Nicolas Cage Thinks Movie Stardom Is Like ‘Gambling Addiction’


Nicolas Cage did not know writer-director Kristoffer Borgli from Adam when he opened the first page of Dream Scenario. A Norwegian filmmaker with only one other feature under his belt—2022’s Sick of Myself, which also is in Norwegian—Borgli is an exceedingly new voice in cinema, but one Cage was keyed into recognizing as promising because the screenplay had been sent by Ari Aster. As it turns out, the director behind Hereditary and Midsommar was producing this mysterious new dark comedy called Dream Scenario, and he thought Cage would respond to a story about a mild mannered college professor who one day discovers everyone in the world is dreaming about him.

Cage couldn’t put it down. Despite the project being an intensely surrealist comedy wherein our hero, Paul Matthews, learns his daughters, his students, and even folks on the other side of the Atlantic are dreaming of him—be it as a goof, as a lover, or even something darker—Cage recognized elements of his own life in the material. Particularly after social media and meme culture came along.

“I responded immediately to the inexplicable phenomenon that Paul Matthews was contending with, because it felt oddly similar to me and my own experience,” Cage says over a Zoom call. “Not that everybody has been dreaming about me, but that the internet had created these viral mashups of different meltdowns from different movies without any regard for act one or two, and there was no reference point for it.”

Cage is describing memeification, a term he also speculates he might have coined. And as a cinephile with a deep reservoir of film history knowledge, the actor has spent his career attempting to resurrect the more stylized forms of acting from yesteryear. In our conversation he notes, for example, that he drew liberally from the German Expressionist turn by Max Schreck in Nosferatu (1922) while creating the character of Peter Loew in Vampire’s Kiss (1988). Similarly, Cage contends he was inspired by the manic exuberance of James Cagney while creating a now iconic screen villain in Face/Off (1997). The internet doesn’t see that heritage or its varying subtitles though. It sees a gag which robs the artistry of its art.

“It wasn’t what I signed up for when I decided to be a screen actor in the early ‘80s,” Cage contends. “We didn’t have the internet, and so my dream to try to embrace this Golden Age style of film performance suddenly became memeified. I felt I had no control, and it kept growing. So when I read Dream Scenario, I said to myself, ‘I think I understand how Paul feels.’”

That might likewise be due to Borgli’s second feature working as a brutally mean-spirited metaphor for fame in the 21st century. At a moment’s notice, you can become famous for doing absolutely nothing. You can also fall just as fast without any discernible rhyme or reason. This too is a phenomenon Cage is aware of, as the Oscar-winning actor has enjoyed the ephemeral attention we call fame for more than 30 years. He also is acutely aware of why it could become so seductive for a nebbish everyman like Paul Matthews.

Says Cage, “I always liken fame to the experience of gambling, which I don’t do, but [at least once] I was at a roulette wheel. When you win, you feel like you’re on top of the world, but the feelings of losing are even more profound than the feelings of winning. I think that’s why gamblers get addicted. They want to feel something and they’re feeling the loss more than anything, and that keeps them going on some very perverse level. Fame is not unlike that. When your fame turns on you, the feelings of loss and the feelings of alienation are more profound than the feelings of being successful in a film performance.”

Cage relates quite a bit to Matthews, even though the real thought of folks dreaming about him induces a shudder. “It’s a little too spooky for me,” he admits. Nonetheless, creating the Dream Scenario protagonist was one of the more personal acting challenges in Cage’s career. Along with his recent turn in director Michael Sarnoski’s Pig, the actor suggests Dream Scenario is one of the biggest departures in his career. With Professor Matthews, he is forsaking that “Golden Age” style of film performance that revved his engines for so many years.

“[Pig and Dream Scenario] are very personal performances,” Cage says, “and I was really only thinking about my own emotional library and how to pull from it and apply it towards the physical image and the vocal sound of Paul Matthews.” The performance is still a distinctly Cagian creation, with Paul expressing a certain manic energy as he learns folks are dreaming about him, and a more profound despair when those dreams turn to nightmares. But for Cage that was about giving his toolset over to Borgli.

“[Borgli] knew what he was doing from the get go, and the best thing I could do as his actor was to give myself over to his direction,” Cage notes. “I often say, ‘Well, here’s the remote control car and the controls. You push the buttons, and I’m going.’”

Together, they flew all the way to somewhere Cage believes he’s never been before: a masterpiece. The marketing around Dream Scenario has even emphasized how the actor admitted to the press his reaction upon watching a rough cut of the film was to use that rarefied term. When he speaks to us, Cage insists he has never called another film he’s starred in a masterpiece—-which is pretty impressive for a thespian whose resume includes Raising Arizona (1987), Moonstruck (1987), Adaptation. (2002), and Face/Off—however Dream Scenario has a singular magic he cannot imagine bettering.

“When any craftsman makes a work of art that, in my view, nothing needs to be added to or taken away from, or altered, I think of that as a masterpiece,” Cage explains. “I know I invoked Orson Welles and Citizen Kane. He was 24 when he did that movie, Orson Welles, and I don’t know how he did it, but he put it together and it still lives. And it moves. I had the same experience watching Dream Scenario. Not to say they’re anything like each other—they’re not—but I felt that because Kristoffer [edited] the movie and he dreamt up the movie, that it feels like a masterpiece. I don’t think we’re gonna see another movie like it.”

Dream Scenario is in wide release now.

The post Nicolas Cage Thinks Movie Stardom Is Like ‘Gambling Addiction’ appeared first on Den of Geek.

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