Nicolas Cage on new role in "Army of One": Most "gonzo" since "Raising Arizona"

Nicolas Cage is infamous for playing outlandish characters on screen, so it makes perfect sense that the actor took on the role of Gary Faulkner -- the real-life construction worker who tried to hunt down Osama Bin Laden by himself in 2010 -- in the new movie “Army of One.” 

Cage talked to CBS News about how he got ready to play the man at the center of one of 2010’s most bizarre news stories, his new heist movie, “Dog Eat Dog,” and his favorite possession.

What attracted you to “Army of One” and the character of Gary Faulkner?  

Well he was a character that was, as you know, a true person and unlike anything I’d played before. I think you’d have to go all the way back to “Raising Arizona” to get something so gonzo. This was so far into another realm that I felt challenged by it.

Larry Charles is one of the great minds of comedy today, directing “Borat” and producing “Seinfeld” and writing some of the best scripts. I wanted to work with him and I thought the movie had a great cast. I couldn’t ask for more blue-chip comedians than Russell Brand and Wendi McLendon-Covey and Rainn Wilson. They were all top of the game. I thought it was really a stretch for me to play this character -- it challenged me.  

How did you prepare for your role?

I got ready for it by first and foremost interviewing the real Gary Faulkner for about three hours in person. I would go through it -- all the tapes -- and it was a lot every day, for about a month. Then I stopped working out and started drinking hard cider and eating cheddar cheese in England so I could get a pot belly. I let my hair grow gray and got extensions and let the beard go gray so I could create a look that would be right for the role and really try to understand him and get into his psyche, his emotional content from his childhood, and it became clear to me that Gary Faulkner is a very edgy guy.

He’s someone that when you’re in a room with him, anything could happen, but he also doesn’t stop talking, so I knew this would be a high-energy, manic, exhausting part to play. It’s just verbal diarrhea. He just goes and does not stop, and I was thankful when the movie was over because I was wiped out by the end of it so much so that when [director] Paul Schrader called me to play a crazy character in “Dog Eat Dog,” I said, “I just played a wild guy. I’d rather play Troy.” So it was an experience.

Verbal diarrhea. So was there a lot of improvising, then? Or did you follow the script?

Here’s the thing. When I first got it, it was a script with literally about three pages of the scenario, where the character was going to go, details of the character, and then we had these interviews with the actual Faulkner. Larry and I then got a proper script after that and he put things into the script based on the interview with Gary.

But Larry and I both decided we were going to have some fun and keep Gary Faulkner in the fun zone, because the real Faulkner is pretty edgy and we had to find ways to keep him likable and give him some poignance.

There are some emotional things happening to Gary with his life and the misguided nature of his mission that make him kind a tragic character, a tragic comedy. A lot of this movie was improvised, mostly the stuff with Wendi, but a lot of it was on the page. For example, the scene where I’m getting dialysis and meeting Russell Brand’s God for the first time, that was all scripted and it went on and on and on.

Has the real Gary seen the movie yet?

I don’t know and I have no idea what his response would be if he did.

Gary believes he has a God-given purpose. Have you ever felt that way in life? That you had some general greater purpose?

No. I don’t think Gary Faulkner and I really have any similarities at all, except I did once have a samurai sword and I used to use it with grapefruits and slice them up. I got pretty good at it. And then he was doing the same thing, so that was pretty bizarre, but no. I do feel blessed that I had the opportunity to work in movies, which I felt called to at a very young age and that was my passion and still is. I keep trying to find characters to life and give audiences something to enjoy on some level.

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Nicolas Cage and Willem Dafoe star in “Dog Eat Dog.” Image Entertainment

In “Dog Eat Dog,” your character, an ex-con named Troy, thinks he’s just like Humphrey Bogart. Where did that come from?  

The thing with Troy was I wanted to give him some twist so he was special in some way. It wasn’t that he thinks he’s like Bogart as much as he aspires to be Bogart. He wishes he could be him. Of the three [characters], he’s better dressed. He has no tattoos even though they say 90 percent of inmates have it but I say Troy doesn’t because he wants to be a Golden Age movie star. That’s what he aspires to be in his criminal mind. He was trying to figure out how to elevate his position in life.

It wasn’t in the script. It evolved as we were going and thankfully Paul let me do it because I guess he was in a different mindset than with his other movies. He was all about “do not bore your audience and let’s take chances.” I’m very proud of it. I really am. It takes a while for people to look back and feel the aftertaste but it’s something special.

You’re known for being a collector. What is your most prized possession?

I have an old car. It’s in England, actually -- a 1964 Rolls-Royce Silver Cloud. I call her Vera -- she’s the same age as me -- and I like wafting around the English countryside in that car. I would have to say Vera is.

“Dog Eat Dog” will be in theaters in Los Angeles and New York on Nov. 4, with a theatrical expansion, VOD and Digital HD on Nov. 11.

“Army of One” will be in limited theaters and available on Digital HD on Nov. 4 and on VOD, DVD and Blu-ray on Nov. 15.