Editors note: this blog originally ran in December of last year, concurrent with the release of Michael Sarnoski’s Film Independent Spirit Award-winning Pig. With Cage’s latest film Massive Talent now out, we thought it appropriate to revisit.
In a truly momentous and unforgettable “An Evening With…” virtual event broadcast for Film Independent Members on December 10, the legend himself—Nicolas Cage!— joined Fi Producer-in-Residence and Maximum Film! podcast host Drea Clark over Zoom to celebrate the release of 2021’s Pig—and reflect on his extensive career and unique approach to acting. Plus cat ownership, lizard wrangling and a whole lot more.
The free event was presented by Pig distributor NEON and Film Independent Presents program supporter the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA). Pig is currently nominated for Best First Screenplay as well as the Someone to Watch Award at the 2022 Film Independent Spirit Awards. For more info about becoming a Film Independent Member to receive awards screeners and how to vote, click here.
Ask five people to choose their favorite Nicolas Cage role and you’ll likely receive five different answers. This illustrates not only the staggering quantity of characters the Oscar-winning performer has portrayed (118 acting credits on Letterboxd, to be exact) but also just how much variety is on display in his repertoire. On the set of Raising Arizona, Joel Coen compared working with Cage to “dining at a smorgasbord”—there’s something for everyone.
While Pig, the debut feature film from the screenwriting duo of Michael Sarnoski (also his directorial debut) and Vanessa Block would be the focal point of the night, Cage was extremely generous in his openness in revisiting past roles. Nothing felt off-limits, with Cage sitting comfortably in front of a tinsel tree in his home.
A consistent theme of the free-flowing exchange would be how Cage—beloved by many for his unhinged, expressionistic, often zany performances—always strives to avoid irony and tap into something truthful. A genuine “sense of emotion” is what makes his characters tick, he said. He stated that this approach makes any bizarre, erratic behavior simultaneously grounded and organic.
“I wanted to actively get away from sarcasm and irony and get more into emotional nakedness to the point where it might even seem embarrassing,” Cage said as he described his approach—even pointing to his gonzo performance as Peter Loew in the 1989 cult favorite Vampire’s Kiss as a quite natural reaction for a man having a nervous breakdown. For Cage, it’s never just wildness for the sake of being wild.
Pig—which Cage also produced—is, on the other hand, a strategic effort by the veteran actor to return to a more quiet and naturalistic acting style. Robin “Rob” Feld must decide how to confront grief and loss when his beloved animal companion is forcibly taken from him. Cage said “I knew this man” after reading the script for the first time. Nothing would need to be forced because Cage had relevant life experiences to draw from, including a deep bond with his cat, Merlin. Nicolas even had a vivid dream about Merlin the night before he met Sarnoski (“Archangel Michael,” as he called him) making his acceptance of this role seem like an act of fate.
For a sparsely worded movie clocking in at a concise 92 minutes, Pig has a lot to say. The prominent themes of grief, loss and the cult-like Portland fine dining scene leave audiences with plenty to ponder after the credits have rolled. The nuance, restraint and patience exercised by Sarnoski is remarkable for a first-time filmmaker. Clark praised the film for its sophisticated, unorthodox filmmaking style, which often places the camera on the person being spoken to, instead of the individual delivering the lines.
Pig also continuously subverts expectations and keeps the viewer guessing. For example, the trailer may lead the viewer to expect an action-filled vengeful violence spree ala Mandy, but few would predict food and words would be the psychological weapons of choice for Rob Feld.
Nicolas Cage was effusive in his praise of Sarnoski and Block then proceeded to gush when talking about how much he enjoys working with emerging artists. “I’m a student… I love working with young people; I get so much inspiration from them,” Cage said as he went on to cite Jim Cummings (Thunder Road, The Beta Test) as someone who he admires deeply. Cummings is the “total filmmaker” that Cage said he strived to be at one point in his career, admiring Cummings’ ability to write, direct, star in and produce his own films outside of the studio system.
Of course, a discussion with someone as prolific as Cage wouldn’t be complete without a journey into their back catalog. A few highlights included Nicolas revealing his inspirations for Wild at Heart’s Sailor Ripley, discussing how Jeremy Irons performance in Dead Ringers lead him to take on the challenge of playing twin brothers on-screen simultaneously in Adaptation and taking a few good-natured jabs at a Werner Herzog (including an impression of German filmmaker) for good measure. And any Matchstick Men superfans out there will also be pleased to know that was among his favorite roles.
Pig is now streaming on Hulu and the film is nominated for two 2022 Film Independent Spirit Awards—“Best First Screenplay” for writers Michael Sarnoski and Vanessa Block and “Someone to Watch” for Michael Sarnoski (UPDATE: it won! Watch Sarnoski and Block’s acceptance speech below.)
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