Nicolas Cage knows he’s a meme. He’s not happy about it. After making the mistake of googling himself a few years back, the charismatic actor discovered that his big on-screen performances had been translated into single-frame quips and supercuts, taken—like all memes, really—out of context, played for lolz, and in a manner that, frankly, makes Cage seem like a graduate from the Jim Carrey school of rubber-faced acting.
“Something like ‘Nick Cage loses his shit,’ where they cherry-pick meltdowns from different movies I’d made over the years,” he says. “I get that it’s all done for laughs, and in that context it is funny, but at the same time, there’s no regard to how the character got there. There’s no Act One, there’s no Act Two.”
This, Cage says, is not why he got into making movies. Back in the 1980s, when he was showing up in Fast Times at Ridgemont High and as the romantic lead in Valley Girl, there was no internet, no one turning him into a TikTok template. “So, as I’ve watched these memes grow exponentially and get turned into T-shirts and ‘You don’t say?’ and all that stuff,” Cage says, “I’ve just thought, ‘Wow, I don’t know how I should feel about this,’ because it’s made me kind of frustrated and confused.”
That’s part of the reason Cage signed on to do his latest movie, the A24 drama Dream Scenario, in which he plays Paul Matthews, a downtrodden university professor who suddenly starts to appear in the dreams of millions of people around the world. Directed by Sick of Myself’s Kristoffer Borgli, the film is a clever look at the trappings of instantaneous fame and at what it looks like when someone’s fame becomes bigger than they might be themselves—something Cage, who actually changed his name and leaned into a more bombastic persona early in his career, knows a little something about.
To mark Dream Scenario’s release, WIRED talked to Cage about where he’s at with his meme-ification these days, his dislike of social media, and why he’s going to make damn sure that no one can make an AI-generated Nick Cage after he shuffles off this mortal coil.
WIRED: Over the course of the movie, Paul struggles with who he thinks he is and who the world thinks he is, and how that’s constantly shifting around him. Is that something you’ve had to deal with over the course of your career in terms of “Nick Cage, Hollywood actor” versus “Nicolas Coppola, father and human being”?