‘The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent’ is now playing in cinemas across the UAE
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 before the release of The unbearable weight of massive talent, Cage mentioned Picasso, Elia Kazan, Timothée Chalamet and Francis Bacon. A book of interviews with Bacon, The brutality of the factsfor 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 think about 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 explains. “To create a kind of taste that must be discovered.”
With more than 100 films, Cage, 58, Oscar winner (Leaving Las Vegas), an action star (Air conditioning) and the source of countless internet memes for his most theatrical moments in movies like Front/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 off back taxes and get out of debt – like one of Hollywood’s most beloved stars. Like Unbearable weight director Tom Gormican says, “the sight of his face makes people happy.”
A satire of himself
But even for the Mercurial Cage, The unbearable weight of massive talent, which hits cinemas in the United Arab Emirates today, 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 direct line 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? It is the actor who, channeling Nosferatu in vampire kiss, gave one of the craziest recitals of the alphabet 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 is the top? 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 won’t necessarily sell tickets. But it is 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, I got thrown a lot of Rotten Tomatoes in my face. But I knew it was coming, 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 on South by Southwest to warm reviews, allows it to play with the notion of returning. 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 say, (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 say, ‘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 would say, ‘But he’s named after me.’ I was like, ‘Come on, man, just say the line.'”
“We would have discussions about who understood Nick Cage the best,” 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. (Werner Herzog Bad Lieutenant: Port of New Orleans comes to mind.)
Cage initially feared the Gormican film was a self-deprecating parody, and while it has those elements, Cage steers it in more unpredictable directions.
“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, he lost the emotional connection. It’s a slippery slope when you make the decision that 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 have the complete cage. Another scene shows the two Cages making out, after which the younger one exclaims, “Nick Cage is smooching good!”
A kind of legend
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 an infamously crazy appearance on Woganwas itself an act.
Last year, Cage married Riko Shibata, his fifth wife, and they are expecting a child. (Cage also has two adult sons; a friction point in Unbearable weight was that he wouldn’t be shown as an absent father – a fiction that Cage wouldn’t allow.)
After an exceptionally introspective press tour for the film, Cage is eager to return to the wilderness outside of Las Vegas, where he lives. He could use a break from “Nick Cage”.
But The unbearable weight of massive talent concludes 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 trained. 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 ad — and believe me, they offered me,” Cage says. “That was also a point for me, that I’m not a salesman, I’m an actor.” PA