No actor has taken more chances than Nicolas Cage over his varied 40-year career.
The legendary wild man, who changed his surname from Coppola to Cage after working on his initial film, “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” won an Oscar for his brilliant performance as a down-and-out alcoholic screenwriter in “Leaving Las Vegas. ”
Cage has also starred in action films such as “The Rock.” The unpredictable entertainer has starred in blockbusters, such as “Face/Off,” in which he excelled at playing both the good guy and the bad guy.
Cage has no problem leading a romantic comedy, hence “Moonstruck” and “It Could Happen to You.” And then there are the under-the-radar gems such as “Birdy,” in which Cage turned on what might be his greatest performance of his career.
It’s not surprising that maverick director David Lynch, who cast Cage in his brilliant film “Wild at Heart,” refers to the enduring star as “the jazz musician of American acting.”
Cage, 58, had done it all – except play himself as a down-and-out fading actor with an array of personal problems. However, that sort of unusual project is now crossed off his bucket list.
Director Tom Gormican and co-writer Kevin Etten penned a script, “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent,” in which Cage portrays a fictionalized version of himself, a thespian named Nick Cage, who is in debt thanks to poor choices, in a marriage that’s falling apart and in a detached relationship with his daughter.
It’s difficult to imagine any actor, even a normally game performer such as Cage, agreeing to accept such a gig.
“Deep in our core, Kevin and I thought there was no way Nic would ever say yes to the project,” Gormican said while calling from Los Angeles. “But we were having so much fun writing the script that we decided to give this a shot.
“We wanted to make a film that we would want to see. It’s easy to chase trends in this business, but we wanted to take a shot with this script. We gave the script to his agent from him and to Nic, and he was initially super reluctant.
Gormican, the creative force behind the TV series “Ghosted,” pushed the envelope by writing Cage a letter. “I wrote Nic that he has done so many genres so well, if you should consider this, we can pull this off.
“Once I said, ‘We can pull this off,’ he was interested. He’s all about performance art. I have loved that we’re blending fiction and reality.”
Cage immersed himself into the film, and it’s an unusual, entertaining and amusing movie. “Unbearable Weight” is bolstered by performances from underrated scene-stealer Pedro Pascal, Neil Patrick Harris and Tiffany Haddish.
“Once we had Nicolas Cage onboard, it was so easy bringing in any other actor,” Gormican said. “They’re all fans of his. It’s not surprising. Neil Patrick Harris said that he loves Nicolas Cage and would love to play his agent for him. Tiffany Haddish said that the first time she was in a theater, she saw ‘Face/Off.’ ”
Pascal plays a wealthy Spanish businessman who is a huge Cage fan boy. His character Cage offers him $1 million to attend his birthday party. A pair of CIA agents believe Cage’s No. 1 fan is the mind behind a vile criminal organization. Cage is torn between doing his duty and becoming tight with the adoring cinephile.
One of the highlights of the film, which opened Friday nationwide, is Cage’s alter-ego, a version of the actor a generation ago dubbed Nicky Cage.
“We were struggling to represent what was of Nicolas Cage,” Gormican said. “We were going to do the ‘Face/Off’ era Cage, and Nic said, ‘No, you don’t realize I was in a calm part of my life then.’
“He urged us to go to his ‘Wild at Heart’ era. He made us watch when he was on (British chat show host) Wogan during a ‘Wild at Heart’ (promo in 1990). It’s wild. He comes on and does a somersault and a roundhouse kick. Nic said that he found himself during that period so obnoxious. That’s who we had to have in the film. That version of Nic!”
Mission accomplished. While screening the film at South by Southwest in Austin last month, the crowd was incredibly enthusiastic during the world premiere and throughout the post-show Q&A with Cage, clad in a plaid suit, Gormican and other actors.
“Kevin and I said that we don’t want to see the film again after watching it in Austin,” Gormican said. “The audience was just phenomenal.” One of the most fun aspects of the film is the many references to the endless array of Cage films.
“There are so many movies he was in, and it was great to pay tribute to a gem like ‘Guarding Tess,’ since Nic and Shirley MacLaine were so good together,” Gormican said. “The cool thing is that Nic has so many amazing deep cuts to his credit. There was so much we didn’t touch on since you can’t do it all in one film.”
Well, that begs the question, will there be a sequel? “Nic told me he would do a sequel if it’s about Nicky, and Nic only shows up three times. That’s one way it can happen.”