Nicolas Cage Is Still Evolving

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The wobbly distinction between reality and artifice fascinates Nicolas Cage. The first time we encountered each other was in 2001, during the making of “Adaptation”—a film based on Charlie Kaufman’s struggle to adapt my book “The Orchid Thief” for the screen—in which Cage played Kaufman and his twin, Donald. He was in the middle of a scene, and I tiptoed onto the set as quietly as possible, convinced that any distraction would trigger one of the eruptions for which Cage had become famous. Between takes, he glanced at the handful of people watching, and exclaimed cheerily, “Oh, guys, look!” He pointed at me and a small, fuzzy-haired man I hadn’t noticed beside me. “It’s the real Charlie and the real Susan!” He seemed tickled by this collision between the characters in the movie and their real-life counterparts, and insisted that the crew take note. (Kaufman and I, who had never met before that moment, slunk away sheepishly.)

Where was the rager, the explosive madman who years later would inspire a viral supercut on YouTube of the climactic outbursts that marked such films as “Moonstruck” and “Face/Off” and “Vampire’s Kiss”? From what I can tell, Cage leaves it all on the set. In person, he’s courtly, gentle, careful with his words, reflective, and quick to be silly. The yawning divide between his performances and his personality is deliberate: having appeared in more than a hundred films since he began acting as a teen-ager, he counts on this separation to keep him sane, and to permit him a bit of mystery. We spoke recently at the Forge L.A. while his latest project, “Longlegs,” a horror movie directed by Oz Perkins, was being readied for its release in theatres on July 12th. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

You asked me how I came up with ideas. “The Orchid Thief,” for example, was an accidental notice of a little newspaper article. I thought, Why would people steal orchids? Why wouldn’t they just go to Home Depot and buy them? I didn’t know people collected orchids. So, the less I know about something, the more interested I am.

I feel the danger in what we’re doing is that you’re going to know more about me. I’m always trying to keep it enigmatic and a little bit mysterious. So, it’s a bit of a tap dance. Familiarity breeds contempt, and I don’t want people to know too much. I want to stay a little aloof.

From the little I know you—admittedly little—I feel like the public persona is very much at odds with what you’re really like. I mean, people expect you to be a madman. Is that partly intentional?

Yes, it was all by design.

Because you’re almost scholarly, you know? You have a very mellow, thoughtful manner.

True. I’m attracted to things that are different. I think of film performance almost musically. And I want to make different kinds of sounds and put it in my music. It can be totally eclectic. It can be Stockhausen, or it can be punk rock, or whatever it is. And I’m not afraid to use repetition or copy another actor to get a sound that I’m looking for. That, to me, is more approaching it from a composition or a musical standpoint: “There’s a sound that that actor had that I think would work for this character.” But for some reason the explosive, more operatic crescendos in the performances have made people think that’s who I am.

I love that way of thinking of acting, because it is so tonal, more than academic.

Well, you know, acting has gone through phases of what is considered great. And it’s been around for a long time. Somewhere along the way we got obsessed with the nineteen-seventies naturalism style of film performance, which is good. Look at Robert De Niro in “Taxi Driver” or Jon Voight in “Midnight Cowboy”—it’s great. But that’s not all acting can be. It can go even further back to the Billy Wilder movies and the kind of repartee that these actors had, like Edward G. Robinson, James Cagney. That’s something I’m curious to bring back. To me, it’s all different styles. And why not try a little bit of everything? Why get stuck?

I found your appearance on “The Dick Cavett Show.” Was that your first television interview?

With Miles Davis?


He was so interesting, Miles. I thought, O.K., I’ll bring a trumpet on. Maybe he’ll give me a trumpet lesson. He was, like, [does a rasping impression of Miles Davis] “You be careful with that instrument!” ’Cause it fell on the back of the chair, and I couldn’t get a sound out of it. I was completely mortified. But he was looking at me in my suit. He said, “Where’s your leather jacket?” I said, “I’m sorry, what, sir?” “Where’s your leather jacket? Did you learn nothing from Dennis?” “Dennis?” “Hopper!” And I thought, What a character! What a sound! And I did a little supporting role in a movie [“The Gunslingers”] recently—Stephen Dorff is the star. But I did it just because I wanted to try to bring that sound, that [does the voice again] Miles Davis sound.

