Nicolas Cage Is Ready to Be Taken Seriously Again

by 24USATVJuly 15, 2021, 10 p.m. 21
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When Nicolas Cage read the script for Pig, a poignant drama about a truffle hunter who has abandoned society to live in the forest with his beloved pig, the Oscar-winning actor felt he could relate. Cage, like the character Rob, has a deep connection with animals: His best friend as a child was a cat named Razzmatazz. As an adult actor, he requested to handle a venomous snake for a role (even though he didn’t have to) because he felt the reptile calmed him down. At some point in his life, he shared a psychedelic experience with another cat. Even in his interview with Vanity Fair Wednesday, Cage corrected himself when he referred to domesticated animals as pets. “Pet is such a trite word,” he scoffed, before finding a more respectful descriptor: “animal family member.”

After a rocky 2019, Cage could also understand why a person might want to escape human society altogether. That year Cage drunkenly married a makeup artist, only to file to annul the marriage, his fourth, after four days. The following month, around the third anniversary of Prince’s death, Cage went to a Los Angeles karaoke bar where he covered “Purple Rain” as a form of remembrance and “primal scream therapy.”

By that point in his career, Cage had given movie audiences countless “emotionally naked” performances onscreen. But when a karaoke audience member recorded Cage’s “Purple Rain” performance—an emotionally naked moment in his personal life—and uploaded it to the internet, the actor felt acutely violated.

“Karaoke is kind of like a prayer,” Cage told Vanity Fair, looking back at the incident. “You’re not supposed to videotape that. I’m not a professional singer. I’m just enjoying my life and blowing off some steam with friends.”

Ahead, Cage talks about why Pig, in theaters Friday, was a perfect place to channel his recent emotions. He also discusses the surreal challenge of playing various versions of himself for the forthcoming meta movie The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent; what the Cage memes get wrong; and when channeling a sociopath onscreen has scared even him.

Vanity Fair: Before talking about Pig, I’m curious what your quarantine experience was like. You’ve said you prefer to be working at all times, so how did you fare during lockdown?

Nicolas Cage: Thank you for asking. It’s interesting that you bring that up, because I relied heavily on my cat and my family. I think this quarantine experience, and the fear of the pandemic itself, only augments the closeness we feel with our animal brothers and sisters. It’s interesting timing that this movie is coming out as we slowly begin to emerge from that experience. I was already close with my animals, but it only made us closer because I really needed their support during that time.

Pig is not the Liam Neeson–style revenge thriller I was expecting. It’s a quieter film about a man’s connection with another creature, and what he will do to protect it. The character comes out of profound isolation to try to track down the animal after it’s been stolen from him. Aside from the animal aspect, what appealed to you about the role?

This script came to me, and it seemed perfect for what I could recruit in terms of my own life experience—my own memories, my own dreams, my own fear—and even my interest in sort of isolating before the pandemic. When I read Michael [Sarnoski]’s script, I felt that this was something that would be a good match and wouldn’t require a great deal of effort. The timing was right.

I was interested in a return too—almost like reminding myself, and many of the folks in the critical universe, that [quieter performances] are another one of my paintbrushes. I had done Joe, which was another quiet, meditative character analysis…and in the past with movies like Birdy and The Weather Man.

But since then, I had really largely embarked on, for lack of a better word, a mission to explore what could be done with film performance breaking form from what had become the norm, which is naturalism. I am not Picasso, and I have great trepidation putting myself in the same sentence as Picasso. But, as a young man growing up with a professor as a father who was interested in the arts, I would ask him questions like, “Dad, why is he putting these portraits together with people’s eyes on the same side of their face?” And he said, “Well, that was his vision.” I said, “Well, can he draw normal people?” He goes, “Well of course, he can. He broke free.” For me it was, can you do that with film performance? But now, I think it had been forgotten that I really came out of dramas.

You mentioned your own period of isolation. Have you ever flirted with the idea of just giving up movies entirely, and moving off the grid like your character?

I have gone into the wilderness in terms of, if I am in California, I’m in downtown L.A. in Little Tokyo [as opposed to Hollywood]. And most of my time is spent in the Mojave Desert [specifically Las Vegas], where there really isn’t any kind of paparazzi culture. I might as well be on the moon, which I’ve enjoyed. And I enjoy working on productions that are smaller and have less to lose because there’s less fear involved. These big studios have become largely pandering to a climate of fear, and it becomes very hard to express something truthful while also fitting the necessities of the studio system.

It’s something that I danced with a little bit recently with Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent. But I think I will continue the path I’ve been on and hopscotch around independent cinema as long as I’m invited to.

You mentioned surrealism. It seems as though the public has this perception of Nicolas Cage that is almost surreal in itself, based on stories you’ve told about the dinosaur skull you bought at auction, that had to be returned; your pet king cobras wanting to kill you; buying a serial killer’s home as creative inspiration; spending the night in Dracula’s castle; etc. What’s your relationship with that perception?

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