Nicolas Cage On ‘Dream Scenario’ And Why He’s Ready To Quit Making Movies: ‘Adios’

Something Nicolas Cage said took me aback. Pretty early on, as we were discussing Cage’s terrific, nuanced performance in Dream Scenario, Cage said he is going to stop making movies. And he uses the word “adios” three times to highlight his statement. In fact, he says in a perfect world Dream Scenario would be his last film and he can leave on a high note, but contractual commitments won’t allow that. It’s hard to imagine a world where Nicolas Cage isn’t making movies. Why does he feel this way?

Well, it turns out Nicolas Cage doesn’t watch television. Well, that was the case until recently when his son implored him to watch Breaking Bad, a show Cage calls “magnificent.” And it was Cage’s exposure to Breaking Bad that gave him the idea that this would be the next phase of his career. Cage doesn’t think he can learn anything more from doing another movie (he has a good point there) but thinks he has a lot to learn still from doing television. Cage says he’s still trying to formulate this idea and is talking through it. But he seems genuinely delighted by it. Cage isn’t a big fan of how the internet has distilled his performances into memes (another good point) and is hoping if he plays just one character over a series of seasons/episodes, maybe the internet would, you know, lay off a bit. (I wish him luck there but I’m not sure that’s possible.)

In Kristoffer Borgli’s Dream Scenario, Cage plays Paul Matthews, a fairly reserved professor who, out of the blue, starts appearing in people’s dreams, even strangers. And the dreams are all similar. At first, Paul is a bystander, being unhelpful in dangerous situations. At first, Paul enjoys his newfound quasi-fame (Sprite is interested in working with him), but as the phenomenon progresses, Paul becomes more and more violent in these dreams, which has real-world consequences as Paul eventually gets canceled online.

I had a considerable amount of time to talk to Cage so this interview goes quite a few different places, from Breaking Bad to Face/Off to Con Air. And why, soon after his terrible experience on Fast Times at Ridgemont High, he decided to not use the last name Coppola anymore, which is a multipart answer. And the last time I interviewed Cage, 11 years ago, he told me he wanted his career going forward to be “like Led Zeppelin.” So he lets us know if he achieved his Led Zeppelin goals.

Nicolas Cage: How are you?

No complaints. How are you?

The same. No complaints.

The internet loves it when you get to scream, but I love it when you dig into a more reserved character like this, and I think you’re extremely good at it. I don’t know if that’s what you saw in this role.

I’ve always, in my filmography, I’ve always tried to mix it up and explore different genres and different styles of what can be done with film performance. I’ve always looked at the margins and the edges of film performance. And what can we do to maybe recall different styles of acting from silent film or from the golden age stars like Cagney. And, then also, if you look carefully at the filmography, find the more minimal performance style – the 1970’s naturalism style that we’ve all become obsessed with ad infinitum as the arbiter of good acting. But in this case, I think people like to be reminded that I’m capable of a more natural style of film performance, even though I’ve explored other choreographed acting styles.

Do you like being reminded of that, too?

Yeah… I mean, I like staying fresh. I mean, I like to keep mixing it up. I don’t want to get stuck in any genre or any performance style. I want to do it all. And I feel that I’ve, at this point – after 45 years of doing this; that in over 100 movies – I feel I’ve pretty much said what I’ve had to say with cinema. And I’d like to leave on a high note and say, “Adios.” I think I have to do maybe three or four more movies before I can get there, and then hopefully switch formats and go into some other way of expressing my acting.

Oh, wait, so you only want to do three or four more movies?

Well, I’d like to. I would’ve liked to have left on a high note, like Dream Scenario. But I have other contracts that I have to fulfill, so we’ll see what happens. I mean, I am going to be very severe and very astringent on the selection process moving forward. But for me to do another movie, I do want to explore other formats. I am very interested in immersion streaming with episodic television. I have seen things that can be done now with characters and the time they’re given to express themselves. I saw Bryan Cranston stare at a suitcase for an hour on one episode of Breaking Bad. We don’t have time to do that in a feature film, so maybe television is the next best step for me. We’ll see.

So if it were up to you, Dream Scenario would be your last movie?

I would say, “Adios.” I did what I had to do with cinema and I want to move on now. But I’m not there yet, but hopefully I will be. We’ll see.

