Interview: Nicholas Cage Did Not Want to Play Himself

Nicholas Cage

The Oscar-winner reveals why he was hesitant to play himself in the smash hit, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent until he met “Nicky.”

‘Nicolas Cage’ (Nicolas Cage)Photo Credit: Katalin Vermes/Lionsgate

According to co-writer and executive producer, Kevin Etten the project was written on spec, as a “leap of faith” with their subject having no knowledge of the filmmakers’ plans. In the movie, “Nick Cage” is a fictionalized version of the star, imagined as a once-highly respected actor who has fallen on hard times and is craving a return to box-office glory. His megalomania has also poisoned his relationships with his ex-wife Olivia (Sharon Horgan) and daughter Addy (Lily Sheen), though he can’t see it just yet. When his smarmy agent (Neil Patrick Harris) extends him a lifeline with an offer to attend a birthday party for a cool payday of one million dollars, Nick – despite his better instincts – reluctantly agrees, and hops on a plane to meet the birthday boy / Cage superfan, Javi (Pedro Pascal), in picturesque Mallorca, Spain.

Pedro Pascal as Javi and Nicholas Cage in “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent.” Katalin Vermes/Lionsgate

Don’t make the mistake of thinking the real Cage is feeling unfulfilled and rejected. In fact, the actor recently received some of his best reviews (in a career of good reviews) for his performance in 2021’s Pig. “This is Tom’s invented version of Nick Cage – a neurotic, high-anxiety version of Nick Cage,” says the actor. “This film is a real head trip for me.” But Cage was initially reluctant to participate. “I had no interest in playing myself in a movie,” he admits. “But then I received a very nice letter from Tom (writer-director), and I read his script. The first act really terrified me, and by the time I got to acts two and three, I thought, Tom is taking us on an adventure that is really quite exciting.”

Tiffany Haddish and Nicholas Cage in “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent.” Photo: Karen Ballard / Lionsgate

Audiences were particularly delighted by Nick’s shadow, Nicky — a young (Wild at Heart-era Cage) figment of the actor’s considerable imagination who bellows for a single-minded focus on movie stardom — also played by Cage. “Nicky has this lanky long hair, and he’s riding Nick about his career choices,” says Cage. “For me, Nicky steals the show…What really put the hook in me about this movie was the idea of playing Nicky, and the interplay between the two characters really excited me. Nicky will not rest until his alter ego tries to become a movie star again. It was like a trip down memory lane, rediscovering my energy from years ago.”

For research, Cage even looked up some of his more unconventional press interviews. Much of Nicky’s look was inspired by Cage’s appearance during those interviews, as well as the wardrobe he donned during the promotion of Wild at Heart, including a black leather jacket, black jeans, and boots. Cage describes the character as “a younger version that I would like to kill. Nicky’s energy is very different from Nick’s or from Nicolas Cage’s. Nicky is loud, bold, and unapologetic. He still believes in himself and has his entire world ahead of him. Nicky questions and pushes his older self, sometimes brutally…I love Nicky and knew I could have a lot of fun with the character. His irreverence is likable, and he is genuinely concerned for Nick and trying to help him the only way Nicky knows how.” And that pretty much sealed the deal.

— Kelly Fine