Nicolas Cage gives a wild and unhinged performance in his new movie, ‘Mandy,’ and the dark past of its director was the inspiration

Nicolas Cage in

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Nicolas Cage in “Mandy.”
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RLJE Films

  • Nicolas Cage gives one of his most insane performances in “Mandy.”
  • But it’s the director of the movie, Panos Cosmatos, and coping with the passing of his parents, that led to Cage’s wild role.

Few can top Nicolas Cage in the crazy department, but the actor met his match with the director Panos Cosmatos.

The filmmaker has built a fan base thanks to his beautifully demented storytelling, and that’s only with one feature film under his belt.

2010’s “Beyond the Black Rainbow,” Cosmatos’ feature debut, gave audiences a twisted and visually stunning sci-fi movie about a young woman’s journey to escape a weird institute run by an even weirder doctor. The beautiful sets and costumes matched with the trippy music and cinematography to help introduce Cosmatos as a new original voice to genre filmmaking.

Eight years later, Cosmatos has finally returned with a new movie, “Mandy” (opening in theaters on Friday). And though this one continues his love of strange characters, gorgeous visuals, and thrilling soundtracks (this time using rock and roll versus the electronica sound of “Black Rainbow”), it will get a bigger profile with the casting of Cage as the star of the movie.

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“Beyond the Black Rainbow.”
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Magnet Releasing

Here Cage plays Red Miller, a quiet man who lives in California’s Shadow Mountains, where he cuts down trees with a chainsaw all day and comes home every night to Mandy (Andrea Riseborough), his true love. But when a religious cult kills Mandy, Red goes into a psychotic rage, killing everyone (human and supernatural) who was involved in her death. That includes battling bad guys with an ax he built himself and having a chainsaw duel.

But behind the insanity in both “Beyond the Black Rainbow” and “Mandy” is a lot of pain. Cosmatos channeled the depression of losing both of his parents into writing the scripts for the movies.

The death of his father in 2005 was particularly tough, seeing his connection to movies. George P. Cosmatos was the director of such classic Hollywood titles as “Rambo: First Blood Part II,” “Cobra,” “Leviathan,” and “Tombstone.”

“My love of movies comes from him,” Cosmatos told Business Insider. “He loved movies more than anything. He was obsessed with them. We watched them together up until the end.”

He said blackout drinking binges with friends was how he dealt with the loss of his mother, but after his father died he turned to storytelling, writing “Black Rainbow” and “Mandy” simultaneously.

“I wasn’t aware of the therapeutic aspect of it at the time, but it helped me get through in a big way,” Cosmatos said of the scriptwriting.

“Black Rainbow” got off the ground quicker financially, so it was made first. When Cosmatos went back to the “Mandy” script, he realized he couldn’t finish it.

“Me writing ‘Black Rainbow’ was me alone in a windowless room going insane,” he said. For “Mandy” he needed to be collaborative.

He brought on a friend, the filmmaker Aaron Stewart-Ahn, to finish the script with him. And Cosmatos also felt that once he cast the Red Miller part there would also be collaboration there.

Though it would take years, the money to make “Mandy” finally came when Cage signed on. Cosmatos said at first the two had an impasse over whether Cage would play Red, as the actor wanted, or the cult leader Jeremiah. But Cosmatos said a dream one night (in which Cage was Red) sold him on Cage playing the role.

Cage and Panos Cosmatos on the set of

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Cage and Panos Cosmatos on the set of “Mandy.”
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RLJE Films

The two got together and fleshed out the rest of the Red character. And though some of the most bizarre parts of the movie seem like classic Cage, they in fact came from Cosmatos.

A scene in which Red enters a bathroom, recovers a bottle of vodka he had hid away, and begins to chug it, pour it over his wounds, and scream was all Cosmatos’ idea.

“I always wanted to have a scene that felt like that lost decade of mine and evokes me drinking with my friends in a desperate attempt to black out my consciousness,” he said.

And there’s the first line Cage delivers in the movie. He walks into the house, sees Mandy, and delivers a knock-knock joke:

Red: Knock-knock.

Mandy: Who’s there?

Red: Erik Estrada.

Mandy: Erik Estrada who?

Red: Erik Estrada from “CHiPs.”

That was not improvised but from the script.

“When he came on the movie I went through the script and rewrote some of the dialogue,” Cosmatos said, pointing out that the knock-knock joke was something his friend said that he never forgot. “Some of the things I just wanted to hear Nicolas Cage deliver.”

Cosmatos doesn’t know which movie he will pursue next. In many ways his first two movies have gotten him over the dark times in his life. But one thing he knows for sure, he says, is that he won’t be doing anything for a Hollywood studio. That’s one of his biggest memories from watching his father work when he was a kid.

“What I learned about the industry was listening to him argue with people on the phone,” he said. “Battling with producers and executives for creative freedom. That’s very important to me.”