Nicolas Cage has seen the "Nic Cage Is Everyone" meme. In fact, he's seen the "Nic Cage Losing His Sh*t" video, too. But he realizes there's nothing to be done about them now; they've already hit the ether. Plus, as Cage told us, he would never interfere with the Internet's obsession with his career (and face). He's just happy he's staying relevant at all. (So keep it up, Reddit!)
While the performance in his next film has yet to become a meme, it is making headlines for a different reason: Cage's outstanding performance of a gun-totin', bearded ex-con named Joe Ransom. Directed by David Gordon Green, "Joe," based on the book by Larry Brown, follows the life of its titular character, who ends up becoming an unlikely role model and savior to a 15-year-old boy named Gary (Tye Sheridan). Despite its quiet Southern setting, the film is filled with quick, emotional bursts of violence, as Joe soon comes to grips with himself and his place in the world.
We spoke to Cage minutes after watching "Joe" at the Toronto International Film Festival, where the movie celebrated its North American premiere. In addition to his newfound Internet celebrity, Cage also talked about Andy Samberg's Nic Cage impression on "SNL," why the last few years of his life helped his performance in "Joe," and a unique saying his father always used to tell him (it involves blood and water).
I literally just got out of the movie.
Oh, you did? Then it's very much a part of your psyche then.
After watching you with a beard for the last two hours, it's a bit jarring to see you without one.
Yeah, yeah. I wanted to be as counterpoint as I could to the character when you met me.
Was it uncomfortable having the beard while shooting?
No, I actually like wearing a beard. I will probably go back to one in my own life pretty soon. My son really likes me in a beard.
You've spoken before about a misconception people have of you -- that you play over-exaggerated characters a lot. I feel like this is a good example of you not playing one.
Thank you. Yeah, that was part of the selection process. It's no secret that I have tried to experiment with film performance by design and have a concept, if you will, of going outside the box and not being afraid to be abstract or operatic or baroque, or what some critics would call over-the-top. But the reason why I take a little bit of umbrage with the words "over-the-top" is because, to me, that implies you're out of control in some way. Whereas everything I did I knew what I was doing by design. It was like drawing and music. I wanted, for example, in "[Ghost Rider] Spirit of Vengeance" to have the music be SCRAAAAPINNNG AT THE DARRRRRRK. And it was really thought out. But that was a style, and because of that, having done a few movies like that in a row, I felt like it was time to go back to a more naked, photorealistic natural style of film acting, where people and myself could also see that color in the palate again.
This film is a lot darker than I thought it would be.
Well, I think David Gordon Green did an excellent job of telling a story about a particular part of our country in a way that, even though it was a fairly simple story about fairly simple people, really evoked some danger and some fear in the audience. These things happen: there are people that drink too much and then take advantage of people. There is such a thing as child abuse.
One of the things I like about the movie -- my father used to say, "If you're in the desert and you're dying of thirst, are you going to drink a glass of blood or you going to drink a glass a water?" meaning, sometimes your very own family that you're close to can be toxic. They take your success or your potential as a personal insult on their failure, and they beat you up or they say you'll never make it. That's not a glass of blood you want to drink if you're dying of thirst in the desert. But Joe provides, like, a glass of water. He's what I call in the abstract a "waterfather." He becomes a surrogate father and he sees the potential in Gary.
This movie seems to have gotten a really good response so far, too. It got a standing ovation at the Venice Film Festival.
I think so. I am just happy with the fact that "Joe" exists and that the movie is out there; it's out of my hands now. But I am very happy to support the movie and to travel and show my genuine affection for the film and for what everyone did with it.
Is that how you normally approach your movies: once you're done acting in them it's out of your hands?
Yeah. Absolutely. I saw the movie twice. I think that's probably as many times as I will ever see the movie. Once I finish a film I see the movie usually once, but because we've been blessed to be on the festival circuit, I got to see it twice, out of respect for the filmmakers and my colleagues, and for the birth of the film itself. But then I am done. I can't go back. I have to move forward. I have to see what's next and open my mind to other possibilities. I gotta dump it out of my head, I gotta dump it out of my body. Because there is only so much room for memorization, for dialogue, for emotional [moments].
That makes sense. Since you do a lot of films, you want to sort of free your mind after each one.
Yeah, I have been known to make a lot of movies, though I'd like to say that I did take a year off before doing "Joe." That's the only movie I made last year. So I don't think Andy Samberg is going to be able to make jokes about that on "Saturday Night Live" anymore [laughs]. Though I think he's not doing that anymore.
I feel like you took that in good spirits, though. You even showed up with him on "SNL" last year.
Oh, yeah. I don't take anything personally, and I did want to go on the show and I like him. But the point I am trying to make is it got into the ... let's call it the cultural zeitgeist. Because once something is written it becomes the mindset and the culture. So what I have to do is remind...or actually, in some ways, protect the work that I have done for the last 35 years by saying, "Well, hang on a minute." This is an eclectic approach to work, and I have different kinds of expressions that I want to portray in a film performance -- it's by design, it's a concept. And on top of that, I am a working dog. I do better when I am working as a man. You know, film acting is one of the only industries where you're criticized for working hard. In any other industry it's considered a quality and something to behold.
Well, I feel like your work is protected. It's celebrated all over the Internet. You even have a whole Reddit page dedicated to your career.
Well, yeah. In a way that has kept me relevant with younger generations. So in a way, they've actually helped me. Because I think there are people who've probably never seen any of my movies who are aware of me because of these snippets on YouTube. Like Cage...what's it called?
Cage Losing His Sh*t?
Yeah, Cage Losing My Sh*t. People can see that and just see snippets. What's interesting about that is that then they think that I am just a guy who can go to rage, but there are other elements. But I am not complaining. I am actually quite happy with it.
Was there a moment when you realized that those videos were popping up everywhere?
Yeah, because it doesn't matter. Even if I abstain at looking at anything, people will still bring it to me, whether I ask for it or not. Like someone will text me an image from Nic Cage Is Everyone and I am like What's up with that? I am like, "I don't know! I don't know why this is happening!"
Yeah, it's not like you're controlling it.
Right! The other thing is that I think the folks on the internet know that I don't have my own website and I don't have a Facebook page, and I let people do what they want. I would never interject it or interrupt it or stop whatever is happening, simply because that train has left the station. There really is nothing I can do about it but accept it.
For "Joe," you said that you tapped into some of your own personal experiences over the last few years to play the role. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Yeah. Well, I can get very specific about some of the moves in the movie and some of the dialogue in the movie. I won't get as specific about my own life. Like, for example, that whole bit with the lighter. That wasn't in the script. Joe spent more money on his lighter then he did on his truck or on his house probably, because of that sound [it makes], like Ping! That was the mating call. [Joe says], "When you have that, the hookers know you've got money." What a ridiculous concept and such a politically incorrect thing to say to a 15-year-old boy. But to me that made him more daring in some way. I heard about that. Some guy said that to me, and I thought, Are you for real, man? But for some reason it stayed in me and I kept trying to find a movie to put in, and I thought that this would be right for "Joe."
But in terms of my own life, the emotions that I've ... I just feel like I've stayed in touch with other people and with society from whatever's happened to me in the last 10 years. And so I think I made it easier to play the part. I haven't isolated myself. I am not living on a yacht somewhere. I am not tucked away or behind a gate somewhere. I am not flying on a private plane. I am going to the airport, I am with people, some of the interactions are good, some of them are not so good, but it keeps me in touch with being, you know, part of society. And I think that's necessary to stay relevant to be able to tell stories about people, which is what actors do.
You can reach Alex Suskind directly on Twitter.