It took two very different, but equally eccentric talents to put together “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans” – a sort of contemporary take (not a remake) of the 1992 Abel Ferrara film “Bad Lieutenant,” which starred Harvey Keitel. But often overwrought actor Nicolas Cage and loopy director Werner Herzog (“Fitzcarraldo,” “Grizzly Man”) found some common ground.

It took two very different, but equally eccentric talents to put together “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans” – a sort of contemporary take (not a remake) of the 1992 Abel Ferrara film “Bad Lieutenant,” which starred Harvey Keitel.


But often overwrought actor Nicolas Cage and loopy director Werner Herzog (“Fitzcarraldo,” “Grizzly Man”) found some common ground in this story of a cop just trying to do his job, albeit while harboring a short temper and abusing all types of drugs. The film is outrageously tense and violent, mostly way over-the-top and, somehow, quite funny.


Cage likes to refer to their time working together as a very happy marriage.


“Werner would bring things to the set every day that would get my imagination spinning,” Cage says. “And obversely, he would invite me to bring things.”


Herzog, still carrying a thick German accent, adds, “Quite often we did a scene in a so-called normal version, but I had the feeling there was something wilder to it. So I would simply turn to Nicolas and say let’s do it once more, but this time we shall turn the pig loose.”


Cage jumps in. “I never really agreed with that, because I always thought the character was more of a shark than a pig, but Werner had this fascination with pigs.”


Both men start laughing at that, but take the time to compliment each other’s method of working.


“Normally I would shoot an entire scene in one single take – moving the camera from close to wide, weaving in and out,” says Herzog. “Some of the scenes in the film are done in one single shot, and that gives an actor a possibility of a certain rhythm of a certain way to imagine things and project it.”


“Werner is so confident,” says Cage. “And because of that confidence, you can have a scene play in one shot, and you don’t have to do a hundred takes. He knows when it happens, and when he got it, and that liberates the actors, so you feel safe and you feel creative.”


Herzog said that even though the film was going to deal with some serious material, he always sensed that there was something hilarious about it.


“It’s very discreet, how it works,” he says. “There’s not one single moment where it’s obvious. The humor is very subtle. It’s very strange how much people laugh when they see the film. And I’m absolutely, totally pleased with that.”


“It is funny,” insists Cage. “It’s like you’re watching a monkey go nuts. There’s something tragic and shocking and funny about it. I felt that with a title like ‘Bad Lieutenant,’ I would have to ramp it up a little for people. I knew that they would want to see something like a bit of a train wreck of a personality. So the further I can go, the more outrageous the behavior could become, I thought the funnier it would be.


“But I did want to make a movie that would not compel anyone to take drugs,” he adds. “I wanted to make the effect of the drugs really hideous on my face. So the more I could go in that direction, the better I felt about what I was doing.”


Because this is probably the most extreme performance Cage has done since his Oscar-winning turn in “Leaving Las Vegas,” he’s asked if there was any similarity in preparing for the two films.


“The process was quite different,” he says. Then reveals, “On ‘Leaving Las Vegas’ I actually had a drinking coach, who I would study as he got drunk. And then he would administer just the right amount of scotch or sambuca or coffee, depending upon what the scene needed. On ‘Bad Lieutenant,’ the process was a sober one, where I was just trying to look at some impressionistic landscape from 25 years in my past to get some sense of where I wanted to go. It’s much more of the imagination.”


Watch out! Don’t get Cage started talking about acting. He’s been at it since he was 15, and he’s now 45. It’s his biggest passion.


“I try to keep my roles eclectic to keep it fresh,” he says. “I like to make children’s movies that the whole family can go to, because I think that’s a good way to apply myself. But drama is my first love. I like stories about people who are broken in some way, people who are injured by the world. When you tell a story about that, it affects people more deeply, because they can relate.


“Acting has been the lion’s share of my life,” he adds. “It has been my path, my choice to make movies. But it’s like a circus lifestyle. I’m always moving. It’s not always easy for people that live with me, but family is extraordinarily important. One of the reasons I’m working as much as I am right now is because I know that when my young one starts school in earnest, in about a year, then I’m gonna have to stay put. So I’m trying to do as much as I can now.”


The Patriot Ledger