Much has been made of Nicolas Cage’s upcoming horror movie Longlegs.

Lauded as the most frightening film of the decade, it also marks a huge transformation from the Hollywood actor.

In fact, Cage’s co-star has warned he is so terrifying in his role as the titular serial killer – who likes to leave signed-riddled letters at the scenes of his crimes – that we ‘need a new word’ to accurately capture what he looks like.

Just as the Oscar-winner is teased in the film’s trailer, and has largely been kept away from the press for much of its publicity tour, so too were his fellow actors shielded from his final look – which sees him pale, plumped and malformed via plastic surgeries, with stringy white hair (and a hint of a glam rock vibe).

‘I had no idea how scary it was going to be. I mean, it was so scary that you need a new word to describe what he looks like!’ Cage’s co-star Alicia Witt confessed to ahead of Longlegs’ release.

Witt recalled her first reaction to finally seeing Cage’s androgynous look, which drew inspiration from Gary Oldman’s Mason Verger in Hannibal and silent movie star Lon Chaney’s work on 1925’s The Phantom of the Opera.

‘It’s so twisted and certainly helped with my work because my interaction with him in the movie, all you have to do is look at him and you know that man’s not right – like, deeply not right,’ she said.

Cage is not available for interviews at the film’s international junket, likely to maintain the air of mystery.

But it becomes evident very quickly that his co-stars, as well as writer and director Osgood Perkins, are only too happy (and expecting) to sing the Renfield star’s praises in his absence as we speak over Zoom.

Until recently, Longlegs boasted an extremely rare 100% rating on review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, from entirely positive reviews. It is still on 94% from 49 critics’ takes at the time of publication.

Maika Monroe plays the lead, a troubled young FBI agent Lee Harker with a touch of the psychic about her who is assigned the unsolved serial killer case, which reveals evidence of the occult.

The 31-year-old, who has made a name for herself starring in horror and thrillers since her breakthrough in 2014’s It Follows, admits she was taken aback by Cage’s appearance when they filmed their sole scene together – a dramatic and gruesome questioning that she describes as ‘haunting’.

‘Also, I think just beyond the prosthetics, he transforms his voice, his mannerisms – everything,’ Monroe explained.

‘And again, there was no part of Nic there. He wasn’t in the room.’

Monroe said she is ‘absolutely in awe’ of Cage’s unrecognisable performance, adding: ‘It was the most incredible thing to be sitting across from him in this particular role.’

Sex and the City’s Blair Underwood plays Harker’s boss, Agent Carter, who assigns her the Longlegs case that has frustrated the Oregon bureau for years.

The 59-year-old, who is full of beans and keen to hear reactions from people who have seen the film for the first time, said he was ‘shocked’ when he first laid eyes on Cage, but also ‘very, very excited’ from a creative point of view.

‘One of the things that Nicolas Cage is known for is that he pushes the boundaries, he pushes the limits, he doesn’t play safe. And he’s definitely not playing safe in Longlegs,’ Underwood said. ‘I know that adds to it – and is the primary reason people are unsettled by this, his performance.’

Filmmaker Perkins, who has written and directed horrors including The Blackcoat’s Daughter and I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House, compliments Cage as a ‘very finely tuned instrument’.

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To Perkins, this means he looks at ‘how to apply himself to the work’ rather than adapt it around his usual way of doing things.

‘So as opposed to trying to impose himself onto it, he lets it sort of melt with him,’ Perkins said of Cage’s approach to the text.

Perkins is also an actor and the son of Psycho star Anthony Perkins. He will be recognisable to many a millennial as the awkward David from Legally Blonde.

The writer-director reveals that Cage – who serves as a producer on Longlegs – was not afraid of putting the hours in to find the essence and nuance of his character.

‘He just worked on it a lot, went over it a lot, ruminated on it a lot, said the words a lot, recorded the words a lot, played them for me a lot. And you just sort of comb through it – it’s like rehearsing a ballet move or something. You just you do it enough times and you find, “Oh, there it is”.’

Cage’s army of dedicated fans will be thrilled to learn his interpretation – which was inspired by his late mother’s schizophrenia – includes bursts of screaming and singing, as well as possibly the creepiest ever rendition of ‘happy birthday’.

Witt, who plays Lee’s religious and slightly detached mother Ruth, fondly remembers Cage’s dedication as he ‘remained 100% in character just as much when the cameras were not on him as when the cameras were’, during the filming of her close-ups.

‘That’s the sign of the best kind of actor. He’s such a such a consummate professional, so generous. And I know if I am lucky enough to work with him again on some other movie, he’ll be just as immersed in an entirely different character,’ she said.

However, Perkins dispels any notions that Cage stayed in the Longlegs mindset permanently. He said he was pleasantly surprised by the actor’s ‘ability to balance being fully invested in what he’s doing, but also then being available to me’.

‘He didn’t really interact with anybody but me, but between takes I’m talking to Nicolas Cage, I’m not talking to Longlegs, and I really appreciated that.

‘And not that I ever thought that Nic was a method actor, most of those people you can’t reach them – so that was gratifying. It’s like, “Oh, yeah, you don’t need to be a full-time a**hole to just do the part. You can break out of it and talk to me. And it’s us”.’

Witt is also seriously impressed by director Perkins and the performance she claims he inspired in her.

‘I saw what he brought out of the actors around me. I felt what he drew out of me – I don’t know where that came from. It’s like a channelling. That’s not me on the screen. I didn’t make that.

‘As an actor working with him, I felt like all I had to do was do the prep work and then let go and let it take over and trust.’

For all the reports of critics being left traumatised and scared silly by Longlegs too, the Dune and Twin Peaks star – who was discovered by David Lynch – gave her opinion on why the movie is as terrifying as it is.

‘[Oz] told me ahead of time, that the sort of movie he wanted to make is one that gets into your bones and scares you. But it’s not a slasher movie, it’s not the blood and guts that is the scary part.’

Underwood agrees, pointing to the coiled tension of the film, as well as its disturbing nature.

‘You’re not dealing with something that scares you in two seconds, a jump scare that you can release – this is harder to release because it gets under your skin, it gets in your mind, it gets in your spirit, because you’re dealing with very dark elements, spiritual elements, not things that are easily dismissed, like special effects or CGI.’

You have been warned.

Longlegs hits UK cinemas on Friday, July 12.

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