It truly has been a renaissance for everyone’s favorite pop cultural mainstay, Nicolas Cage. But between Mom And Dad, Mandy, and Spider-Man: Into The Spiderverse, one Cage vehicle needs to be seen to be believed, and that’s Maria Pulera’s Between Worlds. A supernatural erotic thriller that features Cage as a truck driver who gets wrapped up in a love triangle with a woman named Julie (Frank Potente) and her comatose daughter Billie (Penelope Mitchell) who is possessed by Joe’s deceased wife! Read more in iHorror’s review here. I recently got to talk with Maria Pulera to discuss the film, the genre, and Nicolas Cage on-set.
iHorror: Hi, Maria! Great to talk with you.
Maria Pulera: Ditto. Thank you for your time today.
iHorror: Thank you! I watched the movie and really enjoyed it. very excited to talk with you about it.
iHorror: How would you sum up Between Worlds?
Maria: Well, I think it’s you know, kind of a thriller that’s very untraditional. So, like an untraditional thriller. And quirky, maybe we can throw quirky in there as well.
iHorror: Certainly! And what would you say were your influences?
Maria: Oh, gosh everything from Alan Jackson, Wal-Mart visits, Mark Rydan, you know, you name it. Also a lot of Polanski, I like a lot of David Lynch. So a lot of different things kind of randomly thrown into the mixer.
iHorror: Oh yeah, and I was going to say the Lycnh influence. I saw you mentioned that elsewhere and I felt that was pretty prevalent in the movie whichw as cool since you also had Nicolas Cage star.
Maria: Yeah! Exactly. We wanted Nicolas Cage from the very beginning and that goes back to Wild At Heart. Like, old school Nicolas Cage. Where he plays the more untraditional quirky kind of characters and that’s really at the beginning what we were going for. And we had Badalamenti who’s Lynch’s composer all the way back to like, Blue Velvet. So, yeah like since the early 80’s, he was really awesome, he really loved the movie. He did the main theme for us and some other music as well, so it was really awesome to be able to work with him and was great to sit with him and listen to like, stories going all the way back into the 80’s and stuff. So, it was really cool.
iHorror: Nice. And I did want to ask, in terms of casting Nicolas Cage how you went about that, or how you pitched the movie to him?
Maria: We started with his manager, so it was kind of a traditional way of casting. So, basically going through his manager and then after, he had accepted a certain level of shooting times and such. Then we went to have a meeting and which I kind of gave him an overview of the look, and feel and tone of what I wanted. I gave him storyboards and such. He basically said “It sounds like an adventure!” and he was up for it. It was great. He brought so much to the movie, more than I could have ever dreamed of. I mean, he wrote his own memoirs book, he put a lot of his own creativity into the lines. So, it was really awesome, working with him was really a privilege.
iHorror: I was going to ask, what was it like working with Nicolas Cage on the movie?
Maria: He’s completely unpredictable and he’s one of the most creative people on the planet. He’s a performance artist. Like, out of the blue he’ll start doing the most incredible things with his character and it’s really fantastic. You never know whether you’re talking to him or talking with his character. You’re talking to him or something and you don’t know if it’s Joe or if it’s Nicolas Cage! He stays so much in character. This is very much an enigma! It’s very unpredictable and mysterious and that alone was very inspiring. I think the actors as well working with him found it very inspiring as well.
Because there was a certain degree of freedom to really say “this is my character and I’m going to become my character.” It was ore than just performing what was on the page. They felt, I believe, a certain degree of freedom to really embody their character in a much different way. There was a certain scene where Penelope Mitchell plays the Billie and Mary character with Nicolas Cage where he’s playing Joe. There are certain scenes where she reveals things to him in the middle of the movie where she says “I’m Mary” then at the end of the movie where she says “No, no, your daughter suffocated” I told her those two points, the chemistry, and the truth between the characters is so substantial. Penelope and Nicolas I thought were amazing and just so true to character. This is one thing that freedom brought up. This truth to the material in a very strange way. so, I think I answered your question, I’m really not sure.
iHorror: no, I think you did. Off of that, I was wondering how you directed the dynamic Nicolas, Franka, and Penelope since the main focus in the feature is the triangle between them.