Do you sometimes take a part just because it’s going to be fun to try?

Absolutely. That’s exactly the reason. I’d rather do that than a TV commercial. I mean, I hope I don’t have to do a TV commercial. I’ve done them in the past, a long time ago, but I don’t want to do them again. I’d rather do a supporting part for a couple of days in a movie and, you know, pay the bills, but also play with it.

I was bringing up “Dick Cavett” because at the time you said, “Hey, we’re going into the nineties now”—which is so weird, because that feels like yesterday—but you said, “I think we’re going to see new things in acting.” Did we?

Yeah. Well, I tried to do something new with it. I was a big believer in art synchronicity—that what you can do in one art form, you can do in another. So, if you want to be a Surrealist painter or a Surrealist musician, how can you be a Surrealist film actor? There has to be an engine to it that makes it land with the audience so they feel like there’s a connection. It has to be genuine—something that they can either be afraid of or laugh with or cry with—but you cannot limit yourself. What I think I was saying is “Try different styles.” And Miles responded to that, I think, because that’s what he was doing.

Do you see other actors doing new things now? Are you enthusiastic about what’s going on in film?

I think that there have been remarkable performances. I don’t know if it’s new, per se, or a kind of recycling or return to an older style where people are less afraid to express themselves in a larger format. They’re breaking free from “if it’s quiet and minimal, it’s great.” They can liberate themselves and use their voices and gesture and go bigger. I’ve seen it in different actors—for me, Cate Blanchett certainly reminds me of the Golden Age vanguard style of film performance as well.

Yeah, she’s amazing. What are you reading or watching these days?

Well, the reading is not where it should be. I’ve been very immersed in raising my daughter.

How old is she?

She’s going to be two in September.

Oh, my God!

So sleep is gone, and really what I’m trying to do is read my dialogue and memorize it. But the books that I gravitate toward are more books that I feel I know what I’m getting in terms of the translation, or there is no translation. It’s usually in English, so I’m not worried about them corrupting the words of choice of the author. I have gone back to Hermann Hesse. I finished “Magister Ludi.” That was hard to get through. [Laughs.] That was the last book I read.

What are you like as a parent? You have older children . . .

Yeah, I have two older boys. They’re all different experiences. Each one has a different mother. It’s not what I had originally thought would happen when I fell in love or got married—that I would have three different children with three different moms—but nonetheless that’s what’s happened. So every child is different. There’s a different kind of level of attention.

Well, a two-year-old is an automatic attention-suck.

Yeah, and a girl. My first daughter—so this is all different levels of worry and protection and taking it into overdrive.

Pretty cute age, though.

Adorable. Very adorable.

So, I just saw “Dream Scenario,” which I loved.

Yeah, me, too. It’s for everybody, but anyone in particular who’s had any experience in the public eye has a very special connection to that. And you have!

It’s such an original idea, about a mild-mannered, slightly frustrated professor who suddenly begins appearing in strangers’ dreams. His behavior as a dream figure is dramatically different from his real behavior. It occurred to me as I was watching it that twinning is such a repeated theme in a lot of the movies you’ve done. Where do you think that comes from?

I’m a little lost on what you mean by “twinning.”

Like “Adaptation.”

Well, that’s—I’m playing twins.

Right. “Face/Off,” you’re not physical twins—

Oh, I see—but I’m taking on John Travolta. Yeah.

Yeah. “Dream Scenario,” he’s a real person, but then he’s this persona appearing. In all of these films, there’s the idea of the split self.

Why am I gravitating toward that? Is this a Jekyll and Hyde question? [Laughs.]

I just listened to this podcast about a serial killer—I listen to a lot of true crime—who was this super charming, likable guy who was on “The Dating Game.”

I heard about that. The first audition I ever had was for “The Dating Game.”

No way! Did you get on?

I got it, but my dad wouldn’t let me do it. I was too young.

How old were you?

I was, like, fourteen. My audition tape is out there somewhere.

Were you good?

I think I was! I mean, I got the gig. I think I was funny. But, yeah, wasn’t it Ted Bundy? Was he the one that was on “The Dating Game?”

