While Nicolas Cage's extensive career includes notable roles in films like Leaving Las Vegas, Face/Off and Raising Arizona, it was the actor's personal experience of being a "memified" entity that was a core entry point for him to play Paul Matthews in Kristoffer Borgli's Dream Scenario.
"What had happened to me virally, really I think I might have been the first actor in maybe it was 2008, 2009, who woke up one morning and made the mistake of Googling himself and just saw this mashup called, Nic Cage loses his you know what," Cage said during a virtual press conference. "It was just cherry picking all of these sort of crisis moments of different characters that I had played, without any regard for the narrative or how the character reached that point."
"I was like, I don't know what's happening to me, and I couldn't stop it, I couldn't control it. There was nothing I could do. It just started growing exponentially and compounding on itself. ... But when I read Dream Scenario I thought, yeah, I could apply that experience to this person because people are dreaming about him, he has no control over that either."
What is 'Dream Scenario' about?
Making its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in September (also filmed in Toronto), Dream Scenario's lead character Paul (Cage) is a tenured professor, with a passion for evolutionary biology.
Paul discovers that he's appearing in other people's dreams, with the number of people recognizing him continuing to grow.
But Paul has one particular insecurity when it comes to his dream presence. Paul is never an active participant in anyone's dreams, he's just a passive observer. However, Paul gains celebrity status as people continue to encounter him in their dreams. It's the attention he always wished to have, in some capacity.
Things start to take another turn for Paul when the dreams, and his presence in them, start to get darker, and the attention Paul starts to get isn't really what he was hoping for.
"It was one of the five best scripts that I ever read," Cage said about Borgli's work. "The other ones were Raising Arizona, Leaving Las Vegas, Vampire's Kiss, Adaptation."
"I knew right away I just had to make the movie. I just had to do it. I felt like I had the life experience to play Paul."
'It was an adjustment to the viral world of the internet'
In taking on the role of Paul, it's an example of how Cage is trying to "get more personal" with his work.
"I want to find characters that I can take the life experience, like Pig or now Dream Scenario, and kick it into high gear ... and not feel like I have to act too much," Cage said.
In pulling from his own experience of "going viral," which lends itself to the experience Paul has in Dream Scenario, Cage identified that it's reflective of the "speed" of the internet and social media.
"People said, 'well this was what you signed up for,' but I didn't," Cage stressed. "When I made the decision to become an actor in movies, I was thinking about people ... in the 40s ... or the 20s, all the way back, silent films, they didn't have everybody with a cell phone and a camera, and they didn't have the internet."
"So for me, it was an adjustment. It was an adjustment to the viral world of the internet. ... I didn't sign up for that. That just happened through the course of having done this for over 40 years."
While pulling from personal experience for the character, there was also specific effort to ensure that Paul looked and sounded completely different from Cage, the famed actor.
"In this case, it was extremely important, I thought, for Kristoffer, that people weren't looking at so-called Nic Cage, that people were looking at Paul Matthews," Cage explained. "He wanted to take, I guess you could say a famous personality, and erase that."
"There would be no charisma. There would be a kind of a meek, almost, presentation, someone who does not stand out, and build that. So whatever I could put emotionally behind that design, that was closer to me, but the appearance wasn't. Having said that though, the appearance helped me lose myself or really find myself to inform the character."
When it comes to how we initially meet Paul, a very smart man and a good professor, but a sort of outcast in social circles, Cage was able to identify aspects of his own father, a professor himself, in the character.
"I do think that artists and people that really think about things sometimes tend to be a bit of an outcast, a bit of a social misfit," Cage said. "They don't necessarily always fit into what is considered normal socializing or behaviour."
"They have a lot on their minds or they're thinking about things differently and sometimes that can be accepted in a great way, where people enjoy the conversation or stimulated by it, and sometimes it can put people off. .,. I think my father had a bit of that because he liked to talk and think, and he kind of lost a lot of people in the communication socially, not so much when he was teaching, and I think it can happen with artists too."
In the exploration of dreams through Dream Scenario, Cage believes that movies and dreaming pair well together because "they share the same DNA."
"They're kind of little mind expressions or blips in the normal process of thinking, and it's very abstract inherently," Cage said.
The actor also praised Borgli's ability to effectively pair comedy and horror together for the film, something he called his "favourite" combination of genres.
"If you can get that combination of horror and comedy just right, it's a bullseye, you've got to hit it, but when you do, it's delicious," Cage said. "It's so much fun for audiences, so much fun for me and I would say it's my favourite, in terms of genre mashups."
Dream Scenario is now in theatres in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Edmonton, Ottawa, Halifax, Calgary, and Winnipeg. The film is being released in more cities across Canada Dec. 1.