Werner Herzog has always had a penchant for bizarre projects which end up as mesmerising finished products, but one of the strangest additions to his illustrious body of work is definitely his 2009 remake of Abel Ferrara’s 1992 neo-noir classic Bad Lieutenant. Starring Nicolas Cage and Eva Mendes among other top names, this particular production ended up angering Ferrara who hoped Herzog would “die in hell” – but it did earn critical acclaim.
During various discussions of Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, Herzog has always maintained that the integral focus of the film’s power revolves around the fantastic powerhouse starring turn by Nicolas Cage. In fact, the director claimed in an interview that neither of them were willing to sign the contract unless the other person was on board.
Herzog said: “Nicolas Cage would not sign the contract unless I was directing the film and I would not sign my contract unless he was the leading character in my film so there was an immediate basis. We never had any contact before but we watched each other’s work. In a way, I think we complemented each other very, very well.”
The filmmaker brought up a comparison between Cage and another actor with whom he had frequently collaborated until the relationship took ugly turns: “Nicolas knew that I would get the very best out of him and I always get the very best out of actors,” he said. “Including [Klaus] Kinski, by the way, who did 205 shitty films but in my films, he is really magnificent.”
Herzog also insisted that they had an instantaneous and deep artistic understanding of each other’s vision despite occasional interruptions: “Cage really trusted me. He said to me on the second day of shooting: ‘Werner, you know, I hate to ask this because I know you cannot stand debating the character development of your figures on screen. You cannot stand the endless debates about this motivation.’ Yes, it’s true. I cannot stand it.”
Continuing the story Herzog added: “He said to me: ‘But one quick question, maybe you will have some sort of a quick answer. Why is the Bad Lieutenant so bad? Is it the drugs? Is it Hurricane Katrina? Is it the corruption of the police force? Is it his messed up family life?’ And I said to him: ‘Don’t enumerate anything, let’s stop it right here. Nicolas, you know, there is such a thing as the bliss of evil. Go for it!’ And he really went for it.”