This was a guy named Rodney Alcala. I think we are almost more interested in that kind of persona—someone who, on one level, can seem incredibly appealing, and on the other is very troubled and dark—as opposed to, “Oh, yeah, everybody knew he was . . .”

That’s the human experience. We’re all weather vanes. I like complexity. I’m drawn to characters, as you say, twinning. Characters that are complex, and that have multiple facets—you know, Blanche DuBois saying the human heart can’t be straight, or even in “Moonstruck,” the snowflake speech: “We’re here to ruin ourselves.” I think that’s just truth. I mean, we do the best we can. I’m trying to be the best father I can be, and the best husband I can be, but it’s something that is always evolving and learning and growing.

Right. I guess you’re always struggling with the different angels of your nature.

We all are! And that’s why people, I think, get something out of movies, because it’s like a medicine in that way. You look at “Leaving Las Vegas”—someone who has a problem with alcohol, they look at that movie, and I’ve had two responses: (a) I never want to drink again, or (b) I want to have a drink. I mean, it affects people. People want to learn something from what these characters are going through. I’m interested in 50-mm., right in your face—I’m interested in the psyche. I want to see people going through their hardships and their celebrations and relate to it, or find something to it that makes me feel less lonely in some way. I’m not interested in, you know, a hundred-million-dollar science fiction. I do love science fiction, but I’m not necessarily going to the movie for the spectacle.

And I think the best spectacle movies have that human element, too.

Oh, sure. Absolutely. Even a spectacle like “2001,” you can see Keir Dullea, he’s going to get that body bag of his friend who’s floating in space, and that’s a very fragile moment. You know, that’s what separates him from HAL. But I like movies about people—that’s just my taste—and smaller stories. That’s why I’ve gravitated toward independent film. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t do more adventure films, or I wouldn’t do something that’s more popcorn. I’m considering it right now as we speak. But the movies that made me want to be a film actor are movies like Elia Kazan’s, or “Raging Bull”—movies that were about people who were contending with the issues of life.

Yeah. Indulge me a little to talk about “Adaptation.”

Well, I thought it was brilliant that The New Yorker wanted us to talk, because to me it seems, like, metatextual to begin with—this could lead to planting the seeds for an “Adaptation 2,” if you really extrapolate. It’s so cubist that we’re talking. I played Charlie Kaufman, who basically put himself into your book. He’s not originally in your book.

Not at all!

You have Meryl Streep playing you, and I played Charlie, and now you and I are talking. Someone should get Spike Jonze on the phone!

I know! I mean, it becomes more and more meta—and the movie was the ultimate meta movie. When you saw the script, what was your initial thought?

“Oh, gosh, it’s so much dialogue. It’s so much dialogue. How am I going to get all this dialogue in my body? I’m playing two characters. How am I going to do this? And what are the devices and mechanisms that we are going to employ so I can do this double performance?” We’re going to use an earwig so you can hear what you did as Charlie played back. “Well, who should I start with each day?” I mean, I thought it was original. I thought it was unlike anything I’d read before. It was one of the best scripts I’d read. I was actually thinking about you. I was wondering, How does she feel about this? And I wanted to ask you about that.

But, since then, I have subsequently played myself, or some version of myself—a guy named Nick Cage in a movie like “Being John Malkovich” called “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent.” And now I’m thinking, How interesting would it be if they did an “Adaptation 2” where Cage and Susan Orlean are talking, and suddenly a movie starts spooling out as a result of Charlie Kaufman and me playing myself trying to figure out this—what we’re doing here right now. It got my wheels spinning. I thought, They’re doing this intentionally!

It is very funny! And we are certainly living in the meta world. I found it extremely funny how suggestible people become. I’ve had so many people say to me, “You do look like Meryl Streep.” And I thought, I don’t look like Meryl Streep at all! You have been convinced by the experience of seeing this movie. Like with “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent”—where does it end being artifice? And when does it start feeling like reality?

Well, what I was more curious about was how did you initially feel when Charlie Kaufman said, “I’m going to write your script, and I’m going to put myself in it, and make twins.”

He didn’t tell me!

You see, I would have been shocked and mortified! So I’m curious.

