INTERVIEW: Nicolas Cage Is Inspired By And Terrified Of The Same Thing

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  • Nicolas Cage stars as a version of himself in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent.
  • During an exclusive interview with The Post-Credit Podcast, Cage discussed the legacy of his career and more.
  • Cage’s latest film, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, hit theaters on Friday, April 22.

When interviewing an actor such as Nicolas Cage, it’s crucial to remember that — despite the larger-than-life legacy they’ve created over 30-plus years of filmmaking — they, too, are just a person.

But it’s also not every day that you interview an actor who’s achieved such a ubiquitous, omnipresent pop cultural status that his latest film sees him starring as a gonzo version of himself. Nicolas Cage has, perhaps deservedly, literally become cinema in and of himself.

Given the Oscar winner’s truly unique presence in American cinema over the last generation, it only felt right to ask the 58-year-old “thespian” big picture questions that forced him to look both backward at the legacy of his career and forward at the future of the industry he’s helped shape.

During an exclusive interview with BroBible, we chatted with Cage about The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, his relationship with his audience, his famed acting technique, putting his own spin on Dracula, and more.


Eric Italiano: Folks, usually I start these off with a nice lengthy intro about the career of the person we’re going to speak to, but for the first time ever, and I genuinely mean this, it is a man who does not need one. Ladies and gentlemen, it is Oscar winner Nicolas Cage. How are you today, sir? And thank you so much for joining me.

Nicolas Cage: Well, I’m happy to be here. I’m doing well, thank you for having me.

EI: You’re looking quite sharp at this time of the day.

NC: Well, I’m in New York, I have an interview down the road with the New York Times, so I thought I’d put on a suit with a tie.

EI: Let me just say congrats on the film, it is an absolute riot. I was literally slapping my knee and stopping my feet from laughing so hard, and I think it’s very cool about this film is that it’s the first time that I could remember laughing that hard in a theater for a long time, and I think that that’s gonna be the case for a lot of people.

NC: I’m so happy to hear you say that and I’m happy you saw it in a cinema with an audience.

The legacy of his career

EI: Packed house! It was a riot. It was phenomenal. So where I wanna start was that one of my notes was that this film very much felt like a celebration of the last generation of filmmaking. How does it feel knowing that your filmography and your work has become such a staple of pop culture in and of itself? And what do you think that it says about your work that you’ve created this sort of legacy?

NC: First and foremost, I’m very thankful that it has communicated and that people have responded, and that there was a relationship there between the work and the audience. And that was something that was important to me. Growing up being a cinephile and a film enthusiast myself, I felt like when I saw Marlon Brando that I knew what he was doing and I had my own relationship with him, and that was a secret between me and him. And that’s what I was hoping I could get with folks that would see my movies, that it would be deeply personal.

NC: And that, for me, I feel that it’s very validating and actualizing that whatever my dreams were with film performance, that they communicated with an audience. Whether they scared the crap out of Hollywood or directors or producers or not, that the audience was always with me. There was always a group of folks that were enthusiastic, and I’m thankful for that, and I’m deeply appreciative of that. And I think what it means is that — I got a little bit of flack when I said, ‘Oh, I don’t like the word actor. I prefer thespian.’ I didn’t say, don’t call me an actor, call me a thespian, and that they turn into that. What I was trying to say was that the process for me speaks more to the idea of narrating a story of imagination or a story of emotion as opposed to lying about it, and so it was more of a spiritual process. And in that communication, if I’m looking for the truth, the story, then hopefully you or the people in the audience will sense the sincerity in that as opposed to an act.

Going places he’s never gone before while making Massive Talent

EI: I think if there’s one thing that you conveyed in your career it’s that you’re sincere when you’re on camera. What are some elements of your craft that you tapped into while making this film that you maybe never have before or have for a long time?

NC: The idea of playing some version of oneself with one’s own name in a movie is terrifying and daunting and that was brand new. I had never done that before. And because I’m a student looking to learn something, and to grow, and because I was afraid of it. And because one of my mantras is, within reason, as long as you’re not hurting yourself or someone else, the very thing you’re afraid of is what you should go towards because you ultimately grow and learn something, I made this movie.

