Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent: Nicolas Cage Back on Playing Himself Playing Himself in the Comedy

‘Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent’ Invited Nicolas Cage Back into Comedy

Cage’s co-stars Pedro Pascal and Lily Sheen, and he film’s co-writers and director, talk about what the Oscar winning actor brought to a film about a version of himself.




In his latest role, Nicolas Cage is playing himself playing himself in the genre-defying Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, an experience that invited him back into comedy.

Speaking during the New York special screening of the Lionsgate film held at Regal Essex Crossing & RPX, the star credited co-writers Kevin Etten and Tom Gormican (who also directs the film) for allowing him to play in a genre that had eluded him in the past.

“Somewhere along the way, Hollywood seems to have forgotten that I could do comedy,” Cage explained.

“I had done Raising Arizona, I had done Honeymoon in Vegas, Moonstruck — I mean it goes on — but they forgot. With this, Tom invited me back into a comedy and it was a very welcome experience for me because I wanted to do that. It’s been so long.”

The film sees Cage using all of his gifts and skills to play Cage, an aging actor struggling to get new roles who, in desperation, takes up an offer made by billionaire fan Javi Gutierrez (Pedro Pascal) to appear at his birthday party for a $1 million in a stay that takes a somewhat wild turn after the CIA gets involved.


Lazy loaded image

“The script starts off as like an indie character piece and, slowly, when Pedro Pascal’s character comes in, it changes into a buddy comedy, and we really had to try to make that seamless, so it was about grounding all of the performances across all the genre as much as we could,” Gormican explained. “From the production design to the score, we really had to work hard to use all the tools available to us to actually transition from genre to genre.”

The film bounces from explosive actioner to emotional indie to meta-comedy and back, but for Cage, it was the laughs that “resonated” the most. “All the comedy in the movie resonated because I do like to be funny at home and make my wife laugh and my boys laugh,” he explained. “I get a bit off the wall in my particular brand of humor and that reflects well on this movie. It’s very apparent in the movie what my sense of humor is.”

While he enjoyed the art of the laugh, the act of playing himself was a bit of an out-of-body experience. “There were some moments where — like the scene by the pool and I’m in the lounge chair and people are calling you Mr. Cage — I’m like, ‘Oh my God, this is really happening. This is my character’s name.’ It’s terrifying. Those days got a little tricky, but I’m happy to say that it all works.”

That feeling got exaggerated in part by the fact that much of the cast were actual fans of Cage, according to Gormican. “When we started putting this out there, once we had Nick, every single actor who’s in this project revealed to us that they were massive Nicolas Cage fans and just wanted to be in it. Pedro Pascal came to lunch and said, ‘I don’t care if you guys put me in this film, I just want to talk to you about Nick.’”

Pascal confirmed that stepping in to play a Nicolas Cage superfan was perhaps a little more on the nose than Cage playing Cage. “Interestingly, I would say that I’m playing a version of myself that might be even closer to me than Nicolas Cage is to Nicolas Cage in this movie,” Pascal said, going on to describe Cage as a “spontaneous and original” scene partner who was “fun to work with and challenging.”

Lazy loaded image
Lily Sheen, Nicolas Cage and Pedro Pascal TAYLOR HILL/FILMMAGIC

For Lily Sheen, who plays Cage’s daughter Addy, she couldn’t personally relate to the experience of having a burned-out famous dad but called the experience of playing in a “worst case … bizarro world version” of entertainment “cathartic.” Having Cage there to help guide her through her first major movie role made it even better.

“The person that I worked with was an incredible dad and an incredible mentor and was a fantastic person to have on set to calm me down and teach me how to do things,” she said. “I don’t think the Nick Cage in that movie probably would have done the same.”

Cage admitted on the carpet that playing an exaggerated tabloid-ish version of himself was somewhat of a test of his acting technique, with it taking a few days once he was on set to really settle into the part.

“I have certain criterion that I meet on every movie for building a character. I design the character — the moves, the expressions, the vocalizations, some of what I’m going to say, from the ridiculous and hopefully to the sublime,” Cage said. “But whatever I design, no matter how broad it may get, it has to have genuine emotion. The emotional content has to infuse the performance as well as the imagination.”

“So I noticed within day one or two after I got the first jitters of playing a character who actually has my name — and I’m still recovering from that — I realized the same criteria can be applied to this,” he concluded.

Working on set with an actor that has both such a clear vision for his roles and shares the same name (and resume) as his character resulted in a few on-set conversations about how to separate the characters from the actual man. “Nick would always come over to me and he would say ‘Hey, Tom, there’s a guy who wears rings and leather jackets, and he lives in Las Vegas. And he would never say that.’ And I’m going, ‘Oh, you mean you?’” Gormican says, laughing. ” And he’s going, ‘Well, yeah.’ And I’m like, ‘Well, it’s not you. It’s a character based on you.’ He goes, ‘He has my name.’ And I’m just like, please say the line. We would both be laughing and he would be like, OK, OK. I’ll do it.”

Blurring the line between reality and fiction in this Nicolas Cage homage, however, also yielded one of the film’s funniest moments. “In the script, the younger version of Nick was supposed to kiss Nick on the cheek, and that morning, Nick came to Tom and was like, ‘I have an idea for this scene. I think young Nick should deeply French kiss Nick. He’s like, ‘What do you guys think of that?’” Etten recalls. “And we were like, ‘Yes. That’s incredible. I never would have thought to pitch that to you, but yes, a thousand times.”

Lazy loaded image
Paco León, Lily Sheen, Neil Patrick Harris, Kevin Turen, Nicolas Cage, Pedro Pascal, Kristin Burr, Kevin Etten and Mike Nilon JAMIE MCCARTHY/WIREIMAGE

Figuring out what to pitch Cage and how to craft the fictional version of him actually came from co-writers and genuine longtime fans Etten and Gormican diving deep into the actor’s catalog, as well as watching hours upon hours of interviews. “We read a lot of interviews with him, watched interviews, so we had a sense of things he was interested in,” Etten told THR. “We knew that he loved German expressionism films and so we added that to his character where he, in the first act, wants to show his daughter The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, which is this old German film, which we had read that he loves.”

So there were little things like that where we knew this will show him that we’ve done our research that we’ve studied what he’s into and we sprinkled it with that kind of stuff,” he continued. “Then it was again a negotiation in terms of who the character was and who he was.”

“He has perspective on where the fake version of him sits in the sort of entertainment ecosystem, which is something that’s really great,” adds Gormican. “It’s sort of a warts-and-all performance where he can present a version of himself that’s down and out, and that’s tough to do.”