Actually, from the beginning, I thought, I can’t believe they’re making a movie out of this book. It’s so internal. But whatever—that’s not my problem anymore. Didn’t hear anything for a long time. And then they finally gave it to me, clearly with a great deal of anxiety.

[Laughs.] I’m sure!

They took me out to lunch to give me the script, and insisted on having wine at lunch. The first thing I see is the cover, and it’s not “The Orchid Thief.” It’s “Adaptation.” I thought, Oh, they’re not using the name of the book. And it’s written by Charlie and Donald Kaufman. I thought, I guess he has a brother. And I started flipping through it and there—I don’t know if you remember the original script. There was a ton about my childhood, about my parents. And I was, like, “What is going on here?” And I closed it and thought, I can’t look at this. Ed Saxon [the producer] kept saying to me, “Call me as soon as you read the script.” And finally, a few days later, I called him and I said, “Well, you can’t use my name. You’ll ruin my career. I have no right—I sold you the option. You do whatever you want with it. But you can’t use my name!”

But they’re making you, like, a junkie in it!

And sleeping with my subject—I felt more like that would ruin my journalistic career. I mean, people aren’t going to get that it’s this insane fantasy. And he said, “Oh, Susan, come on, everyone’s using their real name. Charlie’s using his real name, and he’s masturbating through the whole movie. What do you have to be embarrassed about?” I said, “Ed, no.” And then this was the killer. Talk about vanity. He said to me, “Well, how are you going to feel seeing your book onscreen with a different author if we change your name?” And I thought, Oh, you evil genius. Because of course I’m not going to have my book shown with somebody else having written it.

It’s a bit dirty pool. [Laughs]

It was, except it was very effective. Then I thought—and I don’t know if you have this experience—I thought, Well, this is going to be an adventure.

Oh, yeah. Well, for me, it was—Jeremy Irons [who plays twins] in “Dead Ringers” was one of my favorite film-performance experiences. So I wanted to attempt that because I was so inspired by what he did. So that was the challenge and the adventure. The masturbation stuff made me very nervous. Do I really want to be on camera doing that? No.

You’re actually sort of modest in that way, aren’t you?

Yeah. Yeah, I think so.

There was a part of me, as is always the case when I’m plunging into a story, is just . . . I don’t want to not do this. I don’t want to not have had this experience.

Well, I’m so glad you did. I mean, I think we made something magical. Like you said, it is the metatextual experience. It is the high watermark for me.

And was it as hard as it seemed to play the two roles?

Oh, my God. There were days where I was literally screaming at the ceiling, going from Charlie to Donald and back to Charlie, and switching and regrouping all the feelings and emotions and attitudes. Like, if I woke up on the wrong side of bed in the morning, I would start with Charlie, but if I woke up on the right side of the bed in the morning, I would start with Donald, who’s so jovial. The weird thing that I’ve experienced is that people say, “Oh, I just love Donald Kaufman.” And I actually get jealous. Like, I don’t remember that I played Donald Kaufman. I’m Charlie Kaufman. And it makes me really nervous and jealous. I’m, like, “How come you like that actor better?” And then I’m, like, “Oh, I am that actor.” It was a head trip.

I mean, here you are, this very handsome man who seems to enjoy playing, like, total nebbishy dorks. Is there a special pleasure in that? Like, Charlie is woebegone, shuffling, balding . . .

Yeah, it was very important to Kaufman that I play him in that way. Charlie Kaufman himself is not really a nerd. He wanted to have the added weight and the baldness and all that. And then some people even cited the “Dream Scenario” professor as of the same ilk. I don’t know what it is. I think that they were just opportunities to try something with film performance, and to—flex isn’t the right word. Flex being a nerd! [Laughs.] But to challenge myself and to play characters that don’t look like me and don’t talk like me. On some level, the way I always selected my favorite actors was by their ability to transform and play characters. Who can keep changing? That’s one element. The other element is how truthful do I feel that they are in the moment? How real? Are they making me feel something that I can have some compassion for? But I do feel blessed that I’ve had chances to play an eclectic range of characters—and particularly Longlegs, who is nothing like anyone I’ve played before. For some reason, when I read the script, I heard my mother’s voice. And then I met with [the director Oz] Perkins at the Polo Lounge. And the first thing he said to me was, “Nic, this is a movie about my mother.” And I said, “Well, that’s very interesting, Oz, because I was just thinking that I want to make this character about my mom.”