It’s interesting you brought that up because you really haven’t got to explore episodic television. And now seasons can be six or eight or ten episodes. Is that what’s appealing? Does that make sense?

Well, yeah. It absolutely makes sense. But more importantly, I want to spend some quality time with my family. And I’m going to be 60 next month and my dad died at 75. So it’s like, if I’m lucky, I have more years than he did, but I don’t know. And so what am I going to do with my next 15 years? Well, what’s important? What’s important is my children and I have a baby daughter. And if I can find an episodic show to do that stays in one place where I don’t have to keep leaving, we can all be together. That, on a personal level, would be great. But also I’m a student and I don’t know if I have anything else to learn in cinema. I might have something to learn in television.

I mean, that’s interesting because you probably don’t have anything to learn in cinema. I can’t think of anything you really haven’t done.

Well, that’s how I feel. We’re in agreement. I feel like I’ve really been eclectic and I’ve explored the margins of film performance. And I’ve done every genre. And so the only thing I haven’t really done is Broadway and I haven’t done a television show. I did one pilot that didn’t get picked up when I was 15, but I think I want to try something else.

Wait, have you done a true Western?

I did Butcher’s Crossing and The Old Way, and that was a chance to do something there. But yeah, I think I pretty much said what I had to say with film.

Well, I will say though, even though I said I can’t think of anything you really haven’t done, selfishly I still like watching you in movies. But I think people would make the transition over to a television show or a streaming show if that’s what you did next.

Well, I think so, too. But again, as a student, I would never call myself a master. As a student…

But I can say that. I think you’re a master at this point. But I know you don’t want to say that, but I can say that.

You can say it. But I mean, my point is, as a student, where do I go that would challenge me and stretch me and make me grow in some way? Where would I go where I would learn? How do I pour yeast on my education as an actor? Well, you try things like television immersion or you try things like Broadway. There are other formats to explore.

Could Paul Matthews in Dream Scenario have been a 10-episode series?

Probably, yeah. Each episode would be a new dream.

I’m thinking I could watch 10 hours of this guy.

[Laughs] Well, I love that. I wouldn’t want him to wear out his welcome, but yeah, I think I know what you mean.

Well, not sitting in a theater all day for 10 hours, but…

Yeah, no, I get it. I know exactly what you mean. I think you could tune in to what’s going on with Paul.

Every week we get to see what Paul’s up to. I’d be into that.

It’d be like, “Oh, no, you dreamt that about me?” Right?

The way this movie begins with the dreams of him just not helping out, I found that horrifying. Maybe even more horrifying than when he starts attacking people in dreams. It really is a terrible thing for people to think about you.

Well, that’s why the episodic version of Paul Matthews would be interesting because he could start the show with, “What did you dream about me now?” And it gets increasingly more violent.

See, we’re coming up with something here. Every week it escalates.

Until it’s time to stop and move on to the next TV character. I think we have nine episodes there.

I think you’ve got 12, at least.

Well, it’s a good idea. I’ll pitch it to Kristoffer (Borgli) when I see him tomorrow. I’ll have to make sure I give you credit.

Yeah, I’ll be waiting by the phone to get my credit for that.

[Laughs] Right.

Last time we spoke in 2012, you said going forward you want your career to be like how Led Zeppelin did it. Basically that they did their own thing and are mysterious…

I remember that interview.

Oh, you do?

Yeah. That was a good one.

I remember at one point I brought up Peggy Sue Got Married and Jim Carrey is in that with you told me that you got offered Dumb and Dumber.

Yeah. I decided to do Leaving Las Vegas instead.

That worked out for you.

I think so. But yeah, I remember that interview now that you mention it. And the difference between me and Led Zeppelin is that they didn’t do what we’re doing. They didn’t do any interviews.

Right. You mentioned that.

I never made it to the Led Zeppelin mythos.

But the people who pay for the movies probably wouldn’t be very happy if you didn’t go out and start telling people about the movie.

No question. They would be pissed.

And then people wouldn’t see Dream Scenario. And again, I think that’s interesting you said you’d end on this one because this is one of my favorite performances from you. And I like a lot of your performances.

