Most comic book fans don’t turn out to be badass movie stars like Nicolas Cage. Maybe they can be cult figures like Kevin Smith, but Cage enjoys the best of both worlds. He’s a deep enough actor to delve into the material he plays, but mainstream enough not to turn off the ladies with his intimate knowledge of Ghost Rider. He was right at home when I caught him at Comic-Con talking to the press about playing his favorite comic book character in next year’s film.

“It was wonderful for me because as you know, it’s been a long time I’ve been trying to do it but I’m a big believer that the right character is the one that ultimately happens,” Cage said. “While I enjoyed Superman, I enjoyed the new movie, I think Brandon was the right choice for that part and I absolutely think that Ghost Rider is the right choice for me to play. It’s a better match. I’m glad it worked out this way. I want you all to see it.”

Ghost Rider is the nighttime incarnation of Johnny Blaze, a motorcyclist who made a deal with the devil. When the sun goes down, his face becomes a flaming skull and he wreaks Satan’s justice. Even with all of the comic book mythology, there was still room for Cage to bring his own vision to Johnny Blaze.

“I was invited in early on in the process, so I like to think that I was building it from scratch along with Mark [Stephen Johnson]. As he was writing, we would talk, and even right before we went to film in Australia, we were coming up with ideas to add on to the character. I think traditionalists of the comic book will be happy but we did build up the story and add on to the character. There’s little, what can I call it, habits that he has. He has a fetish for jellybeans. And he reads a lot. But he’s something of a cowboy. Mark was very excited about the western element of the character, harking back to the original Ghost Rider which you’re familiar with that Sam [Elliott] plays.”

Another one of Ghost Rider’s new quirks is an obsession with Karen Carpenter music. “The way I thought of that was, I remember when I was in a dental chair, they always play these very soft, soothing types of music. And Johnny Blaze is sort of like literally sitting in a dental chair every second of the day wondering when he’s gonna, when the devil is gonna come and claim his purchase. So I think he’s constantly trying to relax. So instead of like the urban drinking, chain-smoking, bad ass, I think he’s such a bad ass that he needs to calm down with Karen Carpenter and jellybeans.”

Ghost Rider is just full of pop culture. Playing the demon to whom Johnny sells his soul is the original Easy Rider, Peter Fonda. “I’m such a fan of Peter. I grew up watching Peter Fonda and for me, it was a perfect choice in that he was Captain America and I thought if there was gonna be a Luciferian version of a bike film, then that would be the perfect choice to get Johnny Blaze to sell his soul…Captain America.”

A motorcycle enthusiast himself, Ghost Rider gave Cage a chance to get his kicks. As a new father, he has to cut back on the real life riding. “I’ve since stopped riding as much as I once did because I have a baby boy and I don’t want to inspire him to ride motorcycles, but I do ride, yes.”

His son will eventually reap the benefits of daddy’s Ghost Rider obsession, since he saved all of his comic books. “Oh, absolutely. I would never sell those. They’re in a special room upstairs. Framed and on the wall.”

Perhaps due to his real life Ghost Rider obsession, Cage sports a tattoo of a flaming skull on his arm. He’s vague about whether it is a direct homage. “It’s whatever you want it to be.”

It took so long for Cage to finally land a comic book movie, you’d think he’d be gung ho for Ghost Rider 2. But the consummate actor is careful about his commitments. “My theory on sequels is that they have to be better than the original, so I’m open. I just have to see a script and talk about it. But I love working with Mark and Eva [Mendes]. It would be great to do something again. I just want to make sure we can improve even on the original. Whatever you can do to keep going and make it one step better. I think the original is very good so it would mean a lot of sitting down and thinking about it.”

He would, however, throw his hat into the ring for any other upcoming comic book movies in development. “I think the comic book movie is a wonderful way to entertain a lot of people. People love comic books on film. I knew it was gonna happen. I knew because I was an enthusiast at a young age. I knew with modern technology, when they started taking Batman to the screen and Spider-Man that they were going to be enormous.”

Cage felt right at home showing his movie footage to the fans at Comic-Con. “I feel really excited. I can’t wait go out there and to see all the people, people like me, comic book enthusiasts, comic book freaks. And I’m especially excited to commune with the Ghost Rider family, with our people, the people who love Ghost Rider.”

And though the rights issues between movie studios would be a nightmare, Cage hopes to one day bring together some of Ghost Rider’s Marvel allies and adversaries. “I would like to see it, to actually have the comic book characters team up, because once again I’m speaking to the Ghost Rider family: We all know that Ghost Rider can kick Spider-Man’s ass with one look. I want to see that happen.”

We’ll have to wait until February 2007 to see Ghost Rider.

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