Oh, really?

She would talk, like, [mimics her voice] “Oooh, Nicky, you looked just like a little bird when you were born.” And that was just scary. [Laughs.] I think my mom did as well as she could with the situation in which she was contending with, but it was still scary. So I thought, O.K., I want to make this character as a sort of homage to my mother. Not that she was satanic, but her vocalizations, the way she would move. So that’s why this is so different. It’s not Tiny Tim. It’s [Cage’s mother] Joy Vogelsang.

Wow. Has there ever been a character that conjured either of your parents before?

No. Well, my dad was definitely Peter Loew [Cage’s character in “Vampire’s Kiss”]. His voice was all, [mimics him] “You know, Nicky, let me tell you something.” That continental, mid-Atlantic accent. And then I brought him back for Dracula in “Renfield.” So, yeah, happy childhood, right? Dracula is Dad and Longlegs is Mom.

It’s funny because Charlie had written my parents into the “Adaptation” script, and they were not at all like my parents. In fact, he had portrayed my mom as a stumbling drunk, and my mom didn’t drink at all. And the producers called my parents, and they said, “Oh, yes, you can portray us in the movie.” They never looked at the script. I called them and I said, “I don’t think you want to be portrayed.” And my dad said, “I don’t care how they portray me. They can portray me as a drunk astronaut!”

Well, your dad has a sense of humor. But how did you not blow a fuse? I mean, it’s one thing to do that to me, but now you’re doing it to my parents!

Right! I was very clear, and I said, “I will agree to let you use my name and to portray me, but you have to basically cut my parents out of the movie.” I mean, I can anticipate what it’ll be like. And I think the World War Two generation—irony was not part of their DNA. So I don’t think that their friends would have seen the movie and gone, “Oh, my God, that’s so funny, because we know you don’t drink.” And the movie was way too long anyway, so they lost that without it being a huge pain.

The irony thing is interesting. I like people who don’t have irony. I like people who aren’t always trying to flex their sarcasm.

But I feel like that’s the modern world.

It’s the modern world, and it’s what everyone thinks is the arbiter of intelligence. “Oh, you’re sarcastic, so you’re witty, and therefore you’re smart.” I get it. I can do all the silver-tongue stuff, too—but I like solid, genuine people. I guess you’re saying the World War Two era.

You go through two World Wars, you either lose your mind, as a lot of people did, or you create this new distancing mechanism.

I think there’s a limit to it. At a certain point, you’re, like, “Oh, I’m onto you. You’re not genuine. You’re just really into yourself and how fast you can be with your comebacks.”

You can overdose on that very easily.

Yeah. I’ve seen it happen to different actors whose names I won’t mention.

I was thinking that there have been these groupings of actors throughout the history of Hollywood. But you’re not Brat Pack. You’re not whatever the next iteration is of the Hollywood Algonquin Round Table. You’ve been truly creating your own career all along. Do you see yourself as part of a particular category?

Well, I mean, the fantasy would be that I could try to aspire to be something more Golden Age. You know, something more like James Cagney or Humphrey Bogart. Or Hedy Lamarr or Bette Davis. I wanted to have that kind of aura, you know, like the more enigmatic, you don’t know too much. That’s why I’m not on social media. That’s the thinking, anyway. I don’t know. We’ll see what happens if I do this Amazon show [“Spider-Man Noir”], and they put me in black-and-white. We’ll see if we can get some of that flavor.

And that would be your first TV show?

Yeah. Well, I did a pilot a million years ago, when I was fifteen, for George Schlatter, of “Laugh In.” He’s the one who actually discovered me. He was the first guy who gave me a job.

And what was the pilot?

It was called “The Best of Times.” It wasn’t very good. But, yeah, it was my first—I was getting paid as an actor, and I hadn’t even graduated high school yet.

But to answer your question, I don’t know where I fit. I know what I would like to be thought of as, but I don’t know if that’s happening or not.

In that sense, you seem very old-fashioned.

