Within the confines of mainstream movies, there are few actors as consistently, well, inconsistent as Nicolas Cage. Mind you, I'm not talking about the quality of his movies, although some might say that's true too; I'm referring to the variety of characters he plays in an equal variety of kinds of films. He shows up in comedies, thrillers, crowd-pleasers, grindhouse gems, dramas, horror flicks, and everything in between and around and down as well. That he parlays those impulses almost always into something interesting is a testament to his talent, but in a film like Bad Lieutenant, what he's doing isn't just acting – it's alchemy.

Admittedly, the movie is pretty insane all by itself, thanks in no small part to director Werner Herzog's seeming obsession with working reptiles into as many scenes as possible, no matter how relevant they may be to the plot. But as the title character, a cop overmodulated with painkillers, drugs, and sleep deprivation, Cage's oddest flourishes become soul-baring character development, and his behavior a kind of poetry. In conjunction with the Blu-ray release of Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans this Tuesday, Cinematical spoke to Cage via telephone about his turn in the film, and tried t get him to talk about where he gets all of those tics and techniques that distinguish his characters from those of his contemporaries.