Nicolas Cage on What Scares Him, AI, and the Power of Science Fiction

Movies
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“I wanted to experiment: can I develop a family which was not unlike my own upbringing?” says Nicolas Cage, while talking to Den of Geek about his new movie Arcadian, which premiered at SXSW 2024. “My dad did most of the heavy lifting, he did the raising because my mom sadly couldn’t be around. So it was just my father, and in this case, myself and my older brother. I saw that family dynamic in the [Elia] Kazan picture, East of Eden.”

From that description, you might imagine Arcadian to be an austere drama, something that takes place in a rustic farm house and focuses on the complex relationship between a father struggling to do right by his two boys. And you’d mostly be right… mostly.

But then Cage completes his thought. “And then I thought, well, wouldn’t it be interesting if this little family nucleus was contending with a post-apocalyptic environment and with an evolving species that was there to wipe us out?”

Written by Michael Nilon and directed by Ben Brewer, Arcadian follows the trials of father Paul (Cage) caring for his twin sons Joseph (Jaeden Martell) and Thomas (Maxwell Jenkins) on the idyllic Rose Farm. But instead of contending with puberty, sibling rivalries, or chore distribution, the three men must survive monstrous invaders who have destroyed most of humanity.

That combination of sci-fi and the mundane drew Cage to the movie, and not just because it makes for an exciting story. “Science fiction is important to me because it is freedom of speech,” he says. “You can be very tactical in the way you want to tell the story so that people will receive it without putting it down and not giving it a chance.”

To Cage, science fiction is a great way to examine real-world fears and he feels Arcadian reflects the anxieties of today, especially the ways artificial intelligence is influencing more and more of our daily lives.

“I think that it’s relevant. When I saw Terminator and Terminator 2, it seemed like marvelous science fiction, something to fantasize about, and here we are talking about AI and it looks like it’s happening, or it could happen even more now than in the ’80s,” Cage says. “It seems like it’s something that is on people’s minds, whether it’s conscious or subconscious.”

He also notes that Arcadian’s brand of post-apocalyptic sci-fi reflects fears of “what’s happening in the environment.”

“The reason why Godzilla is so effective is because he’s a response to radiation and it was Japan’s way of processing what happened in Hiroshima and indoors,” Cage says. “I think that’s the case in this small movie. We’re talking about something that could happen and it is on people’s minds.”

Although Nilon and Brewer drew from the fear inspired by the COVID lockdown, Cage sees another analogy at work in the mutating creatures who menace Spring Farm: “It’s like the internet and AI are the monsters eating people,” he observes.

An aspect of Arcadian that invites that comparison for Cage is the shape-changing nature of the monsters. “It’s a great complexity that Ben and Alex [Brewer, creature designer and 3D modeler] put to the creatures because they keep transmogrifying, they keep changing. One minute they kind of look like a primate, next minute kind of like a reptile.”

Terrifying as those creatures sound, the initial designs that Brewer showed Cage weren’t that impressive. Brewer recalls a childhood fear inspired by, of all things, The Goofy Movie, specifically a nightmare scene in which young Max imagines himself transforming into his father, Goofy. For his monster, Brewer tried to replicate the uncanny nature of a creature mutating into Goofy.

Cage was not impressed.

“He pulls out this picture that he drew, and it looks like a Goofy plush toy,” he recalled, adding his reaction: “Dude! Dude! No, no, no! Come on! Think praying mantis, think insect, it’s got to be scary! I’m not killing that.”

As harsh as his initial assessment sounds, and as much he assures Den of Geek that the finished product is far more unnerving, Cage does understand the primal force of childhood fears.

“I remember having a fever as a child and The Wizard of Oz came on. I’m watching the Wicked Witch of the West with a fever dream state going on and just got impregnated in my imagination and I couldn’t shake it,” he says. “And then Lon Chaney as the Phantom of the Opera looking through a keyhole his eye, and it just spooked me. Or when the mask came off when he’s at the piano. It kept going on repeat in my nightmares. All those elements were kind of terrifying to me as a child.”

Childhood fears and experiences both went into Cage’s process for crafting a character in Arcadian. It’s that type of creative approach that makes Cage one of the most fascinating actors working today.

Arcadian premiered at SXSW 2024 on March 11. The film will hit theaters on April 12.

The post Nicolas Cage on What Scares Him, AI, and the Power of Science Fiction appeared first on Den of Geek.

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