Yeah, I think I am a little anachronistic to the times that we’re in. But I also don’t know that the crazy guy or the madman perception that the public may have about me would fit so well into the Golden Age. Unless you’re “Top of the world, Ma!”—Cagney in “White Heat.” They were doing it then. They were all going off a little bit. [Laughs]

You said recently that you thought you only had three or four more movies. Where are we on that timetable?

Yeah. Well, I did two or three very supporting roles. So maybe three or four more lead roles. Maybe that’s more of what I was saying.

“Longlegs” you would consider more of a supporting—


I don’t think I could have taken more screen time!

It would have been a slippery slope. I think it could have lapsed into something almost too ridiculous. You don’t want to see that the shark is made of rubber, you know? You want the shark to be terrifying and keep it under the water for a lot of it.

That’s true. So, have you avoided TV specifically up until now?

With the exception of “The Twilight Zone” and “The Outer Limits” and the actors who would do guest appearances on those remarkable episodes with different stories, I thought TV could be a dead end, and sort of the death of the Golden Age film star. I avoided it because it’s not why I really wanted to get into movies—I got into movies because of how I felt watching James Dean or Marlon Brando or Cagney. So TV wasn’t on my mind. But then everything’s changed so much. I don’t know if it’s the same experience anymore. And I thought, I’ve always viewed myself as a student. Where am I going to learn something? Well, Broadway. I’ve never done Broadway.

Would you ever do Broadway?

I would consider it, because I’m afraid of it. I’ve always said the thing that you’re afraid of is the very thing you should gravitate toward.

Surfing! [Laughs]

Surfing, I’m afraid of! That one I have to be careful of because of my daughter. I want to be around for her as long as I can because, you know, she’s only going to be two, and I’m sixty. So I don’t want to take too many unnecessary physical risks. But television is terrifying because you have only so much time to get the libretto in your body, and you have to keep going, keep going, keep shooting. And I thought, That’s challenging. I’m afraid of it. I’ve never prepared like that before.

I had a tiny role on “All My Children” so that I could write about what it was like. I’m not a soap-opera fan. But I was amazed that they could pull off something even vaguely believable doing it literally every day. They would get the script and they would show up and do it. Part of it was that they had played the same character for twenty years. But I was good. I was a nurse.

I’m sure you were good!

I had a line I’m kind of proud of: it was something like “Visiting hours are over.” I wrote a New Yorker piece about it.

That’s a good line.

I had no idea what was going on in the show. It was the most complicated thing in the world. But it was fascinating that you could create—what? A thirty-hour movie?

That’s right. What interested me was the time I could take expressing something. I saw Bryan Cranston in “Breaking Bad” stare at a suitcase for half the episode. Just him on the floor looking at a suitcase thinking, What’s in it? Do I do this? Don’t I do it? I thought, We don’t have time to do that in movies. So that to me seemed like an opportunity to open it up a little. I don’t know if the project that I’m exploring has room for that. I think this is a much more sort of popcorn-entertainment episodic television. But “visiting hours are over” is—that could become a vernacular thing. That’s a good line to be good at! [Laughs.]

Yeah, well, I was very proud. The only thing that made me unhappy was I wanted to be a sexy nurse, and I was told that an actress on the show didn’t want too many other women looking sexy. So I had a gigantic nurse outfit.

But I am curious: they gave them their dialogue on the day?

The night before.

The night before! See, that’s terrifying! Right now, I like to have two months to prepare for a movie.

And how do you do that?

I start reading it. I’m a little behind the curve on this next one I’m doing, called “The Carpenter’s Son.” But I get on the elliptical in the morning. I start reading the script from the front to the back. And then I reverse it and read it from the back to the front. And then I take the biggest—or, I should say, the most dialogue-intense—scenes and get them off the plate first, so they’re in my body. The problem that I have with it, though, is I’m carrying all that around in my head for two months, going through it every day, so that by the time I get on the set, I’m not thinking about it, just flowing. But that’s a lot of memory retention every day for two months—and then for however long the movie takes. It’s yeoman’s work. So, with this show, if I do this, I don’t know if I’m going to have the time to be that . . .

They’re shorter.

