‘The Hokey Pokey’ powers Nicolas Cage into an acting frenzy

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Nicolas Cage attends the “Mom and Dad” premiere during the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 9, 2017. | Phillip Faraone/Getty Images

Nicolas Cage is terrific at playing crazy on-screen.

And boy does he ever in “Mom and Dad,” director Brian Taylor’s new comedic horror film in which parents suddenly have an insatiable desire to kill their children. Cage is one of the parents, and he does not hold back in his performance.

An Oscar winner for “Leaving Las Vegas” in 1995, Cage often has fallen victim to that strange post-Oscar malady of making bizarre choices. But he’s also been terrific in films like “Adaptation,” “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans” and “Joe.”

In talking about “Mom and Dad” (now showing at Facets Cinematheque and AMC South Barrington, and on demand), he gave ample evidence that you should probably never, ever ask him to sing “The Hokey Pokey.”

Q: Is it fun to play a role like this that’s so over the top?

A: Oh yeah. It’s a lot of fun. I wanted it to be fun for the audience. I wanted to take the audience on a ride, knowing how absurd and how black the humor was, in terms of the whole situation, in terms of performance. I wanted to try and see if I could bring a level of menace and marry it to a level of comedy simultaneously, so that it would go in all kinds of different directions and hopefully have some sparks to it that would let the audience know that this was an ironic movie, and this was a horror movie, but of the most dark, comedic sort – and that it was OK to laugh because of the absurdity of the situation.

ROEPER’S REVIEW: ‘Mom and Dad’ has fun with a crazy premise

Q: How do you balance the intensity and the comedy?

A: I had the luxury of working with a filmmaker that I’d worked with before, Brian Taylor, and I understood that his tastes and also his delight with absurdist situations, no matter how dark the material might be, and I knew pretty well where I was going to go. I would add certain things to the performance, which he knew I would do, because we trust each other. It’s nice to work with a filmmaker that you can have kind of a shorthand, jazz-style process with, and riff back and forth with his vision and let me try to find things and bring it to the character.

Q: Such as?

A: For example, the scene with the sledgehammer [destroying] the pool table, I mean, that’s a moment where [his character] Brent is deeply frustrated and angry. I thought about “The Hokey Pokey,” because when I was in kindergarten they would make me and my friends do that stupid thing. And I knew at a very early age that the bureau of education had designed that song to separate the discoordinated childen from the coordinated children — you put your right foot in, you take it out, you turn — and I wasn’t discoordinated but I have friends who were discoordinated, and I knew what was going on and it really pissed me off. And I thought, well, I’ll just sing “The Hokey Pokey” because that’s probably my least favorite song in the universe and it really makes me angry and it will probably help inform the performance (laughs).

Q: But there is, in addition to the humor, some real danger – he is swinging a sledgehammer, after all.

A: Yeah. And at the end of that scene I was just exhausted. I couldn’t talk. I couldn’t really get up. I was just sitting there panting. I put everything I had into it. I think Brian enjoyed watching it.

An infected couple (Selma Blair and Nicolas Cage) feel compelled to kill their children in “Mom and Dad.” | MOMENTUM PICTURES

An infected couple (Selma Blair and Nicolas Cage) feel compelled to kill their children in “Mom and Dad.” | MOMENTUM PICTURES

Q: The big gestures and scenes get the attention, but I liked the small touches, like when he and his wife comfort each other over some mundane thing WHILE TRYING TO KILL THEIR KIDS.

A: Yeah (laughs). That was the stuff I think Brian enjoyed the most, too, which was going from the extreme to suddenly it becomes very mundane again. That is fun. It’s playful. We all knew we were doing something extraordinarily taboo, but within that we knew that we could kind of turn it on its ear at times. Not wink at the audience, per se, but bring the audience along with us and knowing it’s OK to laugh, and knowing it was OK till here we go again, until the movie’s sort of crescendo, which is when the grandparents show up and everything just goes completely nuts (laughs). It’s probably the most dysfunctional family ever on celluloid.

Bill Goodykoontz, USA TODAY Network

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