Judging by the promo materials for the new indie drama Pig, it would seem the movie fits neatly into what Grub Street recently called the “Nicolas Cage Loses His Fucking Mind for 90 Minutes” canon — a subgenre the Oscar-winning actor himself handily refers to as “Cage Rage.” Appearing as a Rasputin-esque forager living in self-imposed isolation in the Pacific Northwest, his character’s life is upended by the violent abduction of his beloved, truffle-sniffing pig. This predicament would appear to compel a Farmer McGregor–gone–John Wick–style mission of rescue and revenge. “Get yourself another pig,” the character is advised. “Who has my pig?” Cage hisses.
But the trailer is a head fake. And Pig unexpectedly arrives — on the heels of his performances in such NCLHFMf90M canonical titles as Mandy (blood-drenched psychedelia), Jiu Jitsu (“Meta Martial-Arts Melee”), the exploding-testicle genre splice-up Prisoners of Ghostland, and dialogue-free animatronic horror mayhem of Willy’s Wonderland — as a showcase for Cage’s most nuanced acting in nearly a decade. Turns out that after delivering as many as six films a year over that period — many of them straight-to-streaming genre workouts with decidedly down-market production values and seemingly limited financial upside (beyond paying off Cage’s not inconsiderable debts) — the actor wanted to remind audiences that he is still capable of subtlety.
“In terms of my wanting to try different kinds of genres, or even different performance styles, that’s always kept me interested,” Cage says via Zoom from Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo. “It’s kept me excited about going to work. That which is a challenge. ‘Oh, you can’t be in The Rock because you’re not an action-adventure actor.’ Well, wait a minute. If you say I can’t, then by my nature, I’m going to want to do it. What can I do with a performance style that doesn’t just keep it trapped in photo-realism or naturalism? Can we do some Western Kabuki? Can we be operatic? How can I use my body language?”
Seated against a brick wall, wearing a fire-engine-red leather jacket, the bearded actor pauses, letting his point sink in. Then, in his characteristically magniloquently self-serious discursive style, Cage launches into an explanation of how Pig protagonist Robin Field, a once-illustrious gourmet chef with perfect recall of every dish cooked for every customer — who also knows his way around Portland’s underground fight-club circuit — provided the perfect vehicle for a return to form.
“This is exactly what I want to do. This is perfect timing for me. I understand Rob. I know what he’s feeling,’” Cage explains. “I know those feelings of loss. I know those feelings of isolation — or wanting to be in isolation. Of not wanting to be a part of Hollywood anymore. Enjoying my quiet little wilderness in the Mojave Desert and reading little independent projects that seem to have some truths that aren’t pandering to too many elements of fear that can happen today in the big studios. Because they have so much to lose, so much riding on it.”
For anyone unfamiliar with the varied achievements of one Nicolas Coppola, they can be understood to fall into three distinct career acts. Young upstart (the Coen brothers’ Raising Arizona, the 1985 Cannes special jury prize winner Birdy, sporting fake teeth and using a gratingly adenoidal voice in Peggy Sue Got Married); Hollywood heavyweight (the 1996 Best Actor Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas, the four-quadrant crowd-pleaser National Treasure, The Rock); and living meme. For the duration of this last phase — which encompasses most of his output between 2011’s Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance and Pig — Cage has been employing the thespian modalities he terms Western Kabuki and Nouveau Shamanic (see: Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call — New Orleans).
Sight as yet unseen, the pinnacle of all this experience would seem not to be Pig, but Cage’s upcoming film The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (set to arrive in theaters April 22, 2022), in which he portrays a “cash-strapped” version of Nicolas Cage. A Nicolas Cage who begrudgingly accepts $1 million to attend the birthday of a narco-kingpin superfan (Pedro Pascal). When things take a turn for the worse, this Nicolas Cage must reportedly turn into versions of his most iconic characters to get out of the jam. Although no stranger to meta-narrative, having played dual roles as screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and his fictional brother Donald in Spike Jonze’s 2002 post-structuralist dramedy Adaptation (for which Cage received a Best Actor Academy Award nomination), he demures at the idea of taking in the spectacle of an exaggerated version of himself onscreen.
“I’m told that it’s a good movie and that it’s a lot of fun and people are going to enjoy the ride,” Cage says. “But I’m not going to see it. I can tell you right now that for me, playing a surrealist version of my contemporary self, battling it out with a surrealist version of my younger self, just sounds like psychological sensory overload. I’m glad I did it and it’s there for people to do what they want with it. I will go to the premiere. But I won’t be sitting in the theater.”
I ask if he avoids watching his other films, like Pig, or if this is a onetime deal.
“No, I usually watch my movies at least once,” he replies. “It’s like a process of giving birth. But this one, because it’s so meta, and because it’s so invasive in terms of where I had to go to bring it, I don’t think I want to go back there.”