Well, I meant it. I would like to say, “Adios,” on this one. But I can’t just now. But look, I enjoy our conversation. I mean, I enjoy our interviews. I think it is good for the mind. You need to stay sociable. You need to talk to people and it keeps you sharp. What am I going to do? Just sit in a room and read a book? I mean, I could do that or live a life of contemplation. I mean, I could do that, but I think this is more interesting. So I’m glad I’m having these conversations.

Well, I would argue reading a book probably sounds more fun than just a life of contemplation. A lot of people enjoy reading books.

I would have to agree with you. I’ve tried the life of contemplation. I’m here to tell you it’s a dead end.

Books are fun. You could read books.

I’m starting to read more. Last night, I was reading Magister Ludi by Hermann Hesse. And I’m on Australia time, so I’m not really going to bed. I wake up at 12:30 at night, and in the book, in Magister Ludi, the magistrate was telling a friend of his and the friend said, “Oh, I’ve been on alcohol and sedatives that helped me sleep.” And the magistrate says, “Well, why don’t you look at the starry sky and listen to music? And now I’ll play a piece for you that’s better than any sedative.” So I took it to heart and I put on some Debussy and I fell asleep.

Well, see, that sounds very relaxing.

Yeah, and it was. It helped. I’m not sure how long the sleep lasted, but at least it worked for a minute or two.

Well, see, you ruined one of my questions already by saying you don’t want to do movies anymore. The last time we spoke was for Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. And you just experienced it with Superman in The Flash, but with all these universes coming together, why can’t Nicolas Cage play Ghost Rider again? And I know how much you like it, but you just told me you don’t want to do movies anymore. So that’s probably a “no.”

Well, like I said, it’s going to be a very severe and stringent selection process. I’m not saying no entirely. I’m saying if something came along that I thought had some pop to it, some spark to it, that maybe could be fun for folks to revisit, like a Face/Off 2 or Ghost Rider, that’s another conversation. But I mean, that’s not going out and finding a brand new bit of material and trying something else. I’m still developing my ideas about all this. Who knows what will really happen?

But when we had that conversation back in 2012 or whenever it was, I never thought I would say this, what I’m saying now, that I’m ready to explore television. But probably because the TV wasn’t there yet. And also because I was a true blue film actor and I never thought I’d want to do anything else. But so many changes are happening in my industry. And there’s AI and these things. And also the internet mashups and the viral stuff that’s going on and how the performances are being received. There was a big article in The New Yorker today that came out by Isaac Butler — and he wasn’t necessarily wrong about what he said about how the internet can reduce people to a punchline, which was not what I signed up for when I decided to be a film actor.

Which you explore in this movie.

Well, right. He may have been, he was flexing his intellect a little much. But I mean, he was talking about I’m a maximalist actor. Well, I mean, that’s not all I am.

I don’t think that’s true. I think you do roles that can certainly be that, but I don’t think you do that every time.

Yeah. But anyway, he’s obviously a smart guy, but he wasn’t wrong about the way the internet is a new element and the way it’s receiving performance and filmmaking gives me pause for thought and makes me think… let’s just stay on television maybe? Maybe that’s a better avenue.

Oh, people on the internet watch television too though.

Well, I’m sure they do, but they can’t keep talking about the same character the way they would about me playing Butcher’s Crossing or Paul Matthews. I’m always bringing something new. If I’m in a zone with one character, how many times can they comment on it?

I mean, how many times do we comment on James Gandolfini playing Tony Soprano? Quite a bit.

Well see, that’s just it. This is a new world for me. I don’t watch TV.

And like you just said, with Bryan Cranston playing Walter White.

That was new. That was new for me because my son told me to check it out.

Oh, so this is recent that you watched Breaking Bad?

I just found it recently, like last year.

Oh, wow. Okay.

My son, he introduced me to the format. I thought, okay, there is something here. But these are… I’m sharing ideas with you as I’m still forming them.

I see. Look, that show is addicting.

It is magnificent.

You always want to watch the next episode.

Oh yeah. And that’s the thing with television, you’ve got to find that hook to keep them coming back.

Speaking of Face/Off, John Woo had an interview in Rolling Stone today. When you are dressed as the priest as Castor Troy he called you the devil.

