BEVERLY HILLS - In the first "National Treasure," Nicolas Cage and his pals steal the Declaration of Independence and eventually discover a room full of gold and artifacts left by the Founding Fathers. In the sequel, which opens today, Cage and co-stars Diane Kruger and Justin Bartha move on to rifling through Queen Elizabeth's desk at Buckingham Palace and kidnapping the president of the United States at Mount Vernon. Despite lukewarm reviews, the first film earned a surprising $347 million in global box office receipts and seems poised to turn Cage's Benjamin Franklin Gates into an Indiana Jones-meets-Sherlock Holmes franchise.

No one seems happier about this than Cage, who talked to reporters ahead of the opening of "National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets" about his longtime fear of sequels, fatherhood at 43, and why he'll be serving goose at Christmas dinner.

Q: What led you to sign on for a second "National Treasure"?

A: You may be aware that I've not done a sequel before, the reason being I never like to repeat myself. In this case, I do believe if you're going to do a sequel it has to promise to be better than the original or at least as good. They said we have to ratchet it up from stealing the Declaration of Independence so we thought you should kidnap the president of the United States. Then I said 'Whoa, whoa, hold on, new rules. How is Ben going to kidnap the president?' I got nervous. Then I started thinking about it and laughing and realized that was the joy of it, that it was funny, that it was absurd.

Q: Does this mean we'll see a sequel to "Ghost Rider"?

A: All they have to do is call. I would love to see that happen.

Q: Is "National Treasure" on its way to becoming a franchise?

A: I believe that it should become more and more "International Treasure." I was very happy to see that we went to London and Paris, but I'd like to see the movie go wider still - Africa, Egypt, Asia - and keep going. My hope is that Ben is recruited and he gets a dossier from these other countries about their history and has to download it and learn it and then try to go on these hunts on their behalf.

Q: What was it like having Helen Mirren play your mother in the film?

A: The first thing I said to her was I loved you as Morgan LeFay in "Excalibur." One of my most powerful crushes was Helen Mirren as Morgan LeFay. She's really down to earth, and I have to tip my hat to her that she would win the Oscar as "The Queen" and, in the grand spirit of Douglas Fairbanks and Errol Flynn, go make an adventure film. To me that shows a lot of spirit and a great zest for life.

Q: Your son Kal-el is two. How's fatherhood the second time around?

A: I think the main changes are that my priorities have improved. I started acting at a very young age and I had interests, which I'm not saying they were wrong, it's just that I'm maturing. Motorcycles and things like that are not as important as they once were to me. I like a good book and I like being in nature or on the water and being with my family.

Q: Any advice you'd like to share with other new parents?

A: Children, especially from one to six, are so impressionable, and the main priority is . . . make 'em as happy as you can possibly make 'em, in my opinion. So in the beginning you want it be how happy can you keep them for that wonderful magical period of time, and that means movies that are positive. [My son] likes "Yellow Submarine," he likes the Beatles and the Wiggles, and that's great. There's plenty of time to discover the other stuff and I'm sure he will if he's like the rest of us in my family.

Q: Do you plan to work with your uncle Francis [Ford Coppola] again?

A: Last time I worked with Uncle Francis was "Peggy Sue Got Married," and I was very happy with that. If he called, I would certainly like to work with him. I'm happy to see that he's behind the camera again with "Youth After Youth." I wrote him an e-mail recently saying, "The world needs more of your movies."

Q: What made you decide to produce a documentary about Andy Summers and the Police?

A: The Police have always had a part of my life, professionally as well as a young man growing up. When I first heard Sting's voice I was in Napa Valley living with my uncle. It was the most unusual sounding voice . . . and I was very curious. Then I made "Rumblefish" and Stewart Copeland was the composer. I thought it was the best soundtrack of a movie I'd ever heard outside of Nino Rota. Then I did "Leaving Las Vegas" and the first sound you heard was Sting. So it seemed like a good match.

Q: Where will you be on December 25th?

A: This year I'm going to do something new - I'm going to have a Dickens Christmas. I'm going to take everyone to England. I've never done that and I just want to walk around Bath and see how they celebrate the holidays. When I'm in Bath I feel like I'm walking around a snow globe. I'm in this contained beautiful historic universe and everybody's really nice and I don't have to use a car and the architecture is magnificent. I'm always excited to meet people and say "Are you Bathonian?"

Q: What's the best Christmas gift you ever received?

A: My father was in Italy on sabbatical, and I had a little toy car that was being driven by Pinocchio and for whatever the reason Pinocchio's head fell off the day before Christmas. My father picked up the head and he went into the garden and he planted it and I thought why are you doing that. And the next morning was this enormous thing that had grown in the garden and I ripped it open and it was a giant wooden Pinocchio, and I was scratching my head trying to figure out how that [happened] . . . and then I started planting everything. I planted all my Hot Wheels. . . . I had a little GI Joe slipper. I thought if I planted that it would grow really big and I could put my sleeping bag in it. So he really got me thinking in an imaginative way at a young age. *