Nicolas Cage has an animal connection to his latest role.
In his ruminant revenge drama "Pig" (now in theaters and available to rent or buy on premium video-on-demand platforms), the Oscar winner plays a gourmet-chef-turned-truffle hunter named Rob, who lives alone in the Oregon wilderness with his trusty foraging pig. But when the hallowed hog is violently stolen early in the film, he sets off with fledgling truffle dealer Amir (Alex Wolff) in search of the perpetrator.
Cage, 57, related to the tale through a feline lens: The actor owns a cat named Merlin, a "very majestic, very affectionate" Maine Coon, he says. After reading filmmaker Michael Sarnoski's script, "I had a dream about something horrible happening to Merlin. I woke up terrified and I could see where that would drive somebody to the great lengths that Rob went to."
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While Cage is beloved for his delightfully unhinged turns in recent cult classics such as 2018's "Mandy" and last year's "Color Out of Space," his performance as Rob is almost shockingly muted in comparison. And although early online reactions to "Pig's" trailer have likened the film to "John Wick" – starring Keanu Reeves as an assassin trying to find his dog – Cage believes this is more nuanced.
"One of the things that's rarely explored in cinema is these profound and close relationships we can have with our animal brothers and sisters," Cage says. "This movie really is nothing like what some folks may perceive as a 'John Wick' thriller – I can't think of a movie further from that. I don't believe there's one gunshot in this movie."
Question: How familiar were you with truffle hunting before this film?
Nicolas Cage: I wasn't so familiar with the actual truffle hunting, other than I knew they used pigs and dogs to hunt for them. I am familiar with the epicurean world, in the sense that I really enjoy good food and I have a great regard for chefs in general. I put them first, really, in the realm of art because what they're doing is creating an art form that we ingest. I'm by no means a chef, but I do enjoy respecting a great piece of fish. I don't understand when some of these chefs just want to make too many sauces – it seems like they're trying to mask the fish.
Q: Do you have a signature dish that you make?
Cage: My signature dish is a penne seafood arrabiata. I'll pan-sear the lobster, cut it up, maybe get into some clams. I'll boil the pasta but only to the point of al dente, wash it with cold water, and then start adding the chopped tomatoes and tomato paste and chili pepper flakes. I'll maybe throw in some Tabasco – that really gives it the tang I'm looking for. That would be my favorite dish to make, and then I also like to make something I call eggs diablo, which is a fried egg with chili flakes and some hot tomato sauce. You can do that with a nice paella, which is great on the side.
Q: What are pigs like as co-stars?
Cage: This particular pig was very payment-oriented. She really just wanted to get food. If we wanted her to get a soulful look in her eyes, they would give her a bit of carrot off camera and she'd look at the carrot with love. But not so much me – I don't think she was interested in people. But I spent time with her and got to know her. She knew she could rely on me to feed her.
Q: "Pig" ends with a cover of Bruce Springsteen's "I'm on Fire." Bruce's sister, Pamela, was also in 1982's "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" with you. Did he ever stop by set or attend the premiere?
Cage: I don't even remember being in that movie. There's a story I would like you to correct about that: Someone said I didn't get the Judge Reinhold part because I was too young and that I lied about my age (to get a bigger role). I never lied about my age. I must have auditioned for that part 100 times and I thought I was going to get it, but I didn't. I think they were afraid they couldn't work me a certain amount of hours because I was 16, but I never lied about my age. (Cage ended up playing a friend of Brad, Reinhold’s character.)
Q: Speaking of older movies, a lot of people revisited "Moonstruck" or discovered it for the first time during lockdown. Were you aware of that?
Cage: No, but I'm glad they did. I made that movie on a deal with my then-agent Ed Limato. I was desperately trying to get him to say yes to me doing (1989 horror comedy) "Vampire's Kiss." He said: "No, you're not going to wear those stupid plastic things. I want you to look handsome! Do 'Moonstruck!'" And I said, "I don't want to do 'Moonstruck!'" I wanted to be punk rock – I didn't want to do a schmaltzy movie about opera. But I said, "If I do 'Moonstruck,' will you let me do 'Vampire's Kiss?'" And he said OK.
The truth is, I love "Moonstruck." Now that I'm older, I see the value in (it). I haven't seen "Moonstruck" in a million years, but I think it's powerfully romantic and I love all the performances.
Q: Do you have a favorite memory of making it?
Cage: The only thing I remember on that movie was Cher and I freezing in Brooklyn in the winter at night. It was that whole big diatribe about "the snowflakes are perfect. The stars are perfect. Not us. Not us! We are here to ruin ourselves." That was my favorite bit of writing by (screenwriter) John Patrick Shanley, this powerful soliloquy. That being said, our mouths were frozen and it was so hard to move. It's very hard to act when you're freezing.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Nicolas Cage on 'Pig,' freezing with Cher, never lying about his age