Dream Scenario Interview: Kristoffer Borgli on Working with Nicolas Cage

Nicolas Cage in Dream Scenario
Photo Credit: A24
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ComingSoon’s Jonathan Sim recently spoke with director Kristoffer Borgli, who helmed the new A24 movie Dream Scenario, starring Nicolas Cage in the lead role.

“Hapless family man Paul Matthews finds his life turned upside down when millions of strangers suddenly start seeing him in their dreams,” reads the official synopsis. “When his nighttime appearances take a nightmarish turn, Paul is forced to navigate his newfound stardom.”

Jonathan Sim: What were the themes that you wanted to explore when you were writing the script for [Dream Scenario]?

Kristoffer Borgli: Well, it actually started with the character I was interested in, in this character that I had in mind of a middle-aged academic who feels entitled to recognition for work he hasn’t even written. That was a character that was like in my mind and I wanted to do something with that.

Then — on the other side — I was also toying around with ideas of, like… I wanted to do something with dreams. I’ve been wanting to do that for forever. And I was reading about Carl Jung and the Collective Unconscious, which is a sort of theory around why it is that we have ideas and symbols and stories that emerge at the same time, different parts of the planet at the same time in history.

And the idea being that there’s some sort of cosmic connection between our minds and consciousness which, you know, led me to think about Nightmare on Elm Street and Twilight Zone and HP Lovecraft, and that type of high concept mystery. I wanted to rip such an idea out of its genre and place it somewhere else.

I thought of that character that I had in mind, this middle-aged professor. What if that was something that happened to him? How would that look like if we honestly looked at it through the lens of our current culture? And that’s how the whole sort of story started unfolding.

What was it like to work with Cage in developing a character like Paul Matthews?

It’s a character on paper who is supposed to be unremarkable and bland and someone who’s socially awkward, a sort of beta male. And the challenge then of casting Nicolas Cage, who is maybe one of the most recognizable people on the planet with […] natural charisma, that became a huge challenge. We worked together on, on like, how do we make Paul Matthews come alive? It’s something that would have to sort of go against Nicholas Cage’s natural instincts in a way because he has said himself, this is the character who’s least like me.

And so, we were just talking about how a socially awkward suburban father acts and how does he look? Like, we wanted to make Nicolas Cage — the icon — disappear a little bit. So in the movie, he’s bald, he wears you know, extremely normcore dad clothes. He even had a prosthetic nose on in the whole movie. Everything, all of these little things, all the details was to ensure that we had this sort of uncanny feeling of seeing someone that you hadn’t seen before.

Did you ever feel like there were any parallels between Paul Matthews and that persona that Nicolas Cage has developed over the years?

Oh, definitely. I mean, that was I think one of the reasons that Nicolas Cage wanted to do the movie was that he could relate to it on a personal level. You know, for me, I’ve seen Nicolas Cage become a sort of mythical icon in the culture. And he’s been meme-ified, he’s become a sort of an idea. And that idea has changed over decades. It’s no longer in the control of Nic Cage, the person.

So here we have a great discrepancy between the person and the persona and the representation of self, which is exactly what the movie deals with. It deals with someone who starts living in everyone’s heads outside of his control and everyone has an opinion about him because of what they see in their dreams. It felt to me and to him like it resonated with what has happened with Nicolas Cage.

What were the movies that inspired Dream Scenario and your style of filmmaking?

It’s kind of hard to quantify. I think a lot of the movies that I watched early on in my teenage years working at a video store became sort of what I call my vibe setters. They set the tone and vibe for what type of movie that I liked. And, early on, people who were really influential were Lars von Trier, of course, being a Scandinavian. [And] David Lynch, Luis Buñuel — they all dealt with humor and darkness and dream logic in different ways that I’ve come to appreciate.

What it was like behind the scenes to film a few of those dream sequences that we see in the film?

In terms of constructing these dream scenes in the movie, what was important to me is that the audience gets to experience what the dreamer experiences. Meaning when we dream, we turn off our skepticism and we accept the most absurd things as logical. But when you wake up and you have your normal functioning wakened brain sort of reminiscing over the dream it feels different. It feels suddenly ridiculous. Why did I feel scared in a dream that was so ridiculous? So I wanted to avoid that. I wanted the audience to feel what the dreamer experiences. And so there was a limit on how abstract or strange the dream could be before it starts just feeling kind of ridiculous. I wanted the stakes and the tension inside of the dream to feel logical for awake, you know, a person who is awake.

So that became a great sort of map for me to stay with him. And then shooting those scenes was just like a great thrill as a director. I get to construct these mini-movies that I could make that could be, I could do anything. I could have a huge earthquake with 300 extras. I could have real live alligators inside of a house. All of these things that normally wouldn’t make sense in my scripts. So I got to really play as a director. I got to have fun with, with visually just extreme and exhilarating things. And everything that you see in the movie is in camera. There’s no special effects. It’s all practical. So me being on the set those days, I was in the presence of real alligators. We were making this whole huge space turn into an earthquake with people stunned, people falling, you know, from the, the second floor and into the ground and, and explosions and everything. It just felt like a great joy.

What are you hoping that the audiences who watch this movie take away from it?

I feel like one of the aspects, if there’s any message in it, I feel like it is about appreciating what is right in front of you. And not sort of chasing external validation as a means to self-worth and that, you know, this character looks at the negative space of his life. He looks at what’s missing, even though he seemingly has a really good life, and he has to go through this whole journey of this movie to realize what he had at the beginning was more than good enough.

And I think he goes through all of this so that we, the audience don’t have to but ultimately I want the audience to have just a really fun experience. I want it to be a little bit mysterious. I want people to take the movie home with them and let it live in their heads, hopefully have strange dreams after. I want them to be inspired, by art and creativity.

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