NC: But the whole time, I was trying to facilitate [director] Tom Gormican’s version of so-called Nic Cage and also protect so-called Nic Cage because it had my name. I couldn’t hide behind a character. The similarity, I would say that I had done before was ‘Adaptation’. I was playing the twins un Charlie and Donald Kaufman, but that movie was the most demanding movie I’ve ever made, it was more dialogue than I’ve ever had before. And to go back and forth each day from Charlie to Donald was acrobatic, and I don’t know that I could do it again. But when I was doing the scenes with Nicky, it reminded me a little of that in a very small scale.

The uniqueness of Charlie Kaufman

EI: It’s very cool here you bring up Charlie Kaufman, he is responsible for my favorite film of all time, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

NC: Oh yeah! And also all of his movies are in and of themselves and unlike anything else. And what’s interesting about Charlie, just to digress: I interviewed him at length and I got him on a tape, and I promised him I would burn all the tapes, so I could study his mannerisms and all that. But at one point I said to him, ‘I’d like to write to, too. I’m terrified of writing.’ And I said, ‘Do you have any recommendations? What can I do to get past my fear?’. And he said, ‘Well, what are you afraid of’ And I said, ‘Well, I’m worried that I won’t have a beginning and a middle and an end.’ And he said, ‘Well, if you just start writing, it will naturally have a beginning and a middle and an end. Whatever you write has a beginning and a middle and an end.’ It was so simple and. yet.. yeah, okay that took the pressure off.

The most difficult and rewarding aspect of self-reflection

EI: You actually touched on something that I was gonna ask you about. you said that playing yourself is a terrifying thing, so I’m curious, what was the most difficult aspect of the self-examination nature of this film and what was the most rewarding?

NC: The most terrifying aspect of it for me was that it would lapse into some kind of Saturday Night Live kit of mockery. And also through the beginning of the movie, this character is neglecting his child and his daughter played beautifully by Lilly Shen. And there’s no version of Nic Cage, so-called Nic Cage, or me Nic Cage that doesn’t wanna spend as much time with his children as much as possible, so that was a complete departure. But Tom Gormican said, ‘We’re making a movie here and this is an arc, and we have to go from a guy who’s overly career-minded to a guy who ultimately evolves into a sincere family, man.’

NC: I am a family man at heart, my family comes first, so that was the first departure. The similarities, I think are, I do have an off-the-wall sense of humor, I do like to get goofy, I do like to make people laugh and be absurd, and make facial expressions at home to make my wife or make my children laugh. I enjoy that. And that is in the movie as well. I love the scene at the wall. It had to be three hits, there was a real percussion to that. It’s all by design. It’s like from the ridiculous to the sublime, it is by design.

EI: I don’t wanna spoil, so I will just say the vehicle that allows that scene to come to be… I’ve been on that car before, and you did a great job of portraying that.

NC: I won’t mention any words alluding to that, but I’ve been on that car a million years ago with a certain friend of mine who everyone knows, and… woo, never do that again.

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Applying his famed acting technique inward

EI: Your acting technique has become famous in it of itself. What was it like applying that process even further inward to a character that’s not literally you, but a version of you?

NC: It was surprisingly not very different from what I normally do. Film performance, for me, has been something almost spiritual. I have a very close relationship with my muse, and she has never forsaken me. She’s always there, and I always say thank you. And so when I did take on the role of so-called Nic Cage, I still checked in with my muse, and the process was very similar with the added element of being a producer, which I was on this movie. And also wanting to protect a character whose name is the same as mine. It was a very fine balance of not wanting to get too precious with the character, so I could also be making jokes about myself and sending myself up, so to speak, and facilitate the director’s vision, but also I was making sure that this was still a person ad that this wasn’t just a caricature.

EI: It is a comedy, but the family drama aspects of it work too, and they have a symbiotic relationship that makes each other stronger.

NC: I think so too, and I’m glad you mentioned that. I saw the movie with a live audience in Texas, and it was a wonderful experience, and everybody was having so much fun. But I did walk away from it and I thought, ‘Wow, so-called Nic Cage is a pretty soft guy.’ And I realized that that is me, I am vulnerable, I am genuinely soft with my children and my family. And I think if there was something that is genuinely truthful about the performance as far as it pertains to this character, it’s that softness within the family.

His inspiration for his upcoming performance as Dracula in Renfield

EI: I wanna swing over to a radically different role, but then this one you’re playing yourself here that is unique and has never been done before on film. One of your next big roles is that of Dracula, which is literally one of the most legendary characters of all the time. What’s your process of adding your own layers to a character that’s been done time and time again?

