nicolas cage unbearable weight of massive talent
Nicolas Cage in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent courtesy of Lionsgate

Truths

There’s no doubt that Cage has been on the rebound — not that he went anywhere, as his catchphrase goes in the movie. The film’s trailer includes this cheeky exchange between Cage and his agent, played by Neil Patrick Harris:

“Nic, you’ve been living at the Sunset Tower for over a year,” Harris says.

“They love having me there!” replies Cage.

“You owe them $600,000.”

It’s a vulnerable area of Cage’s life to make light of, but the film handles it well, and Cage acknowledges that period gracefully.

“There are two truths. The one truth is, yeah, I was going through an incredible financial strain that lasted for 13 years. I made the very clear decision: I’m not going bankrupt. I’m going to work my way through this mess. And, lo and behold, I did, and I’m proud of that,” he says. “But I never took a role that I didn’t think I could bring something to, and I turned down a lot of roles. That’s the story people don’t see. I was working my way out of something.”

Critics began to change their tune after Panos Cosmatos’ magnificent 2018 horror film Mandy, which includes a blood-and-vodka-soaked bathroom scene in which Cage does some of the most vulnerable, emotional, and brilliant acting of his career. Cage’s powerful and measured performance as a reclusive former chef in Michael Sarnoski’s Pig solidified his triumphant return to critics’ good graces — again, not that he went anywhere.

“The silver lining to that — Pig is the best example — is that I never stopped practicing. I got closer and closer to my instrument, I got closer and closer to my emotions, and how to access my emotions and my dreams and my imagination. The movies didn’t all work, but they never always work,” he says.

Now, instead of looking at his body of work as a career to be measured with Oscars and coffee spoons, he views it as a series of piecemeal opportunities.

“I never really had a career. I only had work, and that’s the way I chose to look at it,” he says. All of that is to say, the real-life Nicolas Cage and the Nicolas Cage in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent are not the same person.

“It’s so hard to talk about this movie,” Cage laughs after getting jumbled up between referring to Nicolas Cage the person and Nicolas Cage the movie character. “It’s so triangular. I don’t know what to say.”

Nicolas Cage Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent

Behind the scenes of The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent with star Nicolas Cage. Photo by Katalin Vermes / Lionsgate. Main image (above): Nicolas Cage in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent. hoto by Elisabeth Caren / Lionsgate

Somehow, he always finds the words.

“This is certainly a stylized interpretation of so-called Nick Cage. I had to explain to Tom that this isn’t really me. This is your interpretation of me as this highly neurotic, anxiety-ridden guy,” Cage says.

“My day is pretty mellow. I have a lot of quiet moments of meditation and thought and just sort of not really doing much, whereas his motto was, ‘The best Nick Cage is neurotic Nick Cage,’” he quotes, dissolving into laughter again. “He kept saying that on set. I was like, ‘Okay, all right, I get it, Tom! This is your movie. We’re doing your vision.’”

Suffice it to say, Cage is a good sport. And his real life, he explains, is pretty normal.

A Day in the Life

Here is what a typical day in the life of Nicolas Cage looks like:

He wakes up by 6 a.m.

“Maybe earlier, actually. Sadly, now it’s more like farmer’s hours, 4 a.m.,” he says.

First, he goes to the gym and does five to eight miles on the elliptical. Then, he turns on CNN.

“I’ll watch the news for about two hours,” he says.

Then, he chats on the phone with some friends, before feeding the many creatures that populate his home.
“I have dogs, I have cats, I have Huginn, my crow,” he says.

Huginn is not just any crow you might see perched on a rooftop. He’s an African Pied Crow. Such crows are notable for being black all over except for a distinct crop of white feathers positioned in the shape of a bib, like the ones people wear to lobster dinners.

“Very intelligent birds,” Cage says. “I’ve always had an interest in natural history and all kinds of animals, especially in the ocean. I have some fish, and I’ve been interested in marine biology. My interests fall within the realm of a combination of biology and theology.”

On Sundays, he watches UFO documentaries.

“My wife actually laughs at me, because usually, for some reason — why, I don’t know — on Sunday, I like to just trip out and watch documentaries about flying saucers and UFOs,” he says with a laugh. “I just like watching people talk about their experiences. I find their behavior so interesting. It does happen more often than not, and I don’t really know the explanation for why — I’ll just go on Amazon Prime and watch… movies about the historical aspect of people seeing flying saucers. I find it oddly relaxing and mystifying and confounding.”

After feeding all of his pets, the rest of an average day in the life of Nick Cage is devoted to his children. On school days, he picks up his teenage son, Kal-El, whom he shares with his ex-wife, Alice Kim. His other son is actor Weston Cage, 31, with actress Christina Fulton. Weston and Nicolas Cage, a diehard comics fan, created the comic book Voodoo Child in 2007, when Weston was still a teen. Kal-El famously shares the birth name of Superman, who Cage nearly played in a Tim Burton adaptation.

“It’s a pretty normal existence and somewhat unexciting,” Cags says. “It’s not nearly as colorful as the characters I play.”

Although his character in Massive Talent goes through a rough patch with his family, the real Cage wants to make it clear that he’s a family man. (Yes, he did star in a 2000 romantic-comedy called The Family Man. But no pun is intended.)

“The biggest area where the real version of me and the movie version depart is the approach to family, because I’ve always been very devoted to my boys and have made it the priority in this path in cinema to stay where I could be with them and not leave them,” Cage says.

