The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is one bizarre meta-comedy but it's been essentially a welcoming home party to larger audiences for actor Nicolas Cage who has spent the last 15 years or so doing increasingly smaller and experimental projects. Yet, for all it's meta, the film seems to also be a dive into the concept of acting and the extremes it presents as one dives into the minds of different kinds of people. This appears to be at the center of a deleted scene that was released from the well-received film that sees more modern, restrained actor Pedro Pascal being captured in an impression by method actor Nicolas Cage who has been known to go to extremes for the roles he plays. Check out the deleted scene "Chit Chat" below:
In an related article on Variety, the VFX team behind the film went into detail about how they went about de-aging Cage (now 58) by about 20-25 years younger for the character of Nicky Cage, Cage’s imagined younger self in the film. This version of Cage has the motivation of keeping Cage as an uber-popular celebrity, much like he was in the 90's and early 20's before his indie streak and it was for this reason that the visual effects team, headed by VFX supervisor Christopher Lance for the scenes shot in America, teamed up with CoSA VFX to bring Nicky to the big screen. For reference, Lance looked at a very specific 1990's interview that Cage did on the Wogan show. Check out his full thought process on this choice of reference below:
“Tom [Gormican] and Nic came up with the idea of Nicky from a specific persona that Nic created for an interview that he did on the Wogan show. But we were actually going for the look of his face, maybe like five years or so after that. Because I think that was the most iconic string of roles for Nick, like from 1995 or so through 2000.”
The interview in question is one that saw Cage performing a caricature of himself where he not only did a cartwheel onto the stage, but showered the crowd with money, did karate kicks, and eventually takes off his shirt. Essentially, a commentary on the showboating element done by actors to remain interesting to the audience. You can check out that entire interview in the video below:
With Lance's team, CoSA VFX’s head of digital makeup Erik Bruhweiler used artificial intelligence to create a “template” of the actor’s face when he was younger based on footage from around that time. Bruhweiler described this as a strenuous process, likening it to "cracking a safe" and went on to explain that "You’re sitting there listening and trying to get that little subtle detail that finally clicks it together.” That process of templating was not easy by any stretch of imagination as Bruhweiler elaborated:
“What we’ve done is set up a templating system that allows us to solve it once and then modify the details as needed. So you don’t have to rethink it every time. The biggest challenge of de-aging someone like this is that you’re targeting what they actually looked like when they were younger. This had to be an accurate de-age of the actual person, Nicolas Cage, because everyone knows his face.”
With all that said, Lance made sure to emphasize that most of the magic was Cage's performance itself:
“Everything that you’re seeing is Nic Cage acting. And we were respecting all the artistic expressiveness that he brought to the role. Really, all we were doing was the de-aging. There were no dots, no special lighting or anything like that. It was just Nic Cage performing. And no matter what the lighting condition was, we could just take that and run with it.”
On a final topic, Lance went into one of the film's most bizarre and talked about scenes where Nic and Nicky kiss. One that, you guessed it, was Cage's idea that was improvised on the spot:
“That kiss was just improvised on set. That was Nic Cage’s idea. So we didn’t know that was going to happen until we actually got the footage back in post. And then we were like, ‘Okay, let’s tackle this new shot!’”
One major issue was that the scene was shot during COVID and thus required them to get creative in making it look like their lips lock:
“So they had to get them close to one another without actually touching. We had to lock them together to make it look like their lips were actually locked.”
But, all-in-all, the film seems to have pulled off a wild commentary on the lengths actors go to do their jobs and also the often debated concept of the ego required to go to those lengths with such assured and convincingness.
The film is currently in theaters. It co-stars Sharon Horgan, Ike Barinholtz, Alessandra Mastronardi, Jacob Scipio, Neil Patrick Harris, and Tiffany Haddish. It is directed by Tom Gormican who co-wrote the script with Kevin Etten. Stay tuned!