Forty-five minutes. I mean, it’s eight episodes. So it’s the equivalent of four movies in five months. And I’ve got another movie I’ve gotta prepare for, and then a movie right after it . . . and it’s another character that does not look like me. You asked me, “Do you like to play nebbishy guys?” But they bring them to me! And I don’t know why. I mean, I do ask my agent, “Why am I always playing these nebbishy guys? Why all the nerds? What is this?”

But it’s funny. And you’re so good at inhabiting this type of character that it’s easy to forget. I don’t think in real life you’re particularly nebbishy.

Thank you. I appreciate that. I sometimes have to remind myself, wait a minute, I’m not that guy!

It also seems like producers are unimaginative, and they show you what you just did.

[Sighs.] It’s so true. I know that the phone’s going to be ringing off the hook to play serial killers after “Longlegs.” And that’s not really what I like to do. I don’t like violence. I don’t want to play people who are hurting people. One of the things that I like about this potential show is that it’s fantasy. It’s not really people beating people up. Monsters are involved.

What’s your average—well, you probably don’t have an average day, because if you’re prepping for a movie, that’s what you’re doing.

Kind of. Although I’m not prepping as much as I would like to be prepping right now because of what’s going on in terms of my family. I’m more focussed on my daughter at the moment. So I have to figure that out. And I want her to travel with me when I go to Greece to film this next picture.

What’s her name?

Augie. I named her after my father, August Coppola. His nickname was Augie, so we call her Augie. Augie Francesca Coppola.

That’s beautiful.

Thank you.

[The publicist comes in to note the time.]

I have to slip out after this to go get a scan done for the show, and then also for the movie I’m doing after the show. Two scans in one day!

What are they gonna do?

Well, they have to put me in a computer and match my eye color and change—I don’t know. They’re just going to steal my body and do whatever they want with it via digital A.I. . . . God, I hope not A.I. I’m terrified of that. I’ve been very vocal about it.

It’s really scary.

It is. And it makes me wonder, you know, where will the truth of the artists end up? Is it going to be replaced? Is it going to be transmogrified? Where’s the heartbeat going to be? I mean, what are you going to do with my body and my face when I’m dead? I don’t want you to do anything with it!

I feel like people love to make myths about you. And I’m sort of comforted in feeling that you’re in control of that.

Well, I used to be in control of that. I don’t think I’m in control of that anymore. And that’s also partly why I responded to the script in “Dream Scenario.” I mean, my meme-ification is not unlike Paul’s dream-ification. I started very young, and I wanted to make a big noise and create a kind of punk-rock aura around myself. I was definitely not going to be a part of the—abhorrent words—Brat Pack. I mean, they didn’t belong in that either. I thought that was very unfair. But I’m not the same person I was when I was fifteen. I’m now sixty. Nonetheless, some of the roles that I’ve gravitated toward have created this mythology, or compounded it. When I signed up to be a film actor, we didn’t have the Internet. We didn’t have cell phones with cameras. I didn’t know this was going to happen to me in such a pervasive way—the so-called memes. So that, now, is out of my hands.

It’s true, the acceleration of mythmaking—there’s never been anything in the history of mankind that compares to the cell phone with the camera.

Your colleague Isaac Butler had that article that he wrote about how—I’m paraphrasing, but—it’s happening so fast that we become fascinated with movie stars, and they almost become a joke, with the memes, and then we dispose of them and go to the next guy. So for me, I have to figure out how to surf that. I’ve been living with it now since 2009, I guess.

And what was 2009?

Well, that’s when I turned on my computer and saw “Nicolas Cage Losing His Shit.” [Laughs.] I was like, “O.K., wait a minute. You’re taking all my characters and my freakout moments, and you’re putting them all in this collage without any idea of how the character got there, without Act I, Act II, Act III. You’re just watching these freakout moments, and you think it’s funny—and that’s great, because it is funny. And maybe you’ll go look at the movie. But there’s a reason why that character is acting like that. It’s not only for laughs, you know? And so that’s why: Do I talk to Susan Orlean for The New Yorker? Yes, of course I’m going to talk with Susan Orlean for The New Yorker, because she’s intelligent and she writes great books and she’s an artist, and we can have a conversation. Am I going to do Men’s Health? I don’t know about that, because . . . I think all actors now have to be very careful who they talk to and where it’s going. This Instagram thing? No. That’s the quickest way to bore people. They’re going to know who you are. Now that you’ve got this giant machine out there called the Internet, less is definitely more. Don’t do documentaries about yourself. Don’t do other people’s documentaries and talk about them. Stay away. Go away! [Laughs.]

