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

Mandy RLJE FilmsRLJE FilmsNicolas Cage in "Mandy."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.


There aren't many who can top Nicolas Cage in the crazy department, but the actor met his match with 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 one young woman's journey to escape a weird institute run by an even weirder doctor. With the beautiful sets and costumes matched with the trippy music and cinematography, it was evident that Cosmatos was 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 soundtrack (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.

Beyond the Black Rainbow Magnet ReleasingMagnet Releasing"Beyond the Black Rainbow."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 every night he comes home to Mandy (Andrea Riseborough), his true love. However, when a religious cult kills Mandy, Red goes into a psychotic rage, killing everyone (human and supernatural) that was involved in her death. That includes battling bad guys with an axe 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 in the last decade into writing the scripts for the movies.

The loss of his father was particularly tough, seeing his connection to movies. George P. Cosmatos died in 2005 and 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 said of his father to 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 his friend, 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 a 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 as Cage wanted to play Red, though he wanted Cage to play the cult leader Jeremiah. But Cosmatos said it was a dream one night where he saw Cage as Red that sold him that he needed him to play the role.

Panos Cosmatos Mandy RLJE Films finalRLJE Films(L-R) Nicolas Cage and Panos Cosmatos on the set of "Mandy."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, in fact, they came from Cosmatos.The scene when Red goes into the bathroom to take a bottle of vodka he's hid away and beings to chug it, pour it all over his wounds, and scream throughout 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 does 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 what movie he will do 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 is 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."


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