work you’ve done in real life?

Cage: “I used to sell popcorn and tear tickets at a movie theater. That was my first job. And I was trying to figure out how to go from selling tickets and being an usher to being on the screen. I would watch the movies all the time. Then one day, some guy was smoking in the movie theater and my boss told me I had to go tell him to put it out. I went up to the guy and said, ‘I’m sorry, sir, but you’re going to have to put your cigarette out.’ And he just took one big puff and blew all the smoke in my face. I quit. That was the most backbreaking work I’ve ever done.”

Gordon Green: “I’ve done a lot of them. I used to insulate attics. I was the little guy, so they would always send me into all the small spaces. That was in North Carolina, so it was pretty intense in the summer time. I also did a weird job where I worked at a doorknob factory. I could only work 20 hours a week, but they paid you real well to dunk doorknobs in acid. They would bronze these chrome doorknobs. I really worked out my shoulder muscles.”

This film is based on a novel, and with novels filmmakers have to make certain cuts to make the material work as a film. If someone were to make a movie about your life, Nic, what kind of cuts would people make?

Cage: “They wouldn’t make any cuts [Laughs]. I don’t think my life would fit in all of one movie. It would have be an episodic of sorts.”

Gordon Green: “That’s a good question. I like that.”

The film opens April 11.

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