I guess it’s the distinction between being an artist and being a celebrity. I mean, inevitably you’re a celebrity if you’re a successful artist, but what you do with it, those are two very different things.

That is such a truthful point. I am actively anti-celebrity, and I don’t like the word “celebrity.” I love the word “artist.” I think celebrity can destroy the artist.

Are you still having fun acting?

Yeah! I hope so, because as soon as it stops being fun, it’s not going to be fun for you or anybody else who goes to the movies. [Laughs.]

Thank you. That’s very kind of you. Is it more fun being a dad?

Oh, it’s completely different.

I guess that’s a meaningless comparison. But it seems like that’s where your head is.

Being a dad—to me, it’s not an art form, it’s . . . How do I put this? It’s like breathing. Everything is about her. You know, I can make a movie or not make a movie. I can’t stop being a dad. With her, it’s life. It’s my survival.

At the risk of asking you to pick a favorite, if someone were to say, “I’ve never seen any of your movies, what should I see?”


I just saw that. You play a mournful loner searching for his stolen truffle-hunting pig. That’s something that was very near and dear to your heart?

Yes. And it’s something that I think people can get something out of, because tragedy is going to hit all of us at some point. It’s just a matter of when. It’s also a movie that to me is like a folk song. It’s a very quiet, gentle movie, which is the opposite of what we started our conversation with—people thinking I’m crazy.

Yeah, it’s very meditative.

That I’m happy with, because I’d never done anything like that before, where I felt like I got close to putting a meditation on camera, or a haiku.

It’s also interesting because that’s from 2021—so it’s fairly recent. Is that a nice feeling? I have always felt, if my best book was twenty years ago, that’s a little bit of a bad sign.

Yes, and I agree with that. I think that the work now is—for me, anyway—more interesting, and it’s more personal.

Do you feel like you’re getting offers that are addressing this range of interests?

I’m making the movies I want to make—or I was making the movies I wanted to make. I don’t know where it’s going. I’d like to leave on a high note, and I’ll try something else. But I think that I’ve been trying to find ways, short of writing my own script and directing my own movie, to make the characters as personal as possible, and to bring my own life experience and my own library of emotion and memories to it. Find stories that I think are personal to me that I can hopefully not have to act too much.

That’s interesting. That arc leads you to something that’s actually authentically who you are—performance becomes just truthfulness.

That’s the aspiration. I think “Pig” got there, and I think “Dream Scenario” got there, and, in some weird way, “Longlegs” got there. If I do this show, that’s something different. It’s more of a Pop-art mashup, like a Lichtenstein painting, where I want to do something that has some sparkle to it. It’s fun to look at. It won’t be “Pig”; it won’t be “Dream Scenario.” But how many of those can you find? I’m just lucky that I found them in my late fifties.

Do you ever think, Oh, screw it, I’m going to write my own script?

See, that’s why I have so much respect for what you do. Because there was a time when I think I could have been good at it—when I think I could have really put pen to paper and done it. I would write my own scripts, and make my own movies, and then I’d direct them. I was in my early thirties. I put everything in the computer, and I left the computer behind the wheel of the car. I backed it up, and I smashed everything, and I lost my manuscript. And it was so devastating that I’ve been terrified to even attempt it again. Now I just don’t think I have that set of muscles anymore. Especially with the baby, I don’t know how I’m going to do it! Because I think that’s atrophied in me.

It’s hard!

Yeah, I know it is! And this is even harder than a script. You’re writing a novel.

Well, that took me seven years.

That’s terrifying! But I’d rather be able to do this. My dad always wanted me to be a writer. I think I let him down when I decided to be an actor.

He was a literature professor, so of course he would have wanted you to be a writer.

Yeah, he thought I was leaving my talent on the table.

You did O.K.

I did O.K. I did what I wanted to do.

Well, I know they’re going to come yell at us.

“Visiting hours are over!” ♦


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