Knowing: Interview with Oscar-Winner Nicolas Cage

In Alex Proyas' new thriller-actioner, a single father, desperately trying to defend his only child, and an old encoded message written by a young schoolgirl are the only things that stand in the way of impending global disaster in the sci-fi thriller Knowing.


From the moment they heard Ryne Douglas Pearson's idea for the screenplay, producing partners Jason Blumenthal and Todd Black knew they had a good story to tell.


Proyas was chosen to direct Knowing based on the singular filmmaking style he has honed since his 1994 breakthrough film, “The Crow.” “We knew we found the right director in Alex,” says Blumenthal. “His vision for this picture far surpassed anything that we could ever realize on the page. He brought in a whole host of scientific, spiritual and philosophical ideas that helped bring the script together.”


For Proyas, the big challenge was finding a balance between the over-the-top action and visual effects of a top-flight thriller and the nuanced emotional journey of his characters. “For me, every film is a big film,” he says. “I, Robot was a hugely complex technical exercise, but every film has its own levels of complexity. The great thing about Knowing is that is it has this bedrock of emotions and human interaction. Reality is what this story is all about what. We don't ask you to suspend disbelief. Everything that we've addressed in this could possibly happen.”


Like Sterling's Twilight Zone


Nicolas Cage, who plays Professor John Koestler, compares the script to an enduring American icon. “The script reminded me of one of Rod Serling's 'Twilight Zone' teleplays, and the powerful feeling that those shows had,” he says. “It's a science fiction-mystery-thriller, but there are also some intensely dramatic moments.”


End of the World on People's Minds


“It's a movie that has the ability to change people's minds,” says Cage. “I remember seeing 'The China Syndrome' as a boy and it made me very aware that nuclear energy was a power to be respected. This calls people's attention to issues that we can all affect in some way. “The end of the world is on people's minds,” he goes on. “We have the power to do it ourselves. The question is, what do you do with that responsibility”


Movies with apocalyptic themes are particularly resonant with audiences because of the environmental issues the world is dealing with, says Byrne. “It's a constant human desire to want to understand as much as we can about how long we're going to be around,” she says. “People have been trying to figure it out forever. And whether it's Mayans or Muslims or Hindus, everyone has a theory on what's going to happen.”


The filmmakers hope that “Knowing” will be the kind of film that starts conversations that continue long after audiences have left the theater. “People go to movies to see something big, something fun, something kind of special that they haven't seen before,” says Blumenthal. “And we think we're giving them that.”


“I believe audiences want to be challenged to come to their own conclusions,” he adds. “This movie has a definitive ending, but it leaves a lot open for debate. A movie that ends when the credits roll is not as important to me as one that keeps you talking when you get in the car. I want people to talk about this movie, and ask themselves, “Would I have done that” This is a story that I believe people are going to want to talk about. And that's the kind of movie that I want to make.”


Cage's Commitment

Oscar Award winner and star Nicolas Cage brings the air of an event to every project he tackles. His commitment and dedication have made him one of the most sought-after actors in the world. “We always knew that Nic Cage was the perfect person to play this part,” says Blumenthal. “Nic brings an intensity, but at the same time an accessibility, to this character that most actors couldn't deliver. I think Nic believes in many of the themes we address in this movie. “


“I also believe there's something about the role and the story that speaks to him emotionally because he's the father of a young son,” continues Blumenthal. “He has a solid understanding of what a father would have to go through and the kind of decisions a father would have to make in this situation.


“He's an amazing person, he's an amazing actor and he brings real humanity to every role he takes on,” adds Blumenthal, who produced The Weather Man, which also starred Cage. “It was also perfect because Nic was a fan of Alex's and Alex was a giant fan of Nic's. Sometimes the planets align properly and everything seems to come together. That's what happened on this film.”


Cage and Proyas both jumped at the chance to collaborate on the project. “I had wanted to work with Nicolas for a long time,” says the director. “It is always exciting to finally get to work with someone you've always wanted to work with.”


For Cage, the combination of the unique and provocative script and Proyas in the director's chair made “Knowing” an irresistible opportunity. “It can be a challenge to find original stories and outlooks. Alex is an original, an artist with a different point of view.”


The actor found the role of John Koestler particularly satisfying from an emotional standpoint. “He's remarkably devoted to his son and he has the added pressure of raising him alone. We don't see the concern that fathers have for their children often enough in movies. That's another one of the reasons I wanted to do this film.


“John's only priority is keeping his son safe,” says Cage. “There's a very emotional moment in the movie when Caleb asks, “Am I gonna die now” And my character says, 'That will not happen. I will not let that happen to you.' He will stop at nothing to fulfill that promise. At that point, the film becomes largely about what John can do to keep his promise.”


Working with Cage, actress Rose Byrne says, always carried the promise of the unexpected. “It was a blast.  Nic is incredibly passionate about what he's doing. You don't really know what to expect. He really threw a curveball at me in our first scene.  We rehearsed it and discussed it, and then he came at it another way, which was really thrilling to figure out. It turned the scene from being quite gentle and subtle into something that was really his character losing it a little bit.  It's exciting to work with Nic because his mind is always one step ahead.”


For his part, Cage was impressed by his leading lady's onscreen authenticity. “Rose is tremendously real,” says the actor.  “She has the emotions required to make the situations in the film so palpable that people in the audience have to go with it. Rose has that ability to draw it as though it's actually happening.”


Two very young actors, Chandler Canterbury and Lara Robinson, shouldered critical roles in Knowing.


The filmmakers went on a major talent hunt for the young actor who would play Caleb Koestler. Chandler Canterbury was nine years old when he shot Knowing. He had already won a Young Artist Award for his appearance on the television drama “Criminal Minds” and worked with Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and Jude Law and Forest Whitaker in “Repossession Mambo.”  “I did my first audition on video and my mom sent it on the Internet like every other audition that I have done,” he says. “Then they asked me to read the whole script so I could learn more about my character. Caleb is very sad because his mom is dead. He can't see eye-to-eye with his dad, but he really loves him. He's smart and he's obsessed with animals.”


The challenge, says producer Blumenthal, was finding a child actor who didn't come off on screen like a child actor.  “He had to be real. There was just something special about Chandler. It was something that we hadn't seen before. It's not that precociousness that you get with a lot of kid actors in Hollywood. Chandler lives in Texas and there's something about not growing up in Hollywood that translates to who he is as an actor.”


Ten-year-old Lara Robinson took on two challenging roles in “Knowing.”  She plays both Lucinda, the little girl who starts everything, as well as Abby, who is Lucinda's granddaughter and one of the keys to the mystery. “I liked playing two characters in the movie,” the Aussie youngster says.  “They were totally different. Lucinda was fun because she's scary and sad and weird.  And Abby's fun because she's normal.”


About her costar, she says, “I would describe Chandler as a good actor.  But he's definitely a boy. He would ask me things like, would I shave my head for a movie Or would I want to take my eyebrows off for a movie Would I want to get rid of an eye for a movie And I would say no to all those questions.”


“Lara and Chandler both were amazing in the way they understood what it takes to make a movie,” says Blumenthal. “They're great because they're real kids. The minute we yell cut, they're back to just being kids.  They're playing and having a good time and they enjoy it.  And there's something so exciting about watching these kids enjoy what they do.”