Nicolas Cage on vices, virtues and murdering children


Actor Nicolas Cage has lived many lives—none of them nearly as misunderstood as his own. Even when described in his own words, Cage’s world is one colored in shades of curiosity, excess, and on this particular day, the realization that perhaps things may never be the same.

“I feel in many ways that I have gone through a lot of different experiences,” Cage says. “I try to be as normal as I can be in my life so I can be as crazy as I want to be on screen. There’s been a lot of reporting about my life but you know, truly, people don’t really know me.”

Much of what is known about the Academy Award-winning actor (a prestigious label that has since faded from DVD covers and movie posters) can be gathered from YouTube compilations of onscreen freak-outs (of which there are many), off-screen tabloid chatter regarding his financial woes, and that time he accidentally bought a dinosaur skull from the Mongolian black market. It has become easy to laugh at the man who crashed his own film festival only to perform a dramatic reading of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” wearing a brown-leather duster that is a perplexing combination of Native American shaman and Ghost Rider.

None of this, however, defines Cage as much as his recent choice to portray a father, Brent Ryan, who murders his own children in his latest film Mom and Dad. More than the film itself and its disturbingly taboo subject matter, it is the fact that of the 30-odd performances the actor has produced in the last 10 years, Mom and Dad, a film with a very limited release, is his favorite.

“Aside from the homicidal aspect of my character, what I related to most was the idea that I am no longer what I once was,” Cage confesses. “Brent had a very successful life in high school, he was successful with his girlfriends and he had a wild, fun time. All of a sudden he’s just this sort of this boring, generic dad with golf clubs, holding onto his beloved Firebird, his salary has gone down and he doesn’t look as good as used to look. I think it’s something we all go through.”

Written and directed by Brian Taylor, Mom and Dad is, at the surface, a run-of-the-mill profile of the modern self-loathing American family whose shackles of domesticity are tied a bit too tight. Introduce a 24-hour, unexplainable epidemic where parents suddenly have the desire to murder their own offspring, the film strays far from the traditional with its lethal overdosing of mass hysteria and the completely hysterical.

“Nobody wanted to make the script,” he says. “The concept is totally socially taboo and irreverent and all wrong. How do you make a movie about parents trying to murder their children funny, or comical. I knew it was in there. We just committed to it,” Cage says. “It’s okay to laugh because it’s like the most dysfunctional family ever put on celluloid. I actually thought the movie would be a hit.”

Cage, who has starred in a number of films (all in an oddly close succession to one another) where his character avenges the death or kidnapping of his child takes an opportunity to channel Jack Nicholson in The Shining [1980]—a performance he has admired for years, “I’ve always wanted to try and see if I could approach something that combines menace and comedy,” he says. “If you do it well, they go beautifully together because they’re both different points of madness.”

There is no shortage of madness in Mom and Dad, either. From the masterfully choreographed football field massacre to the chilling delivery room scene, the crux of the film’s ridiculousness involves Cage in a Misfits t-shirt, a sledge-hammer, and “The Hokey Pokey.”

This, however, has become rather commonplace for a Cage role. The weapon is interchangeable, though, and the interjection of some out-of-left field fit of undeterminable rage is something we’ve come to anticipate. Despite TMZ reports of  drunken Las Vegas antics or that time he insisted police arrest him after a meltdown in a New Orleans tattoo shop, the actor’s greatest challenge and triumph is one of balance.

“Sometimes I can get a little self-destructive. I’ll have two bottles of wine instead of one bottle of wine,” he admits. “When I’m on set and when I’m filming, I’m very disciplined. I don’t have any kind of libations, I keep to myself in my room. I’m really all about performance.”

This might explain why Cage has starred in at least one film per year over the span of his 37 years as an actor. In fact, 2017 saw the release of six projects.

“I like that structure. I like having a job to do. I think it’s better for me all the way around in terms of my health and in terms of my outlook on life, and I think it makes me a better father,” he says. “I have a very peaceful and loving relationship with my children, my boys. It’s one of the great joys of my life.”

This is where Cage surprises us most. The same man who ate a live cockroach in Vampire’s Kiss [1988] is the same man who stole the Declaration of Independence, screamed about bees, drove angry, and became a motorcycle riding fire skeleton. The artist best known for defining the top (and soaring miles above it), is most content when he’s closest to the ground.

“In terms of my own personal take on my work, I’m enjoying the direction it’s going more than I have before,” Cage explains. “I do feel that my instrument—being my body, my voice, my facial expressions, my imagination, my memories—has put me at a place where I have more access to emotional content to inform a performance than I did when I was younger,” he says. “For me, I am happy, at this particular moment. I like where I’m going.”