Photo: Misha Shahzada; Hair: Rebekah Forecast; Makeup: Misha Shahzada; Styling: Chloe Hartstein
Nicolas Cage’s greatest burden in life is his acting gift— or at least that’s the case according to Lionsgate Film’s newest release, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent. The action comedy is packed with a star-studded cast that features Pedro Pascal, Sharon Horgan, Tiffany Haddish, Ike Barinholtz and Neil Patrick Harris, in addition to Cage, who plays himself. What begins as a career and mid-life crisis spirals out into the ultimate action adventure typically reserved for spy thrillers and big-budget blockbusters.
The emotional pull of The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent gravitates around Cage’s on-screen daughter Addy, played by Lily Sheen. Ahead of the movie’s theatrical release on April 22, LA Confidential spoke with Sheen about her film debut, working with Cage and learning to properly throw a knife.
What did you think of the script when you first read it?
I was just told that it was this meta comedy with Nic Cage and all these other actors and they were filming in Croatia. It sounded like this big party and it was very fun. Reading the script, it was mind-blowing because every single moving part is tied up. It's really a masterpiece. I kind of couldn't believe it. I was really excited and I ended up auditioning the first time on the first day that the lockdown started in New York City, which was very strange. And then I just didn't hear anything. I was all wrapped up in that and then it came back around and they got back in touch with me and I kept going. Every step of the way, I was like, “This is the last step. I know I’m just lucky to have made it this far. There's no universe in which I get to be a part of this.” And then I was. It really is an original, unique, one-of-a-kind script. And director Tom Gormican did such a masterful job with it. It really shows through.
What did you enjoy about playing Addy, the on-screen daughter of Nicolas Cage?
Addy, on the surface, she's just this typical teenage girl who kind of just wants to be recognized for who she is and her own unique interests, independent of her own family. And she's dealing with the tried-and-true trope of the narcissistic actor who's obsessed with his own career and his own identity. And that that side of the industry hasn't really been looked at a ton in film, so that was really interesting. As I kept looking through the script and piecing it together, it became clear that she's unique in itself because she is so sure of her own identity and who she is and her own interests. And she wants her dad to recognize those things and actually like her for them and let her be herself. The journey that they go on as father and daughter is really beautiful because it's all about acceptance and accepting people for who they are and showing us and really making the making the relationship count.
Working with Nic is incredible. He was fantastic to be able to bounce ideas off of. And he's also really present as an actor, so it made it so much easier for me. This is my first movie, so he made it really easy for me to be able to create my own relationship with him and see how that could relate on screen. But he's the perfect scene partner to do that with because he really just wants the other actor to be as much in the moment as he is and have the experience with him and come out the other side together. And so it was amazing to learn from someone who's so just at the top of his game and his craft.
How well do you think The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent captures the movie industry?
I do think that this movie does a really good job of satirizing the industry from the inside, which is always very fun— I find it very fun to watch. And so I think there are elements of it that really show through and there are so many fun, quickie little dialogue moments, like being No. 6 on the call sheet, stuff like that. I don't think people who haven't been in the industry realize how it really is all encompassing, and I think that Nic does a great job of showing what is a common trope in the industry of an actor who is completely consumed by himself and his own career, and in some ways that can be supported by the job. And I think that's the element that I found really interesting as this actor who is letting everything else in his life fall to the wayside and doesn't realize that if he did just bring it all together, maybe his career could even be furthered.
You previously described the therapy scene with Nic and Addy as “impactful.” Did you mean that for you personally or in regards to the audience?
I mean, it’s always intense to do a therapy scene, I think. I hope anyway, but especially when it's something so intimate with your family. And I think regardless of who you are, if you're me or if you're someone else, I think you can see in the movie that there is that element of having to be forced into this mold of your parents. Your parents want you to be this version of them, this little version of them that they can feel proud of and you just want to be yourself and take elements of their life and learn from them, but you want to grow as your own person. So I think that scene really stood out to me because the way that I saw it is this girl has just lost all hope that her dad is ever going to be a person who responds to her and who she is, instead of a mirror of himself. And that was really intense for me to think about. I think being so young and giving up on your family or losing faith in them in being able to see you as you is really difficult, and that is something really universal for a lot of people.
Let's talk about a scene that’s a little more fun. What was it like to prepare for the big knife toss?
It was very freaky! It was the first day on set. I got worried that they were gonna think that I had this softball arm that I don’t have, that I'm gonna be able to throw this knife all the way across the set. But everyone was really lovely to me. And also, you're with Nic Cage, who's like the action-movie supreme, so he's just standing there looking like he could flip a car over. And I'm like, “I have no idea what I'm gonna do with this knife,” but I thought it was the best set. That's the thing. Everyone is so lovely. Nic was lovely, Pedro was incredibly supportive. Everyone was really supportive and I was running up to Sharon on this side and being like, “Nobody said anything to me. I’m nervous, I’m nervous.” And she was very lovely and said, “No, it’s only good things. Don’t worry, you’re doing fine.” It was the ideal environment to do something that freaks you out a little bit.
The crew was incredible… They just handed me the knife and were like, “You're gonna want to throw it and you’re gonna want to make it go in a circle in the air.” And I was like, “Oh, this is all a bit much.” But moving forward, now I know how to cinematically throw a knife. I know that will serve me really well in my personal life.
Do you have a favorite scene in the movie?
My favorite overall scene is the scene with Nic and young Nicky in the bar after Nic has come out of retirement to do Javi’s script. They have that amazing kiss. I've now seen the movie four or five times, and I'm always cackling in the theater about that moment. I think it's so funny. Nic does a great job of playing two different characters, but it's just always so fun to watch him do it. And this is especially so funny, just interacting with this crazy little guy.
My favorite scene where I'm in it is the birthday party scene. And for that scene, Nic had this whole song he had been working on. This is why he's so amazing. He watched this performance of Elvis from years ago where he's got this horrible cough and making these weird noises. Nic was saying like, “I want to incorporate that into the song. I think that'll be fun.” He went on for like 10 minutes doing this absolutely bonkers song that was amazing. It was perfect. It was one of the coolest, funniest things I've ever seen in my life. And then they couldn't put the whole thing, and I wanted that to be the entire movie. But that birthday party scene was so fun.
The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is hitting theaters right before the trickle in of all the massive summer blockbusters. What do you think makes this movie worthy of a theater watch versus the more traditional big, flashy action films?
What's so great about this movie is it is a celebration of Nic and it is a celebration of movies in general. So if you're interested in movies or Nic Cage or both, you're gonna have a great time. I think everyone has a Nic Cage movie or a Nic Cage moment that kind of brings them back.
And so being in a theater with all these people who have this shared bond to the movie and they’re being vocal about it, in my experience anyways, hearing everyone laugh, hearing people connect with the things that you connect with. I think that's the foundational part of cinema, watching something and feeling that community amongst you and all appreciating it in the same way that you are. And this is a perfect movie for that because it's a relationship movie and it inspires connection and friendship. I think if you bring your friends, you bring your enemies you're gonna have a great time and everyone is going to connect to something in it.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Photography by: Misha Shahzada; Katalin Vermes/Lionsgate