All this week, Uproxx will be paying tribute to the many facets of Nicolas Cage, from his big-screen triumphs to the legends that have come to surround him and the cult following both have helped create. Next: a look at a path not taken.
Back in 2012, when I was working as a staff entertainment writer for Huffington Post (now just called HuffPost, which is what everyone always called it anyway) I had the opportunity to interview Nicolas Cage when he was promoting Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. (In case you’re getting the two Ghost Rider movies confused, that’s the one where Nic Cage, as Ghost Rider, urinates flames).
Sitting in a hotel room alone with Nicolas Cage is, at first, a bit surreal. But it’s not like he’s doing some sort of shtick – in reality he’s a pretty good interview who is a little more candid than you might expect. But that’s not the point of any of this. The point is, about halfway through the interview, he said something that blew my mind.
I was asking Nic Cage about co-starring with Jim Carrey in Peggy Sue Got Married when he dropped this bombshell:
Well, we talked at length about trying to do a movie together. In fact, he wanted me to be in Dumb and Dumber with him. And then I wanted to do a much smaller movie instead called Leaving Las Vegas.
We could be living in a world in which Nicolas Cage had played Harry Dunne in Dumb and Dumber and I desperately want to know what that world is like.
Cage explained that he and Jim Carrey don’t speak much anymore and that they used to be “very close.” But rereading this back, I’m mad at myself for not following up at least 15 more times. I think I was in shock. I asked something about Leaving Las Vegas next. How in the world did I not ask about this alternate reality that we could all be living in right now?
Look, I love Jeff Daniels as Harry. Even more, I love that Daniels spent three years on The Newsroom developing this serious, authoritative persona – only to then take the money for Dumb and Dumber To and wind up pulling a catheter out of Jim Carrey’s bladder.
But, for a second, picture this all as Nic Cage. Let’s picture Nicolas Cage in the first Dumb and Dumber, sitting on that toilet after being poisoned with Ex-Lax. Or let’s picture Nic Cage getting into a snowball fight with Mary Swanson. Jeff Daniels had a way of even turning that scene – a scene in which Harry throws a snowball into Mary’s face at point blank range, then tackles her as they both fall down a hill – into something strangely innocent. When Mary starts laughing, the look on Harry’s face is, “Can you believe I did that? I’m such a character!”
But think if Cage played this role? It would have none of the innocence of Daniels’ performance and, instead, would probably be a little terrifying. Cage can play sincere (he’s pretty good in The Family Man!) but I’m not convinced “innocent” is in his repertoire. Dumb and Dumber would all of a sudden take on a much more ominous tone – to the point Jim Carrey (who was only a famous person for a couple of years at this point) would start feeding off of Cage’s energy, turning Lloyd Christmas into something probably a lot more sinister – and there’s a very fine line to Carrey’s performance as Christmas already. I mean, he’s already fairly sinister; he’d just be much more so with Cage by his side.
And like Cage said, he turned it down to film Leaving Las Vegas, which netted him his only Oscar win. What would Cage’s career look like without that Oscar? After he won, he kind of entered a, “Well, I won that, now I can concentrate on movies like Con Air” phase. And that’s not saying Cage didn’t do awards caliber work after Leaving Las Vegas (hello, Adaptation), but it was, let’s say, a little more spaced out.
When I asked him if winning another Oscar was important, Cage replied with this word jumble of a quote, “It’s not important to me. In fact, I think that if you go about making movies to win Oscars, you’re really going about it the wrong way. Right now, what I’m excited about is trying to create a kind of a cultural understanding through my muse that is part of the zeitgeist that isn’t motivated by vanity or magazine covers or awards. It’s more, not countercultural, but counter-critical. I would like to find a way to embrace what Led Zeppelin did, in filmmaking.”
(To this day, that is still my favorite group of words that anyone has said to me.)
But the point is he said winning an Oscar is not important to him. Now, a lot of actors will say that, but not with this much gusto. I think he really meant it! But he did seem to have a hunger for winning one Oscar, which he did. But would that have continued post-Dumb and Dumber? I think so. I think we would have gotten five or six more great Oscar-worthy Cage performances in his quest for greatness. (Or, in Cage speak for “greatness”, a “cultural understanding through my muse that is part of the zeitgeist.”)
I want to live in the timeline in which Nic Cage made Dumb and Dumber. This current timeline sucks anyway. It can’t be worse, can it? I’ll take the risk. If someone can build the machine that takes me there, I will go. I will go and I will embrace Cage’s cultural understanding through his muse that is part of the zeitgeist.
You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.