Well, John… I haven’t spoken to him in a very long time, but at one time we were pretty close. And I considered him my friend. And I’d like to talk to him again and say hi. He just worked with Joel Kinnaman on Silent Night. And I worked with Joel on Sympathy for the Devil. But John’s also, he’s serious about his faith, so he probably saw the devil when I was doing the headbanging role in the priest’s uniform. You’ve got to give that some credit.

Last night a friend of mine was talking about comfort movies and she said hers is Con Air. What do you make of that?

She sounds like a great lady and sounds like somebody I could have a good conversation with. That’s the first thing that comes to mind. She sounds like she’s probably a lot of fun. Likes movies that don’t make her have to think too much. I sometimes feel that way about some of the music I listen to where I don’t want to have to think. And some of the movies I watch. I mean, I don’t know how many times I’ve put on an Ishiro Honda Godzilla movie from the 60’s…

I recently bought the Criterion set, I’ve been making my way through them.

They’re great! And there’s the charm. The charm of being a guy in a monster suit acting it out is it’s fun to lose yourself in those worlds. Maybe she was experiencing something like that with Con Air. The best one in my view, I don’t believe it was a Ishiro Honda-directed one, but was the one with Hedorah, the Smog Monster.

Oh, I haven’t gotten to that one yet.

Well, I dig it because it’s really 60’s pop art. And they use a lot of split screen and weird music and lava lamps and I think it’s a trippy movie and it’s worth a watch.

Last time we spoke I brought up Fast Times at Ridgemont High and you mentioned it was a terrible experience and explained why, because people held it against you your last name was Coppola, which you said led you to change your name. What I’m curious about is that just a few years later you do a movie with your uncle, Francis Ford Coppola, with Peggy Sue Got Married. Based on what you said about Fast Times, I’m curious why you did a movie with your uncle so soon after?

Okay, let’s break this one open. First of all, I am blessed that I grew up in a family with immensely talented folks. Francis has made some of my favorite movies of all time, and he’s also my uncle. And in many ways, he is like another father to me. So when your uncle calls and says they want to do a movie with you, one, that’s your uncle, and you don’t want to say no. And two, he’s great, and why would I want to say no?

But my choice to change my name wasn’t only because some narrow-minded folks on the set of Fast Times couldn’t receive the idea that I could have any talent. Because they said I was only there because of my uncle. And they “loved the smell of Nicolas in the morning,” that stupid Apocalypse Now paraphrasing.

The real reason, the shrewd reason, the business reason, is I know that filmmakers are egocentric and I know that directors can be very competitive. And I didn’t think they’d want the name Coppola above the title on their own projects because of his illustrious contribution to cinema. So I shrewdly shifted the name so I could be invited by other directors who were also forming their own identities and probably didn’t want another director’s name on their title. So it’s different than an actor who’s born with a famous name like Fonda. That’s different than if you’re an actor who’s the nephew of a famous director, not an actor. There’s a distinction there. Do you follow me?

I do. And sounds like based on everything you just said, by the time Peggy Sue Got Married came around, this wasn’t really an issue anymore.

It wasn’t an issue. Except that I didn’t like the script and I didn’t really want to make the movie. And I must’ve said no five or six times. But I could tell it was frustrating and it’s my family.

Well, selfishly, I now know you didn’t want to make Peggy Sue Got Married, but I am glad you made it because I enjoy you immensely in that movie.

Well, I love the movie now and what we did in it. I do. But I had to find that character to love it.

I think that was my introduction to you. I remember my mom was so tickled when Charlie tries to change the lyrics to the Beatles song. She thought that was the funniest thing she had seen in her life.

Well, I’m glad. Please say hi to her. But the movie works on a very funny level. It really does.

Well, whatever it winds up being, I hope you get to make this series you want to make. This sounds like a very interesting shift with your career and I’m looking forward to it.

Thank you so much. I appreciate your vote of confidence. Thank you.

Right, obviously you’ve been waiting for that all day.

Well, no! I mean it! Your enthusiasm about it makes me even more enthusiastic about this. As I said, I’m still fomenting my ideas. So this helps me get to that, “Okay. He likes that idea. Maybe more people will?” You know what I mean?

Well, I think a lot of people will like this idea.

Thank you!

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