“Metropolis.” Bruce Lee. Woody Woodpecker. A pet cobra. All of these things have been inspirations behind Nicolas Cage’s performances — sometimes private homages that the actor has used as blueprints to build some of his most over-the-top, erratic, and touching characters.
A conversation with Cage, likewise, draws from a wide range of sources. In a recent and usually high-profile interview ahead of the release of “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent,” Cage touched on Picasso, Elia Kazan, Timothée Chalamet, and Francis Bacon. A book of interviews with Bacon, “The Brutality of Fact”, for example, helped Cage define his attraction to intense, even grotesque performance – “which is not obviously beautiful”, he says – rather than naturalism.
“And I kind of approached my perception of the public, as well as the way I view my film work, as an actor with this concept in mind – not being afraid to be ugly in your behavior or even in her looks,” Cage says. “To create a kind of taste that must be discovered.”
With more than 100 films, Cage, 58, an Oscar winner (“Leaving Las Vegas“), action star (“Con Air”) and source of countless Internet memes for his most theatrical moments in movies like “Face/Off” – has long been one of cinema’s most peculiar tastes. Yet by being “an amateur surrealist”, as he refers to himself, Cage has become – even after resorting to a series of VOD releases to pay back taxes and get out of debt – like one of Hollywood’s most beloved stars. As ‘Unbearable Weight’ director Tom Gormican says, “the sight of his face makes people happy.”
But even for the mercurial Cage, “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent,” which hits theaters Friday, represents something different. In it, Cage plays himself. Or rather, he plays a funny mirror version of himself who sometimes interacts with a younger version of himself. The film is a great homage to Cage in which the actor manages to both satirize perceptions of himself and sincerely act on those characters.
“The guideline that’s always been there for me: no matter what I’ve designed, and it was a design, whether it’s ridiculous – and it often is ridiculous – or whether it’s sublime, it has to be informed with genuine emotional content,” Cage says. .
“No matter how wide or what some like to call it over the top, it had an authentic feeling.”
But what else does Cage stand for? He’s the actor who, channeling Nosferatu in “Vampire’s Kiss,” gave one of the craziest recitals of the alphabet I’ve ever heard. He likes to reply, “Well, show me where the peak is and I’ll tell you if I’ve passed any.”
“I grew up in a house where my mom did things that, if you put them in a movie, you’d say was over the top,” says Cage, whose mother, Joy Coppola, was a dancer and choreographer. His father, August Coppola, brother of François, was a professor of literature. “But what’s best? When you want to design something and you think of different styles – naturalism, impressionism, surrealism, abstract – then you start looking at it in a different way. It won’t be for everyone and it’s not necessarily going to sell tickets. But that’s okay.
“Cinema is a business and it was not without risk that I took this path, but it was important to me,” he adds. “I stuck with it and of course got a lot of Rotten Tomatoes thrown in my face. But I knew it was going to happen so it wasn’t something I didn’t expect.”
But what’s unusual with Cage is that many of these experiences HAVE sold out tickets. Many of them. Cage’s films gross nearly $5 billion at the global box office. Still, it’s been a while since he’s been the focus of a major studio film.
“The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent,” which Lionsgate premiered at South by Southwest to rave reviews, has him toying with the idea of a comeback. In the film, he is desperate to score better roles than the birthday party he was offered $1 million at. The film was an opportunity to wrestle – usually comically, sometimes physically – with its own over-the-top mythology.
“He would come up to me and be like, (lowered his voice) ‘Tom, there’s a guy who wears rings and leather jackets and he lives in Las Vegas and he would never say that line,'” Gormican recalled . “And I would go, ‘Oh, you mean you.’ He would say, ‘Yes.’ And I would say, ‘Well, it’s not you. It’s a character based on you.’ And he said, ‘But he bears my name.’ I was like, ‘Come on, man, just say the line.'”
“We would have discussions about who understood Nick Cage the most,” adds Gormican with a laugh.
Gormican was initially repeatedly turned down by Cage before a heartfelt letter finally convinced the actor to do the film. The problem was that Cage, even in his most outlandish form, never put quotes around his performance. He tends to invest himself fully in even the most unbalanced characters. (I’m thinking of Werner Herzog’s “Bad Lieutenant: Port of New Orleans.”) Cage initially feared the Gormican film was a self-deprecating parody, and while it has those elements, Cage steers it in different directions. more unpredictable.
“Without mentioning names, there were actors who came out of the gate who I thought were really sincere and deeply emotional and honest at first and then got too high on their own supply,” Cage says. “They started winking at the audience and, in my opinion, they lost the emotional connection. It’s a slippery slope when you decide you want to be emotional and raw.”
The actor reaches gonzo heights in the film. After one scene, Gormican was honored to hear Cage say, “That was Full Cage. You got Full Cage.” Another scene shows the two Cages making out, after which the younger one exclaims, “Nick Cage is having a good smooch!”
Cage’s exotic tastes—he had to return a dinosaur skull he bought and stole from Mongolia—contributed to his legend. But he insists it’s normal in his life so he can be extreme in his work – and that part of his self-promotion, like a notoriously crazy appearance on ‘Wogan’, was in itself a deed.
Last year, Cage married Riko Shibata, his fifth wife, and they are expecting a child. (Cage also has two adult sons; a sticking point in “Unbearable Weight” was that he wasn’t shown as an absent father—a fiction Cage wouldn’t allow.) After an uncharacteristically introspective press tour for the film, Cage looks forward to returning to the desert outside of Las Vegas, where he lives. He could use a break from “Nick Cage”.
But “The unbearable weight of enormous talent” closes a chapter for the actor. He’s finally come out of the red after making around 30 video-on-demand movies over the past decade to pay off the IRS and its creditors. He makes no apologies for these movies. They made him a better actor, he says.
“I was working out. I managed to keep my access to my imagination close at hand. It was a much better way for me to get out of this financial crisis than doing something like a Super Bowl commercial. — and believe me, they proposed to me,” Cage said. “That was also a point for me, that I’m not a salesman, I’m an actor.”
Cage may also feel some mainstream momentum behind him again. His performance in “Pig” last year as a grizzled truffle hunter with a past, earned him some of his best reviews in years. It was a more naturalistic performance than Cage is generally known for – and a reminder of his limitless range. Having started professionally at 15, Cage recalls that he has been doing this for a long time. For him, his path rightly began with a bold performance.
Cage’s father, the actor says, was a huge influence on him, exposing him to books, early films and paintings. But he could bring his son down with words.
“And I just wasn’t going to take it,” Cage said. “I knew he thought about me more than he let on. I cheated on him once and did something I never did again. I lied. I said : ‘Dad, I wrote this song.’ And I played him Joe Jackson’s “Is She Really Dating Him?” and he believed me. He said, “Wow, Nicky, that’s amazing.” So I got the positive affirmation that i needed to believe in myself. once a lie saved me.”