“Face/Off” turns twenty years old this year, and the internet is awash with appreciation pieces, sometimes with the kind of tone that suggests everyone is just now realizing John Woo‘s deliriously ridiculous film is a goddamn masterpiece. Who knows what strange alignment of the stars allowed us to be blessed with Nicolas Cage and John Travolta starring in a cat-and-mouse thriller where the two leads literally switch faces, but thank whatever you believe in that it happened. The pair go for broke (especially Cage) and lean in the material in a way that I can’t imagine anyone else doing, but, as always, things could’ve turned out differently.
Shortlist has a big, extensive look at the making of and history of the movie, and, before John Woo came aboard, Marco Brambilla of “Demolition Man” fame was attached to direct. And the only way Paramount would agree to having Cage involved, would be if Johnny Depp joined him. Well, here’s what happened:
Next came Demolition Man director Marco Brambilla, who wanted to make the cast much younger. As [co-writer Michael] Colleary tells me, “That made no sense and we were totally against it on every level.” Around this time, Paramount were trying to turn 27-year-old Johnny Depp into a movie star. The studio said that they would only agree to including Nicolas Cage – who wanted to be in the film – if Depp could star opposite him. After finally reading the script, however, Depp refused to take part. Having read the title he thought the film would be about hockey. He was disappointed when he discovered that it was not about hockey. He was out – and with him so was Brambilla. As Colleary puts it, “A lot of things had to go wrong to help this movie along.”
With Brambilla out of the way (he would direct 1997’s “Excess Baggage” with Benicio Del Toro and Alicia Silverstone), Woo came into the frame as a fan of the script, bringing along with him Travolta — they had just worked together on “Broken Arrow.” Then Cage came into the mix following “Con Air,” and the rest is history. So, thank your lucky stars that Depp wanted to make a movie about hockey instead.