Unbearable Weight: Neurotic Nicolas Cage ‘Is the Best Cage’

Writer and director Tom Gormican explains to us how he found the perfect role for the internet’s favorite actor, Nicolas Cage: himself.

Nicolas Cage in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent
Photo: Lionsgate

Nicolas Cage is trending. It’s not uncommon for celebrities to become trending topics on Twitter after a recent interview or talk show appearance, but the 58-year-old actor finds himself the topic of conversation online far more frequently than other actors of his generation. This time, Cage is having a mini-viral moment after discussing his pet crow Hoogan and declaring, “I am a goth,” in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. Sure enough, Twitter is now full of photoshopped images of Cage wearing dark eye makeup and black lipstick, with users cracking jokes and warmly celebrating his idiosyncrasies in equal measure. It’s just the latest in a long line of Cage memes.  

For most folks who are “extremely online,” you either grew up with Cage’s movies or you grew up with the actor as an internet fascination. Tom Gormican, the writer and director of the upcoming Cage film, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, isn’t sure why all the Cage supercuts and meme treatments started. He suggests Cage’s inherently polite and professional demeanor on set, his up-and-down relationship with critics, and his penchant for dipping into “expressionist” acting all as possibilities, but one thing is for certain: “Weirdly, there’s this groundswell of goodwill behind Nicholas Cage.”

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent finds Cage playing a fictionalized version of himself. Enduring a career slump and financial stress, he’s forced to collect a million-dollar check by attending a wealthy superfan’s birthday. What Cage doesn’t know is that the superfan (played by Pedro Pascal) is a dangerous crime boss. Soon the actor is roped into a CIA operation to take the criminal down, forcing him to channel the characteristics of some of his most famous roles. It’s a meta comedy that finds Cage embracing the aspects of his real-life and on-screen personas that have led to him becoming an internet icon.

Gormican wrote the script for Cage with no backup plan in place. He admits that the entire project hinged on whether the actor would be willing to poke fun at himself. 

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“You don’t know what someone is going to be game for, and we didn’t pull any punches,” says Gormican. “Part of the pitch to Nic was, in a world where your identity is litigated in the public sphere constantly on a daily basis, and people have access to you, what would be interesting to us is to create things that are a mix of the two, reality and some sort of surreality, create a character that’s one-part real and one-part fiction.”

The blending of the real and fictional Cage on set led to interesting clashes where Cage would insist that the “real” Nicolas Cage wouldn’t say a particular line, then Gormican would remind the actor that he was portraying a character. Stranger still was when the fiction of the film would blend with the fiction of Cage’s past roles.

“There’s a particular shot in the movie that I took from Leaving Las Vegas where he’s at the bottom of the pool, drinking, and it’s Nic’s lowest point in our movie,” Gormican explains, “and that [earlier role] was the highest point in his career. I was describing the scene on set. And I said, ‘So, you’re going to go to the bottom of the pool and that’s how you’re going to be…’ And he was like, ‘Tom, Tom, Tom. I know. I’ve already done it.’”

While Cage has proven in films like/ Leaving Las Vegas/ and the recent /Pig/ that he can deliver understated, restrained performances, audiences seem to gravitate toward Cage’s presence when he’s playing characters that are manic or unstable, like his turn in Spike Jonze’s Adaptation.

“I’m obsessed with the neurotic, anxious Cage,” Gormican says. “I don’t know that there’s anybody who plays neurotic or anxious better than Nicolas Cage. I love it. At one point he very neurotically said to me, ‘I’m not a neurotic guy.’ I was like, ‘Neurotic Cage is the best Cage.’”

While critics and audiences know that Cage is capable of greatness, especially when playing a neurotic type, there were a few years in the late 2010s where it looked like the actor’s marquee status was behind him. But Cage’s career is like a pendulum, and when it swings in one direction, fans are ready and willing to embrace a swing back the other way.

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“He’s never been gone. He’s been around. He’s been doing more films than he’s ever done,” Gormican says. “I always thought that there would be a groundswell beneath him, because he seems to be an actor that has a lot of goodwill, and hopefully this will push that even further.”