There's very little—if anything—that could shock the American public in 2016. After all, a presidential candidate has defended the size of his penis in a debate, has encouraged the masses to watch an imaginary sex tape, and has claimed that he can sexually assault women because he's a celebrity. It's a strange and sad time in American history—one in which a bright orange clown with a board game and a slew of failed business ventures could become the leader of the free world.
Anything could happen right now and would seem believable. If someone told you a lone angry white man was marching through the Middle East on foot with night vision, a samurai sword, and a pistol hunting terrorists on a quest from god, would it surprise you? Given everything that has happened this year, this scenario wouldn't be outside the realm of possibility.
Yet this is something that has already happened. In 2010, 52-year-old Colorado man Gary Faulkner was arrested in a forest in northwestern Pakistan while trying to hunt Osama bin Laden. At the time, people either didn't believe it or thought it was some sort of publicity stunt. In 2016, this seems like a regular headline on a Tuesday afternoon, alongside the Russians hacking the emails of a presidential candidate.
So it seems only perfect that a few days before the election, a movie like Army of One would hit American theaters. In the film, Nicolas Cage—an actor whose three-decade career has become a meme of angry freakout montages—plays Faulkner. Like the actual man who had his 15 minutes of fame after his little Pakistan trip, Cage exemplifies the angry, white, middle American man. He's delusional in his frustration with the government, and is more of a Don Quixote-type than he is activist when it comes to actually making any positive changes in the country. And he doesn't shut up about it. Faulkner, like his fellow angry, white male Donald Trump, is overly confident in his own intelligence and talent—something that he'll gladly and obliviously rattle on about to any sentient human.
The film—from accomplished satirist, Seinfeld writer, and Borat director Larry Charles—navigates the political commentary, delusion, and tragedy of Faulkner played with all the angry whiteness that Cage can muster. And Army of One is a single point in a handful of films Cage is releasing this month, along with gritty crime drama Dog Eat Dog and war film USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage.
Cage talked to Esquire about returning to comedy, learning what makes Gary Faulkner tick, and why the movie seems so perfectly timely.
ESQ: Thanks for talking with me. The kidnapping scene in Dog Eat Dog was kind of a throwback to Raising Arizona.
Nicolas Cage: [Laughs] Yeah, slightly more violent version, though.
You're always one to stay busy, but this is an especially productive year for you, with three movies out this month.
Yeah, and what I like about that is they're all leads, and they're all kind of polar opposites of one another. I can't think of three more diverse characters that I could play. And I hope that the fact that they're all coming out in the same month will highlight the fact that I'm trying to continue to challenge myself and stay productive and growing as an actor. I still see myself very much as a student of film acting and I'm always looking for something to learn, but to go from Army of One and playing Gary Faulkner to captain of the USS Indianapolis—I can't tell you how revealed I was to get that beard off my face and get into uniform—and then to go into Troy in Dog Eat Dog. I feel like it was a good selection.
Yeah, I was going to bring up that your longevity can be attributed in part to your range as an actor. On the spectrum of these characters, what do you think fits you best?
I can tell you that I found it exhausting to play Gary Faulkner. I was wiped out at the end of that movie and I still am. The guy could not stop talking when I interviewed him. I knew that would be Gary when I played him, that it would just be verbal diarrhea that would go on and on and on. There's sort of a manic, high-pitched wine. I think of the three, they're all my children to some level. I hate to say one is my favourite and make the other two jealous. I think I enjoyed Troy the most, though in terms of playing the part.
So you did spend time with Gary. How did that go?
Well I videotaped and interviewed him for three hours. Like I said, he couldn't stop talking, so I knew I was in for an exhausting experience with dialogue memorisation. He's somebody that in person has an edge to him that is undeniable. The fact that he did what he did to go to Pakistan several times to get Osama bin Laden based on a calling he had from God, it became clear to me that he was someone who was unpredictable and could do anything at any moment. I had to find ways to make that likable, to keep Gary in the fun zone and give him some pathos.
How do you think the movie portrays Gary and how did you want him to come across?
I see him as a don Don Quixote-esque figure who the movie portrays as misguided and bumbling and kind of a shlubby guy who has a higher calling. But I also see him with some of the innocence and heartbreak of a child in a man's body. I wanted him to still be someone that audiences could connect to in a car crash sort of way.
I feel like this is the perfect time for this movie to come out. Do you think this movie has something to say about the angry, white, middle American man?
I feel like that is kind of a worrisome phenomena that has occurred. The movie is relevant on many levels. The movie and the character... there is a kind of topical relevant aspect to that considering everything going on right now. But I don't think any of us when we were making this movie knew we were going to have this sort of election right now.
Yeah, and especially because it's coming out a few days before the election. Does that provide the movie with some urgency?
I don't know if that will give the movie more of a fire for people to connect with it or not, but I know that there is a relevance to it at the moment.
Given what we've watched play out in this election, does that make Gary more of a believable character?
I agree with that. It's not far fetched, by virtue of the fact that it happened and it could happen again. You know, I'm sure there could be other folks who have similar ideologies.
So what initially drew you to the character and to Gary?
What drew me to it was the opportunity to work with Larry Charles because of the work he had done on Borat and with Sasha Baron Cohen and Seinfeld. He's a top, top-level director in a genre I hadn't participated in for several years. I had made quiet a few [comedies] going as far back as Raising Arizona, but for some reason Hollywood stopped inviting me to play in comedies. Then Larry threw a script at me and said, "I want you to be in this comedy," and I thought, "Wow, this is great—somebody remembers that I can do comedy." Also, Larry told me about this guy, this was a true story, and we were going to make him an anti-hero of sorts—give him some depth and make him more than just funny. He was nothing like anyone I've ever played before, and I've been doing this for almost 40 years.
I love the joke at the end about you and Con Air. Was that a joke written into the script, or did Gary come up with that himself?
I just threw that in the moment that it would be fun to go sorta meta with it—like in Gary's mind, he saw that movie and thought he looked like that character. Because he had the long hair and the beard. Gary thinks he's some kind of badass and, to do the things that he's done, he certainly has guts. They might not be the most thoughtful or carefully chosen ideas, but I had this idea that he probably saw himself as that other character that I played. It was kind of a Being John Malkovich meta twist to the character.
I bet he was thrilled that you're actually playing him in the movie.
He seemed very excited about it. He has not seen the movie as far as I know. I hope he likes it.
From: Esquire US