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Film Talk: Nicolas Cage on the ‘deeply humbling experience’ of playing a version of himself

Nicolas Cage is an incredibly polite man. “Thank you so much for having me,” he says, sweetly, at the start of our interview.

Nicolas Cage as Nicolas Cage
Nicolas Cage as Nicolas Cage

“Thank you for asking,” he adds, as our chat gets under way.

These are the kind of diligent manners you might not expect from an actor whose persona looms as large as Cage’s does.

Part of a Hollywood dynasty (his real name is Nicolas Kim Coppola, as in The Godfather director Francis Ford Coppola, who is his uncle), he is a man of many contradictions.

An Oscar winner for 1995’s Leaving Las Vegas, he has also starred in hits such as Adaptation, which bagged him a second Oscar nod, Raising Arizona, Face/Off, Con Air, The Rock, National Treasure and Gone In Sixty Seconds.

He has worked with revered directors such as Martin Scorsese and David Lynch, but also starred in some less-than-stellar projects.

He is the subject of a feverish online fandom and a Cage-themed film festival called Cage-o-rama, (“Scotland’s first Nicolas Cage film festival”) yet debate has raged whether he really is a good actor or not.

Now 58, it is notable that he has enough humility and self-deprecating good humour to star in a film in which he sends up every element of his outsize public image, The Unbearable Weight Of Massive Talent.

In it he plays a version of himself who is unfulfilled by his career and facing financial ruin, losing out on parts he auditions for in the valet queue at the celeb hotspot Chateau Marmont, and distanced from his teenage daughter, who thinks he is a self-involved narcissist,

In desperate need of cash, he accepts a one million dollar offer from his agent Richard Fink (Neil Patrick Harris) to travel to Europe to attend a wealthy fan’s birthday party, but things take a wildly unexpected turn when it turns out the fan, played by Pedro Pascal, is a drug kingpin and he is recruited by the CIA for an undercover mission.

Most actors, and their outsize egos, would run very far and very fast from a role that portrays them as an out-of-work has-been, but Cage did not, so why not?

“Listen, I did run,” he admits. “I said ‘no, no, no, no’.

“And then Tom Gormican [the film’s director] had his fishing line and he reeled me back in with a letter, which was a sensitive letter and it was an intelligent letter, and I knew then that he wasn’t trying to do a kind of Saturday Night Live sketch that was mocking so-called Nick Cage, but he had some genuine interest in the earlier work.

“And one of my mantras is the very thing you’re afraid of – more often than not, as long as you’re not hurting yourself, or someone else – is probably the thing you should move towards, because you may learn something from the experience or grow in some way.

“And I can tell you that this was a deeply humbling experience, but there was no muscle in my body that told me I should play Nick Cage in a movie.”

But while he pushed those hesitations aside, he did bristle against the notion that he would be portrayed as a bad dad.

The five-times married star has sons Kal-El, 16, and Weston, 31, from previous relationships, and in January it was confirmed he was expecting a baby with wife Riko Shibata.

“The big discrepancy in the movie from the real me is that there’s no version of Nick Cage that doesn’t want to spend time with his children, and my family always comes first,” Cage says passionately.

“I said that to the director and he said, ‘Yeah, but this is a movie and we need this character to evolve. He has to go from being a narcissistic, career-minded actor into a sensitive family man’.

“So I said, ‘OK, well that’s a good argument, this is a movie, this isn’t really me’.

“The flavour of the film that does speak to the real me is the comedy, I do like to make jokes and to be goofy at home and make my wife laugh, make my boys laugh, and so that element, that sense of humour, I think was spot on.

“But I was really setting myself up, I was taking the mickey out of myself, and that is always good mojo. You know, you can’t get too high on your own supply. You can’t become self important and turn into a diva. And I think that it was humbling for me to do this.”

The film even jokingly allows Cage to address the record on his own filmography.

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin? “Under-rated.” Gone In Sixty Seconds? “All his own driving.”

“I think it’s nice that John Madden’s movie Corelli’s Mandolin got a little props in Massive Talent. I think that that was a movie that had a lot of poignancy and depth, and Penelope [Cruz, his co-star] was just remarkable in it. So I’m glad that came out,” he says earnestly.

“The rest are just more fun references, like references to Gone In Sixty Seconds, references to National Treasure. And references to the gold guns and Face/Off, those all got big laughs and that was nice.”

Lily Sheen, who plays his daughter in the movie, knows a thing or two about being the child of a famous person.

The daughter of Kate Beckinsale and Michael Sheen, she makes her big screen debut with the feature, starring opposite a man she has looked up to all her life,

“I used to do that thing ‘caging’, when you put pictures of Nicolas Cage on people’s lockers in middle school,” the 23-year-old admits.

“So he had always been this big figure to me, and I was so nervous to meet him. But he blew it out of the water and he’s the loveliest person and he’s so talented and he’s iconic, but still very kind and professional.

“As an actor in my first movie, I had so many questions for him and he was very patient and very helpful, so it was like the luckiest experience I could have had.”

The film set wasn’t actually the first time Sheen had laid eyes on Cage in person.

“One time he was on a plane that I was on. I had horrible plane anxiety at the time and I remember my mum going ‘Well, the plane’s not going to go down, because Nick is on this plane’.

“I remember that and it carried me through,” she laughs.

Nice manners, good humour and the ability to keep a plane in the air? What a guy.

The Unbearable Weight Of Massive Talent is out in UK cinemas now

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