Every movie fan has an association with Nicolas Cage, whether it’s his wide-eyed recklessness in The Rock or his drug-addled dejection in Leaving Las Vegas. The actor, 52, has run the gamut of character types, although his most memorable moments have been the ones where directors have allowed him to go completely off the rails.
In his latest film, thriller The Trust, Cage embraces that sensibility again. Here he embodies Jim Stone, a checked-out Vegas cop who plans to rob an underground drug operation with the help of Elijah Wood’s equally bored police officer. It’s the sort of movie that subverts your expectations for the characters and makes you grapple with what it means to attempt an escape from your job. We spoke with Cage, who now lives in Vegas, about how The Trust fits into his career plan, what he thinks of his past work and how he’ll celebrate reaching the 100-movie mark.
What makes you say yes to a role at this point in your career?
Well, the first thing is whether or not it inspires me in some way. Whether or not I feel I can have some fun with it. And whether or not I have the life experience to play the part with some integrity. I would like to have a challenge. I don’t really want to repeat myself. The other really important thing for me is the director and trying to find filmmakers I can work with who can give me a chance to find something new within my instrument and enable me to explore and feel liberated in my performance. When I met with Alex and Ben Brewer, I wanted to work with younger filmmakers who had some idea of reinventing me. I’ve been doing this for 39 years now and the idea of working with brand-new filmmakers–and in this case they’d only done a few short films and then some rock videos–was great. To have them get an idea of what to do with me was very exciting.
You’ve played a cop several times. Why did this particular character feel new?
One of my favorite genres–it’s not really a genre, it’s more of a mix of genres–is the blend of horror with comedy. Like John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London. I like moments in cinema where it can be shocking and funny at the same time. Jack Nicholson did that to great effect in The Shining. With Jim Stone, I felt that was a character that could give you misdirection. He could make you think, “We’re going this way” and then it turns out to be something else, and it is a little shocking on some level. I like to keep audiences guessing. I like to keep things moving by virtue of being unpredictable. So Jim Stone was someone who at the beginning at the flick seems goofy and has ridiculous quips and off-the-wall jokes and gags. And towards the end he starts evolving into something more like a monster. Those kinds of surprises keep motion pictures in motion.
Is it fair to say you’re attracted to playing people who are loose cannons?
If you look very carefully at my filmography–I don’t know how many films it’s been now, I think it’s pushing 90–there have been very straight characters and there have been very quiet characters. But I think the ones people seem to hold on to and remember are the ones where the character can go off the rails very quickly. From 0 to 60, he turns into something else. I guess that’s just something I’ve had a lot of fun with. I look at every performance in some way as music, and I’m looking for different notes to hit. Sometimes I want to be more avant-garde, sometimes I want to be more melodic. But then when I do get loud and it gets more punk rock, I have a lot of fun with that. I think those are the characters that seem to resonate most with audiences.
Have you looked back on a performance and failed to recognize yourself because you went so big?
You know, I don’t often look at my movies. Once I do something I try to move forward. Once it’s made and in the can maybe I’ll watch it once when it comes out and then it’s behind me. But the few times where I’ll be surfing the channels on television and there’s a few shots of me, maybe I’ll tune in for two minutes to go down memory lane and then turn it off quickly. And there have been moments where I was like “Wow, I really don’t remember doing that!” It’s a bit strange, but yeah, I’ve had those odd moments where I really didn’t recall the choices. But at the time I know that every choice I made I had thought out and had a decision behind it or an opinion behind it.
Did you do any kind of background research to prepare for The Trust?
When I started acting I was really method. I was very into the research. And, to a point, I still am. I find as I make more and more movies over time that that’s less and less important. I’m certainly not saying anything about [Las Vegas] Metro [Police] in playing that part. Everybody I know in Metro are great guys and they’re completely ethical. So this wasn’t really a comment about Las Vegas and the police department at all. And it’s not really a comment about police at all. It’s really a comment about two guys who are really fed up and bored with their lives. So I didn’t really look into “What’s Metro really like? What are the machinations behind Metro? Are they corrupt?” It wasn’t anything like that. Because I live in Las Vegas, I want to make that clear that it’s not a comment on Metro.