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent director Tom Gormican on set. Photo by Katalin Vermes / Lionsgate

“That was the first thing I had to understand from Tom, but he made it clear that this is an arc and it’s a story that is being told where the narrative is that he’s evolving and he’s becoming a better family man.”

In Massive Talent, Lily Mo Sheen, the real-life daughter of Kate Beckinsale and Michael Sheen, plays the teenage daughter of Cage’s character, and Sharon Horgan plays his on-screen wife, with whom he is on the outs.

A Student

Say what you will about Cage, but he never repeats himself — at least in his movies. That’s another thing that drew him to Massive Talent: the promise of trying something new.

“I see myself as a student. I’m always going to be looking to learn. I’m always going to be looking to try something, even if it scares me. I think that if you go towards that which frightens you — within reason, as long as you’re not hurting yourself or someone else — you’re probably going to learn something and grow in some way from that experience. And this certainly was that. I mean, it was terrifying.”

His reward for taking a risk, Cage says, was getting back into comedy.

“Somewhere along the way, people forgot about movies like Raising Arizona or The Family Man, or It Could Happen to You or Moonstruck. I’ve done a lot of comedies, but it’s been a minute,” he laughs. “It’s been a long time.”

He drew on the late Tony Curtis for inspiration when it came to switching between drama and comedy.

“Tony Curtis is somebody that I don’t think people talk about enough, but he was somebody that I always thought did both excellently. His range, when you look at The Boston Strangler and then you look at him in Some Like It Hot or The Sweet Smell of Success — I mean, this is an actor who has extraordinary range to do comedy so effortlessly, and then also to dig so deep with these other performances. So he was kind of a role model in some ways,” Cage says.

But Cage gives all the credit to Gormican for combining so many different genres into Massive Talent, which he calls a “stroke of genius.”

“I didn’t really see it in the moment when we were doing it that way, that he was actually actively making a conscious choice to apply whatever my abilities were to an eclectic array of tones. But when I do look at the movie, I would say he was successful in pulling that off,” he says.

For his part, Gormican says Cage is the most prepared actor he’s ever worked with, gushing that he would come to set every day with new ideas.

What ultimately convinced Cage to do Massive Talent was the alter-ego character, Nicky, who looks exactly like Cage when he famously appeared on the British talk show Wogan in 1990: That appearance, which begins with a leather-jacketed Cage somersaulting on stage and keeps up that level of energy, is cemented into Cage lore. In the movie, Nicky acts as a sort of devil on the shoulder of modern-day Nick Cage.

“I think that the Nicky character was really what put the hook in me to do this movie,” Cage says. “Originally, it was just ‘Young Nick,’ it wasn’t Nicky. But when I was growing up, my name was Nicky, and my family members call me Nicky.”

Originally, Cage says the idea for the character was presented to him as his character Cameron Poe from Con Air — all lion-hearted, Fabio-haired, action-movie buffness.

“I said, well, that’s not Nick Cage, that’s Cameron Poe. If you want Young Nick to have attitude and be kind of wild and be this character that’s constantly picking on contemporary Nick, then look at the Wogan show when I went on for Wild at Heart and was doing front handsprings and throwing money at the audience and taking my leather jacket off and giving my t-shirt to Terry Wogan,” Cage says. “That’s the guy that I think is Young Nicky, who is obnoxious.”

Speaking of over-the-top moves, Cage bursts into giggles when I ask him about a certain scene in which contemporary Nick Cage makes out with Young Nicky.

“I wrote that in the script, because, to me, this whole thing is such an ouroboros-like experience, playing not one but two versions of myself. I mean, it’s everything that making out with oneself would be — it’s both revolting and kind of exciting and horrifying,” he says. “To me, that just spoke volumes about the meta nature of the film itself. In my opinion, it was the most amusing, ultimate cubist gesture to have Nicky grab Nick and French kiss him. It’s just so surreal and awful.”

Speaking of ouroboros: This reminds me of that scene in Adaptation where Cage as Charlie Kaufman turns to his twin, Donald Kaufman (also Cage) and says “Ouroboros,” referring to Donald’s girlfriend’s tattoo of a snake eating itself. Donald flops on the bed as he nonchalantly replies, “No, I don’t think so.”

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent includes several nods to some of Cage’s most famous work, including exact replicas of Castor Troy’s golden guns from Face/Off.

“It was both amusing and also gratifying that these are adventures that I’ve had in cinema that have crystallized in some way for the audiences throughout the years,” Cage says. “Tom could cherry-pick these moments and we could get there together. I found it very satisfying. Ultimately, it was a nice trip down memory lane for me.”

In one scene, Cage recreates the iconic moment in Leaving Las Vegas where he walks straight into a pool holding a beer and proceeds to drink it while sitting on the bottom.

“Because that was the highlight of Nick’s career and that’s the lowest point in my movie, I was like, this is what I’m gonna do — I’m gonna put him back in the same shot,” Gormican says. “I’m explaining it to him, and I’m like, ‘So you’re gonna go in and you’re on the bottom and you have a beer and you’re gonna be drinking it, you’ve got your sunglasses,’ and he was like, ‘Tom, Tom, Tom, Tom. I know. I’ve already done it,’” Gormican remembers, laughing. “I was like, ‘Right.’”

As an added touch, Gormican got his hands on a pair of Ray Ban Olympian II sunglasses like the ones Cage wore in Wild at Heart and put them on Pascal’s superfan character, Javi.

The title of the movie, Gormican says, ”simply made us laugh.”

“It was really just about conveying the tone — combining something that felt important and heightened, but at the same time, was absurd and, perhaps, over the top.”

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