Nicolas Cage faces off with a new foe: himself

In a recent and typically wide-ranging interview ahead of the release of The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, Nicolas Cage talks about his latest film, acting career, and life.

“Metropolis.” Bruce Lee. Woody Woodpecker. A pet cobra. All of these things have been inspirations behind Nicolas Cage performances — sometimes private homages that the actor has used like blueprints to build some of his most exaggerated, erratic and affecting characters.
A conversation with Cage, likewise, pulls from a wide gamut of sources. In a recent and typically wide-ranging interview ahead of the release of The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, Cage touched on Picasso, Elia Kazan, Timothée Chalamet and Francis Bacon. A book of interviews with Bacon, The Brutality of Fact, for instance, helped Cage define his attraction to intense, even grotesque performance — “that which is not obviously beautiful,” he says — rather than naturalism.
“And I’ve kind of approached my public perception, as well as the way I design my film work, as an actor with that concept in mind — to not be afraid to be ugly in behavior or even in appearance,” says Cage. “To create a kind of taste that you have to discover.”
With more than 100 films, the 58-year-old Cage — an Oscar-winner (Leaving Las Vegas), an action star (Con Air) and the source of countless Internet memes for his most theatrical moments in films like Face/Off — has long been one of the most particular tastes in movies. Yet by being “an amateur surrealist,” as he refers to himself, Cage has emerged — even after resorting to a string of VOD releases to pay off back taxes and get himself out of debt — as one of Hollywood’s most widely loved stars. As “Unbearable Weight” director Tom Gormican says, “the sight of his face sort of makes people happy.”
But for even the mercurial Cage, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, which opens in theaters Friday, represents something different. In it, Cage plays himself. Or, rather, he plays a fun-house mirror version of himself that sometimes interacts with a younger version of himself. The movie is one big homage to Cage in which the actor somehow manages to both satirize perceptions of himself and act out those personas sincerely.
“The through line that’s always been there for me: No matter what I designed, and it has been a design whether it’s ridiculous — and it’s often ridiculous — or whether it’s sublime, it has to be informed with genuine emotional content,” says Cage.
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“No matter how broad or what some folk like to call over the top, it had genuine feeling.”
But what to Cage constitutes over the top? This is the actor who, channeling Nosferatu in Vampire’s Kiss, gave one of the most bonkers recitals of the alphabet ever heard. He’s fond of answering: “Well, show me where the top is and I’ll tell you if I’m over it.”