Do you relate to that idea of becoming bored with your life and not knowing how to shake things up?
I think everybody can. I think sometimes it’s good to be bored. Sometimes people do stupid things simply because they want to avoid boredom. But with every year that passes mortality becomes more and more apparent. You thirst for adventure and want to keep the instrument inspired—and by “the instrument” I just mean ourselves. I am my instrument because all I have is my body and my face and my mind. I have to do things in life to keep me interested and keep myself stimulated and inspired so I have the wherewithal to play another part that hopefully will challenge me. So yes, I do want shake things up from time to time, just to stay stimulated.
Did you come out of The Trust having discovered anything new about yourself?
It wasn’t a movie where I learned anything new about myself, but it was an affirmation. What I had hoped was that Elijah Wood would be everything I hoped he would be. I’d been a huge fan of his for a very long time. To get an opportunity to work with him and not only have him be totally on-point and to deliver those scenes 100 percent, and then to be able to go off page and have jazz acting and not in any way close down because of that. You want to be spontaneous and you want to be electric and throw curve balls at one another. And Elijah was up for that every step of the way. We were picking each other’s melodies up. Neither one of us had anything but fun doing that, and it was a real joy to work with him. I think that Elijah, when he’s finished with this, will have made more movies than I have made.
That’s a bold statement.
I think he’s going to beat me! I think he’s going to make more movies than me! I have no doubt about that. He’s already at 47 or 50 movies or something. I’m at 90 at the moment, but he’s got a lot more time to go.
What are you going to do to celebrate when you reach 100 movies?
Oh, that’s going to be big. That’s going to be big. I’m not far now. And Jerry Lewis, who is in the picture with me, who is a friend, I asked him how many he had and he said like 40-something. So he’s like, “You’re doing two a year, which is kind of amazing.” I am going to have a big party. I am going to invite everybody I’ve ever worked with and all my best friends and my entire family. I’m going to probably rent a massive suite somewhere in Las Vegas and we’re are going to have a huge party when I hit 100 movies. Absolutely.
When you’ve made almost 100 movies over 39 years, how do you keep from becoming complacent?
I think I stayed hungry. I didn’t stay behind a gate. At one time I used to be on a yacht somewhere, but now I’m really very much with the people. And I’ve had good experiences and I’ve had bad experiences. It’s made me totally immersed in life. And when you think about it that’s what an actor needs. He or she needs to observe human behavior and see what you record and see what you might want to throw out or what you might want to use in your acting. But sometimes I think the mistake is people get very comfortable and they isolate themselves and then next thing you know they don’t really have anything to draw on. For hatever reason, I’ve been able to stay grounded. I’m flying commercial; I’m not on a private jet. I’ve had horrible times on airplanes sitting next to people and I’ve had beautiful times on airplanes sitting next to people. And it’s kept me alive and kept me fresh and given me something to record and then play back.
Do you still have a celebrity indulgence you can’t shake though?
I mean, I like wine. I enjoy a good bottle of red wine. I spend my money on my food. I like being with people who I enjoy good conversation with and have a nice meal. That’s something that’s very important to me.
Is there something that’s still on your career bucket list?
I need to do a musical. I’ve not done that yet. And I enjoy singing and I think I could really have a great experience with a musical. Also, I haven’t really done a story that would really give me a chance to explore my love of the ocean. It was my first love and I would love to be able to play a part that embraces that, like Captain Nemo in Jules Verne’s 2,000 Leagues Under The Sea. Some movie that really has me in the middle of the ocean on some sort of adventure. I have that coming up with USS Indianapolis, but I’d love to do that again—and maybe next time be under the water.
The Trust opens in theaters and on-demand today from Saban Films and Lionsgate.