Why Nicolas Cage French kisses himself in ‘The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent’
Nicolas Cage brought his own distinct brand of movie stardom to the Paramount Theatre on Saturday night for the world premiere of “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent,” in which Cage plays a movie star named Nick Cage.
It’s a movie with everything fans love about the screen persona of Nicolas Cage — absurdly funny, earnestly sincere, a bit out there and a lot of fun.
In the film, Cage plays an aging movie star, grown distant from his ex-wife (Sharon Horgan) and teenage daughter (Lily Sheen) and who would like to retire if he didn’t have massive debts such as the $600,000 bill from the hotel he has lived in for a year. He often has conversations with his younger alter ego, known as Nicky, who brings out his vanity, ego and worst impulses. Cage begrudgingly accepts an offer to attend the birthday party of an olive grove magnate named Javi Gutierrez (Pedro Pascal) in Majorca, Spain, for $1 million.
Cage is soon enlisted by two U.S. government agents (Tiffany Haddish, Ike Barinholtz) who say the affable Javi is actually a dangerous international arms dealer and they need the actor’s help to save a kidnapped politician’s daughter. As an excuse to stay at Javi’s fortress compound, Cage agrees to collaborate on a screenplay idea and it becomes more evident, particularly after the two take LSD together, that the movie itself is the script they are writing.
The movie is filled with references to Cage’s prodigious filmography, from “The Rock,” “Leaving Las Vegas” and “Face/Off” to “Captain Corelli’s Mandolin,” “Guarding Tess,” “Mandy” and “The Wicker Man.” There are also references to lots of other films, including “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” and “Paddington 2.”
After the film, director and co-writer Tom Gormican was joined onstage by co-writer Kevin Etten, plus actors Jacob Scipio, Alessandra Mastronardi and Sheen. (Sheen makes her grown acting debut with the film and her mother, actor Kate Beckinsale, was in the audience.) Pascal and Cage also joined, each stepping onstage to wild applause.
Gormican admitted that he had never met Cage before the project and said of its origins, “We just started writing it, it’s a colossally stupid decision that worked out nicely.”
Cage said when he was first told of the idea, his initial response was, “No, I am not doing that.” But after a letter from Gormican, Cage said, “I realized he wasn’t trying to do like an Andy Samberg ‘SNL’ sketch mocking whatever so-called ‘Nic Cage’ is, but that he actually was interested in some of the earlier work and wanted to showcase that and brought some in — the references to gold guns and some of the other movies. So I thought, ‘okay well this guy is serious and he’s intelligent.’ So I wanted to do it.”
Adding another layer to the evening, a number of times during the Q&A, Gormican would recall something Cage said, doing an impression of the actor in front of him. Cage seemed unphased.
Pascal also declared himself a huge fan of Cage, much as his character is in the movie, saying that in his conversations with Gormican and Etten, “I knew more about Nicolas Cage movies than they did.” He also noted how he and Cage would trade off horror film recommendations for each other.
During audience questions, a fan presented Cage with a single rose, which he held onto for the rest of the night, gesturing with it, sniffing at it, considering it, adding an unexpected lyrical quality to many of his responses.
“One of the main reasons why I wanted to make this movie — and there was a little more of this character in some of the earlier cuts — was I loved the Nicky character. I named him Nicky. Originally it was just ‘young Nick Cage’ and I saw an old interview I did in England on the ‘Wogan’ show, where I was literally front hand-springing, I was promoting ‘Wild at Heart,’ front hand-springing, doing karate kicks, throwing money out into the audience and I thought, ‘Well, that guy is a really obnoxious arrogant madman, I think he needs to be in this movie.’”
“That was Nic, that’s Nic in 1990. I’m so glad I’m nothing like that person anymore,” he added. (Adding to the slippage or confusion between what’s real and what’s onscreen, the character of Nicky is credited to Nicolas Kim Coppola, Cage’s birth name.)
Cage received strong reviews for his performance last year in the drama “Pig,” and he added, “As you hopefully may have noticed, I’ve been trying to get back into my dramatic roots and back into independent films, which is my base, I’m always going to go back to that. And I was thinking a lot about Tony Curtis, how Tony Curtis could play the Boston Strangler and then he could be in movies like ‘Sweet Smell of Success’ and ‘Some Like It Hot’ and I’d think, ‘well, that guy has range, let’s get back to some comedy, let’s flex a little bit and do the comedy and the drama.’ So thankfully Kevin and Tom allowed me to do that with this.”
Cage also said the moment when Nick Cage kisses his younger alter ego was his idea. As Gormican added, “it’s the thing you only get with Nic; he comes to you and says, ‘Tom, I’d like to French kiss myself.’”
“It was so symbolic of what was happening,” explained Cage. “I’m actually making a movie about two versions of myself, what am I doing? It’s like making out with yourself in the weirdest way. So we might as well do that symbolically and have them kiss each other.”
Cage also referenced a line of Jeremy Irons’ in “Reversal of Fortune” — “You have no idea” — as to what it was like playing a version of himself written by someone else.
“It was a high-wire, it was terrifying, no muscle in my body told me to play any version of myself in a movie, and because it scared the crap out of me I knew I had to do it,” Cage said.
As the Q&A wrapped up, the festival’s Janet Pierson presented Cage with an outsized belt buckle in recognition of “40 years of massive talent.”
“I’m gonna wear this,” Cage said. “I’m gonna wear it to dinner, I’m gonna wear it at the grocery store, I’m gonna wear it at 7-Eleven. And this is going to encourage me to keep trying to surprise you and entertain you.”
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