NC: That’s a really good question. Let me start by saying, I don’t know how to say no to Dracula. So when they offered me Dracula and I was like, ‘Well, yeah, this is scary. Let’s bring that on.’ It’s scary because the character is scary, but it’s also, as you so well pointed out, it’s been done. And it’s been done well. It’s also been done not so well, and I thought that I could do something with my own enthusiasm about Brom Stoker’s book, as well as Christopher Lee’s performance in the Hammer films, as well as Langella’s performance, as well as Oldman’s performance, as well as Lugosi’s performance. I wanted to embrace elements of each of them, but also Orlock and Max Schreck, I wanna get some of the German expressionism and some of the body language in it.

NC: But by and large, I’m channeling my father, August Coppola, who had a mid-Atlantic accent. I never understood his accent, and I was like, ‘Dad, what is it this… Why are you talking like that?’ He goes ‘You wanna know why I talk like this, Nicolas? Because I made a decision to speak with distinction. Okay? I’m a literature professor, okay? That’s how I talk. And it’s kind of amazing to me how much he resembles Christopher Lee. It’s remarkable. So I just thought, okay, Dad looks like Christopher Lee, Dad kind of sounds like he’s in a Hammer horror film, and I did dad in ‘Vampire’s Kiss’, so I’m gonna bring him back from the afterlife as Dracula, combined with all the other elements I mentioned earlier.

EI: I think I speak for all film fans when I say I can’t wait for that. That first look photo of you in that suit the dropped in the past week or so was just absolutely electric.

NC: Thank you. Well, I’ll tell you that I had a lot of help with it. It’s 50% of it. The performance is. Lisa with the wardrobe and the clothing design, and Christian with the makeup, and Jules with the hair. We did go for that 60s look, the Hammer horror film look. But then the clothing is… well, I would wear that in my own life.

What about the future of film inspires and scares him the most

EI: Just dye that suit purple and you’re there. Let me ask you, sir, because I’ve gotta wrap here: you feel like an actor who’s a uniquely deep thinker, so I feel like you’re qualified to speak on this more than basically anyone I’ve ever spoken to. What about the future of film inspires you the most, and what about it scares you the most?

NC: What inspires me the most is probably the same thing that scares me the most. And that’s an interesting statement in itself, having to think about it now. But what I’m inspired by is the idea of a young filmmaker who’s doing movies on his or her cell phone, and it’s speaking to what’s happening now in the culture and the zeitgeist around the world in terms of how information is deployed, and what will that look like in the context of a movie narrative, what will that person bring to the film-making narrative?

NC: Because the Z-Generation is the now, but it’s also scary because I worry about things like attention span and what’s happened to me in terms of the memeification, which has been both positive and negative. Positive in that these memes have enabled people to give me another life in terms of, ‘Well, that’s an interesting expression,’ but it loses the context of how the character got to that point in the first place. Although maybe it will inspire people to look at the full two-hour movie or the 90-minute movie to see how the character got to that place.

NC: I‘m both inspired and scared of that. And it’s interesting, I said to my manager, who’s also a producer on this movie, I said, ‘You know, it’s always gonna be a young filmmaker who is going to bring something and reinvent me, and I’m waiting for that person to show up.’ And he did show up with ‘Pig’, it’s Michael Sarnoski. I call him “Arch Angel Michael. ” That person showed up. But that person is interested in slow movies and taking your time. He loved a movie called ‘Revanche’, I think it was a French film, and that’s different. But I know I’m gonna have an experience, we’re gonna meet someone who’s doing cuts on their cell phone. And I don’t know what that’s gonna look like yet, but I know it’s going to happen.

EI: Well, Nic, sir, thank you so much for your time. You brought up Pig, I just wanna say quick, the last shot of that film stuck with me for weeks. You have been an icon for as long as I’ve been alive, so I wanna thank you for your career and your contribution to this work, and also for showing people that it’s okay to unabashedly be yourself. I find it inspiring.

NC: Thank you, thank you. I make the movies for you, so thank you for saying so.

‘The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent’ hits theaters on Friday, April 22.

Subscribe and listen to our pop culture podcast, the Post-Credit Podcast, and follow us on Twitter @PostCredPod

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