Maria: You know, it kind of was Franka. Julie’s a single mom who has this very unique talent. She’s a very kind of grounded character who has this very outrageous talent. But she in her self plays a very kind of down to Earth literal character. I mean, whereas Penelope playing Billie and Mary and Nicolas playing Joe are really grounded unpredictable characters. We used Julie’s character to provide stability to the insanity of the movie. To provide that kind of grounding for the viewer. And I think it works. Not only does she give us good grounding, but she’s also very maternal and honest. I think the whole idea of truth and honesty especially when it comes to Billie and Mary and so much deception.
This to me was one of the focal points. to really maintain some degree of grounding for the viewer was to have Julie’s character provide that. Whereas inherently Billie/Mary is a really stressed character between the two different personalities. It was very interesting and I think the dynamic when you’re doing a kind of movie about building the tension up between a love triangle like that. You don’t want to give too much away and you really want to pull it and extend it for as much as well can. And we kept adding sex scenes! Like, we had Nicolas Cage with three different ladies in the movie and we just had 8 or 9 sex scenes! We just kept adding them and adding them. It works pretty well, but when you see the end result of the movie it works. But when you’re telling everyone “Wait, wait we have two more sex scenes here” they’re going “What!?”
We built that up to build the tension and kind of play with the dynamic. It was a lot of fun. We tried to have the characters reveal themselves also during the scenes of intimacy and reveal more about the relationships, about who they were as well. We tried to get some of that in there.
iHorror: Interesting. And I was wondering if any scenes or any particular lines were improvised.
Maria: Oh, you have a lot of improvised ones in there. I mean, I’d say… a good third of the movie, there’s a lot of improvisation. Yeah. As a director I kind of like to work worth with improvisation and from the beginning the actors were well aware of that so there was a certain degree of that going on. They had a lot of fun with that, Mister Cage especially. He’s the bomb at improv! This guy will blow your socks off with some of the stuff he does. Like, he’s really spectacular. He spanks himself out of a scene at one point! It’s just wild, I love it! Yeah, I think about a third of the movie is improvised.
iHorror: There were definitely some memorable lines in there. So, this was your first genre/supernatural project?
Maria: I did one movie before this which was kind of a psychological thriller. I’m a huge fan of thriller/horror/genre movies. It’s just kind of what I gravitate towards and everything.
iHorror: We talked about some of your influences, but I was wondering if you had any particular favorite horror/thriller movies?
Maria: So many of them. I mean, I love the old school.I love The Exorcist. A Nightmare On Elm Street. Everything! Definitely a lot of the formed me as a filmmaker were horror movies from the 80’s and early 90’s because that’s time-stamping myself here, but a lot of those were big influences. I enjoy anything that really gets a reaction like riding a roller coaster, this visceral kind of reaction. I love movies that will jolt you like that.
iHorror: I totally understand.
Maria: I’m glad!
iHorror: Do you have any upcoming projects?
Maria: We’re doing a Spanish Neo-Noir called El Matador. So, it’s about an assassin with two really hot chicks. You got to have the guy with the two hot chicks! We want to shoot it down in the south of Spain and it’s very Le Samourai. It’s very strange and fun. We’re in casting now on it. We’re going to hopefully shoot it soon.
iHorror: Cool! That sounds very interesting. Last question: Minor spoiler for Between Worlds, but I have to ask how did the sex scene where Nicolas Cage, or rather, his character Joe is reading poetry by Nicolas Cage come about?
Maria: This is Nicolas! He’s so fucking brilliant, this guy. Basically, we’re trying to find a personal way to say ‘this would be believable but Joe would know that’s extremely unique and personal that they could share’ That Billie could say something and Joe could say ‘aha!’ Really, true to heart, believable. Nicolas is a genius, y’know. The book of poetry that he wrote by Nicolas Cage to read during copulation. This is how came and the art department- he wrote the poetry. It’s his own writing and art department made a book. I got to say, Nicolas is really an artist. He truly is one of the most honest artists I think I’ve ever encountered. He’s really a true artist at heart. That’s his own invention there. It was pretty incredible.
Between Worlds is available VOD and select theaters.