Nicolas Cage's grandpa inspired his bizarre 'Wicker Man' helmet and 'Not the bees!' line

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In "The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent," Nicolas Cage gets to drop acid, scale walls, outrun drug lords and French kiss himself.

It also gives him a chance to send up his brazen on-screen persona, playing a heightened version of himself who gets mixed up in international espionage after befriending Javi (Pedro Pascal), a Cage superfan and Spanish billionaire with potentially shady dealings.

The meta film (in theaters Friday) gleefully references many of the Oscar winner's mainstream hits, including "Face/Off," "Con Air," "National Treasure" and "The Rock," as well as artier fare "Wild at Heart" and "Adaptation."

For Cage, 58, having this chance to celebrate and reflect on his past work has been a "validating, largely positive experience."

Nick Cage (Nicolas Cage) enjoys a cocktail in Spain in meta action comedy "The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent."
Nick Cage (Nicolas Cage) enjoys a cocktail in Spain in meta action comedy "The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent."

"It's given me an opportunity to explain some of my choices and the way I perceived my path," says Cage, who's starred in a string of low-budget thrillers and dramas in the past decade. "I opted for what some folks call 'direct to video' (movies), which they see as less than compared to opening in cinemas. But to me, that expression is a dinosaur. Everything now is streaming and streaming has been wonderful to me."

Before the release of "Massive Talent," Cage walked USA TODAY through some of his most memorable roles and moments:

What to watch this weekend: Viking epic 'The Northman,' Nicolas Cage's 'Massive Talent'

Nicolas Cage stars as a truffle hunter whose beloved porcine best friend is kidnapped in "Pig."
Nicolas Cage stars as a truffle hunter whose beloved porcine best friend is kidnapped in "Pig."

Nicolas Cage thinks his best performance yet is in 'Pig'

Earlier this year, Cage earned a best actor nomination from the Critics Choice Awards for "Pig," a gentle drama in which he played a reclusive truffle hunter in search of his stolen pig. The actor still regards it as the "best performance" of his career so far.

"I watched the movie and it was like, I didn't know this person," Cage says. "I was being introduced to this character and I was an audience member 100%. It was like lightning in a bottle, the way that movie came together. We didn't do more than one or two takes, and everybody involved just flowed.

"And that doesn't happen often – this is maybe the second time," he says. "The first was 'Leaving Las Vegas,' " for which Cage won the best actor Oscar in 1996. "I do think it's the best I was able to do. Nothing was forced."

'Pig': Nicolas Cage talks porcine co-star, freezing with Cher during 'Moonstruck'

'Mandy,’ ‘Bad Lieutenant’ and his other recent films are 'as good' as classic Cage

In 2015, Cage played a politician embroiled in a sex scandal in "The Runner," co-starring Connie Nielsen, Peter Fonda and Sarah Paulson. The drama was a major critical and box-office disappointment, although Cage stands by it.

"It was a movie that I thought had a great deal of nuance and was very relevant," he says. "That movie is very underrated and really isn't on anybody's radar. 'The Trust' with Elijah Wood was also terrific."

He name-checks "Mandy" and "Color Out of Space" for doing "a great job sort of reinventing me. ... And movies like 'Bad Lieutenant' and 'Joe,' everybody involved put in their best work. I'm not saying these movies are better than anything I did in the first 30 years of my path, but I think they're as good."

'Mandy': A broken ankle can't keep Nicolas Cage from swinging a mighty battle ax

Babies (five of them!) made surprisingly easy co-stars on 'Raising Arizona'

One of Cage's most lovable roles is in Joel Coen's 1987 comedy "Raising Arizona," playing an ex-con named Hi who marries a police officer (Holly Hunter) and kidnaps a baby when she can't get pregnant. The actor fondly remembers trying to wrangle five infants on set, shooting a scene where Hi robs a cradle of quintuplets.

"Each of the babies would be looking at me in the crib jumping up and down, and I'd be trying to distort my facial expressions, imagining what it'd be like for a toddler observing these horrific adults," Cage recalls. "I had a lot of fun on those days. I've only had great experiences with children."

His iconic 'Wicker Man' helmet was inspired by his grandpa

In 2006, Cage starred in a remake of 1973 horror film "The Wicker Man," playing a policeman named Edward Malus who's investigating a pagan cult. In one memorable scene, Edward is tortured with a wire mesh helmet filled with bees, prompting his oft-parodied line, "Not the bees!"

The idea for the helmet came from Cage, who was visiting his grandfather's house one day and saw that he had built a wooden fly trap.

"I thought it was so bizarre: It looked like a little square box that had a funnel and a cone, and he put honey in it so flies would go in and get trapped in there," Cage recalls. "So I thought I'd put that very object on my head in 'The Wicker Man.' That led me to the whole 'Not the bees! Not the bees!' (line), which I think is funny."

It was also his idea to reference the moment in "Massive Talent," uttering the iconic quote about a bee-shaped belt buckle.

Fans can't stop quoting this one 'Moonstruck' line

In addition to "Wicker Man," Cage says that the movie fans quote back to him most is "Moonstruck," which enjoyed a resurgence during early lockdown that he's very "glad" about. People specifically love to say "Snap out of it!" which Cher's widowed Loretta shouts after slapping Cage's impassioned Ronny.

"'Snap out of it!' is the line," Cage says with a laugh. "That's a line I'm always going to get and I love it. I mean, I'm glad (people) remember the movie. She's fun and it's such a fun moment."

He was 'verklempt' watching 'Paddington 2'

"Massive Talent" adds plenty more meme-able moments to Cage's canon, not least of which when his character starts bawling watching "Paddington 2" for the first time. The tender yet deeply silly scene mirrors the actor's own experience seeing the critically acclaimed family film.

"I got a little verklempt," Cage recalls. "Hugh Grant is marvelous in the movie – there's a lot there to be recommended. If you're not a snob and want to laugh and get your heartstrings pulled and you like teddy bears, then, yeah, it's a great movie."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Nicolas Cage talks iconic roles, 'Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent'