Nearly 40 years into his acting career, Nicolas Cage is busier than ever, though few people can keep up with his output. Even as he juggles a lot of low-budget projects that slip into anonymity on VOD, however, Cage does have a discerning side. “As long as one or two of the scenes really gets the audience moving, then I feel like I’m doing a good job,” he said during an interview at the Toronto International Film Festival. “I won’t say yes to a movie unless I feel like I can bring that to it.”
Though Cage has worked with veteran directors ranging from Brian De Palma to Werner Herzog, he continues to pay attention to emerging talent behind the camera. Most recently, he said, he was impressed by the first two features from Ari Aster, “Hereditary” and “Midsommar,” and expressed interest in working with him.
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“Ari Aster, to me, is an event,” Cage said. “If you look at ‘Hereditary’ and ‘Midsommar,’ so much thought goes into them. They’re uniquely different, but you can tell that they come from the same mind. He’s a real student of film.” The actor recalled watching “Midsommar” in a theater following its release this summer, and recognized the influence of Ingmar Bergman’s eerie character studies on Aster’s sprawling tale of a Swedish cult and the young Americans drawn into its web.
“It was exciting,” Cage said. “I saw those Bergmanesque shots. I remember thinking, ‘This is like Bergman. Then I heard a podcast where he was talking about the closeups in ‘Persona,’ and I’d just gone through my Bergman kick, so I was like, well, this is really someone willing to explore and try new things in cinema.” Cage described Aster as “someone who has that auteur panache, like De Palma did back when he was doing films like ‘Sisters’ and ‘Phantom of the Paradise.’”
Aster’s first two features take an artful approach to horror movie traditions, but Cage said there was one variation on that genre he had no interest in. “Horror is fine, you can be very creative with that. The thing I really don’t like is what they call ‘torture porn,’” he said. “If you’re just watching some woman get cut up, that’s really not for me. It needs to have a reason there, a story, that propels the characters, an emotion connected to it. I would probably have to pass on just gratuitous violence.”
Cage has been a movie buff his whole life. As a child growing up in the ’70s, his father often took him to repertory screenings at the New Beverly Cinema, where he still has fond memories of watching James Dean in “East of Eden,” Marlon Brando in “On the Waterfront,” James Cagney in “White Heat,” and Todd Browning’s “Freaks.” He continues to consume new releases and classics as part of his regular viewing habits. “I am a film enthusiast and genuinely transport myself with watching films,” he said. “In a way, it makes me feel like I’m still with my father.”
At this year’s TIFF, Cage stars in the H.P. Lovecraft adaptation “Color Out of Space,” which marks “Hardware” director Richard Stanley’s first narrative feature since he was fired from “The Island of Dr. Moreau” in 1996. But the actor already has several more projects in the works, including one that impacted his appearance at the festival. Cage showed up for his interviews buried in a thick brown beard and brown cowboy hat, preparing for a role that he declined to reveal. “I’m fully immersed in it, and this is not someone who talks a lot, so it’s sort of ironic to be doing interviews,” he said.
Though Cage has yet to delve into television, he acknowledged that it was only a matter of time. “I have to diversify my portfolio, because sadly, as we sit here today, the financing for independent cinema is drying up,” he said. “Hopefully, I can go a little while longer.”