The Wild Fantasies of Panos Cosmatos

Is Nic Cage Galactus or The Silver Surfer? The director reveals all ‘Mandy’ MCU connections.
By  · Published on September 7th, 2018

For anyone who ever wanted to crack open the skull of Panos Cosmatos and root around, Mandy is a salacious summons. Bubbling within its runtime, you’ll find great gobs of enthusiasm for Clive Barker, Julie Bell, Frank Herbert, King Crimson, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and a dozen others. Sure, that heavy fog of dread that you experienced in Beyond the Black Rainbow is present, but this time around Cosmatos is happily populating his celluloid nightmare with large winks to his influences. His geek flag waves high and proudly.

This is not your average corpse-filled revenge flick. The plot is not the experience. The execution is the ride. Cosmatos invites you into the wedded bliss of Nicolas Cage and Andrea Riseborough, allowing you to seep under their nostalgic blanket of 80s cabin life. Enjoy some mellow prog rock, and purple prose of sci-fi paperbacks before the biker gang from hell crosses the threshold. Once the demons emerge, Mandy is all chainsaws and Cage rage.

Ten minutes was not enough time to properly sail this sprawling phantasmagoric odyssey, but that is all I was offered. Every second was a chance to revel with like-minded passion. Talking to Cosmatos over the phone, I wanted to dive right into his comic book influences. You can’t simply give a nod to Galactus the planet eater and slink away. So, that’s where our conversation starts: Nicolas Cage inhabiting another Marvel entity.

From there, we discuss Mandy as the flip side to Beyond the Black Rainbow. Our quick chat dips into the inevitable emotions that upturn Cosmatos’ meticulous scripting, and how rejection from Nicolas Cage radically altered his original idea of the film. And finally, just what the hell is a Cheddar Goblin, and how did he storm his way into this cosmic horror rock opera?

Here is our conversation in full:

So, I wanted to start with Galactus. Early on in the film, when Red and Mandy are having a conversation about their favorite planets, Red refers to Galactus as being his favorite, because, you know, he’s the devourer. He eats other planets. Where did that come from?

I don’t know, I mean, I read Galactus comics when I was a kid, just like everybody. I actually wrote that line later on, after Nicolas Cage was cast.

Oh, really? As the film escalates, it starts going into this cosmic realm of terror and, with Red aligning himself with Galactus, it seems fitting. It feels like he does become Galactus by the end of the film.

I think Mandy is the Galactus of the film, you know? Her mind kind of eats the film. We’re inside her reality. At least he is, and by extension we are, so I feel like she is the one who eats the planets.

Interesting. Okay, cool, cool.

She’s a god. He’s like a demigod sort of doing her will on the mortal coil.

So, he basically becomes her Silver Surfer, then? Her herald.

In a sense, yeah. Yeah.

I would classify Mandy as a geekier film than Beyond the Black Rainbow, just looking at references like that. Julie Bell’s art appears as the work of Mandy. King Crimson’s music pulsates through it. It seems like you’re throwing everything you love into this one film.

You generally don’t have a lot of chances to do it, probably. I think it really fits with Mandy more than Black Rainbow because Black Rainbow was supposed to be kind of sterile, you know what I mean? And this one is more teeming with life and so, as a result, it has more of my personality and more love in it. In a way, it’s kind of a kaleidoscopic rock opera. So, all these things just sort of naturally fit.

In previous interviews you’ve discussed how both Beyond the Black Rainbow and Mandy are your cinematic response to the loss of your parents. Black Rainbow being an inhale of breath, and Mandy is an exhale. Can you speak further to this idea?

It’s difficult to be too specific, but … Yeah, I started writing them both about the same time, and then I ended up moving ahead with Black Rainbow because I thought it was something that I could pull off with a low budget. I didn’t even really consciously realize what it was at the time, but then when I came back to Mandy after I realized that I had been sort of processing two different creative sides into each film. They are complementary to each other.

It’s difficult to place exactly how emotionally they are inhale and exhale. It’s more of a feeling, you know? But one is about control and one is primal. One is, as I said before, sterile and one is kind of teeming with life. Maybe it’s two sides of myself.

Do you consider yourself a very emotional director?

I try not to be emotional at all, but I think I am despite my best efforts. I think that I’m emotional in the sense that I follow my instincts as often as possible and kind of let that guide what’s in the script and how managed the film is, you know? On the flip side though, it’s like heavily planned, but I’m always open to moments of awesome magic that might happen.

Nicolas Cage is certainly an outwardly emotional performer. Why is he your Red Miller?

Well, originally we had offered him the role of Jeremiah Sand. That’s what I had pictured him as and I had actually rewritten a bunch of the Jeremiah Sand dialogue for him.

Oh, wow. Ok. I can see that.

I ended up leaving that rewritten dialogue as is because it gave the character kind of a little bit more of a weird scintillating rock star flair that it didn’t have before and I ended up thinking that I preferred that but-yeah, ultimately, I met with him about that and he kinda blindsided me and said that he wanted to play Red Miller and I felt gutted. I had thought that he was interested in Jeremiah Sand and I was so fixated on that idea that I just kinda thought, well, he doesn’t want to play that part, it’s a non-starter.

But maybe a few months later-I can’t remember if it was weeks or months later, I had a dream of Cage playing Red Miller that was something really beautiful. A beautiful strange dream. And I couldn’t ignore it. I woke up and texted the producer immediately and said, “Did we make a huge mistake in walking away from him on that?” And he just said, “Yes.”

Fascinating. Yeah, I can easily see him as Jeremiah, but we’ve seen that Nic Cage I think.

Yeah. Originally, I wanted Red to be a little bit younger, but when I started to think about it I was, like, there’s maybe nobody else on earth that would be able to bring so many fucking interesting and unexpected dimensions to this character who, on the page, is actually quite simple.

I don’t think that we could talk about this film without referring to the score by Jóhann Jóhannsson. His final score. It’s stunning and I can’t wait to get an LP and get lost in it. What was your conversation with Jóhannsson, how did you two arrive on this vibe?

Yeah, Jóhann was one of the first people that came in and started working on the film. Kind of took me by surprise because I thought he was kinda this untouchable academic genius or something and I loved his music but I imagined him as a very cold, academic person, and after five minutes of talking to him I realized that he was an Icelandic metal head. I just basically said that I wanted it to be like a rock opera. Even though its not literally one, I wanted it to have the feeling of a psychedelic rock opera.

Well launching the film with that King Crimson title song does the trick. Was Jóhannsson a prog rock fan already?

He loved King Crimson, and he was stoked on the idea of doing that, so I think, in one sense, yeah, but I think his vision went way beyond that, you know? I think he tapped into all the same things that the film was tapping into, these things from my youth, but then sort of exploding them and distorting them.

Ok. Before I get out of here, I gotta ask, Cheddar Goblin – where the hell does this twisted Macaroni and Cheese commercial come from?

Cheddar Goblin was just a joke that I came up with working in pre production and then we quickly fell in love with the idea of Cheddar Goblin. We realized this goblin has to be in the movie now, so we called up Casper Kelly, who made one of the most brilliant short films ever called Too Many Cooks.

Oh, god damn, yeah.

And we said, we have 1000 dollars to make Cheddar Goblin a reality. Thank God, he said yes, and Cheddar Goblin was born.

Mandy lands in theaters on September 14th.

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Brad Gullickson is a Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects and Senior Curator for One Perfect Shot. When not rambling about movies here, he's rambling about comics as the co-host of Comic Book Couples Counseling. Hunt him down on Twitter: @MouthDork. (He/Him)