The Inverse Interview

How Werner Herzog and Nic Cage made the trippiest movie of the 21st century

The director reflects on his 2009 cult classic, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans.

Nicolas Cage hallucinates iguanas. That four-word synopsis alone should have filled theaters when Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans was released in 2009. But even the promise of a new film from legendary director Werner Herzog couldn't save this cult classic in the making.

Despite glowing reviews, Port of Call New Orleans got a limited release and earned just over $10 million on a budget of $25M. But 11 years later, Herzog tells Inverse it's still one of my "one of my essential films."

"I have such wonderful memories of making the film," Herzog says in an interview timed to the release of his latest documentary, "and Nicolas Cage what a phenomenal actor he is."

Here's the story of how Herzog and Cage created a "conspiracy" to make one of the 21st century's strangest films, and why they might be ready to do it again.

“He's a gift from God.”
"I have such wonderful memories of making the film."First Look Studios

Loosely inspired by the 1992 crime drama Bad Lieutenant starring Harvey Keitel, Herzog took the basic concept of a corrupt cop and threw out literally everything else. Port of Call New Orleans (terrible name, right?) stars Cage as Terence McDonagh, a New Orleans police sergeant who develops an addiction to painkillers after injuring his back during Hurricane Katrina, leading to some hallucination-tinged interactions with his girlfriend (Eva Mendes) and a murderous gang leader played by the rapper Xzibit.

More than anything, Port of Call New Orleans was an opportunity for Cage to go full Cage. It wasn't the first time the actor revealed his weird side — the Coen Brothers tapped into a similar energy decades earlier in Raising Arizona — but it was Herzog who truly unleashed this manic energy after seeing something special in the inscrutable actor.

"Oh, he's a gift from God," Herzog says of Cage, "and it's fallen into my lap."

It wasn't quite that easy though. As Herzog reveals, the director and actor conspired to make Port of Call New Orleans the way they wanted to.

"There was a conspiracy between the two of us," Herzog says. "He said, 'I'm not gonna sign my contract unless Werner Herzog is on board as a director,' and I said, 'I'm not gonna say my contract unless Nicolas is on board.' And it was a wonderful collaboration."

“He is not the young Latino lover. He wouldn't fit there.”
"He's at his best, his finest performance ever, in my opinion, in Bad Lieutenant."First Look Studios

Will this unlikely duo ever work together again? If Herzog has his way, the answer is an emphatic yes, though only if he comes up with the right part for Cage:

"Immediately, if I have a screenplay. If I have a story where he would fit as leading character or maybe as an antagonist. He is not the young Latino lover. He wouldn't fit there. And I, as an actor, wouldn't fit into a film like that either. I’m good as a villain. He's good in broken characters — well, you know what Nicolas Cage can do. But he's at his best, his finest performance ever, in my opinion, in Bad Lieutenant. And if I have a story, I would not hesitate five seconds to call him up and invite him. I think he would not hesitate to work with me again."

One thing is for sure though, if Cage and Herzog do work together again, it won't be in a superhero movie. Despite the popularity of the genre, when I asked the director if he has any interest in directing a comic book movie, his answer is blunt and surprising.

"No, because I have not read any superhero comics," Herzog says. "I've never been into that. And I have not seen superhero movies. I have seen trailers. I know how they are made, but I do not remember that I saw a single one. No, actually, I haven't."

Herzog's latest film, Fireball: Visitors From Darker Worlds, is streaming now on Apple TV+.

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