Ten things I learned while talking with Nicolas Cage:
1. His new movie, "The Weather Man," is about a Chicago weatherman whose life is coming apart at the seams. His ex-wife (Hope Davis) despairs for him, his children are troubled, his father (Michael Caine) deplores him, and his fans throw food at him:
"Not too many weathermen get pelted with food, but if it were ever going to happen, it would probably happen in a place like Chicago.
"The Chicago weatherman is an entirely different weatherman than one anywhere else in our country," said Cage, who was in town to promote his film at the Chicago International Film Festival. "I'm from Los Angeles, and we don't have to rely on our weathermen as much as the Chicagoan does. If they get it wrong you have to reschedule the bar mitzvah, so it's a pretty intense job."
2. Tom Skilling, the meteorologist from WGN-TV, was their technical adviser on the picture. "He coached me. He has a warm persona, and I wanted that to come across with my character Dave Spritz. There's something about when these guys smile on camera, you just feel you're gonna get through it no matter how cold it gets. Gore Verbinski, the director, used Skilling's forecasts, and he told me he would call Skilling and yell at him because he was giving him weather reports that were not always accurate."
3. "This is a coming-of-middle-age story about a guy who is dealing with the fact that basically he's failed at everything, including success. I saw it as a reflection of the broken families that we have today in our country. I am certainly no stranger to the divorce club [after divorces from wives Patricia Arquette and Lisa Marie Presley], and when I decided to make 'The Weather Man,' I was processing those feelings. I wanted to make something productive and positive with them, as opposed to just letting them succumb to the wildfire of the negative emotions. I was able to channel all those feelings into Dave Spritz, who's a character who's trying to put his family back together."
4. No matter how successful Dave Spritz is as a weatherman, he will always be in the shadow of his father (Michael Caine), a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist. Nicolas Cage, born Nicolas Coppola, was born into some shadows, too: His father, August, is a professor of literature, and his uncle is the filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola.
"They are formidable people. I would go into a casting office and it would be clear that I was gonna talk about 'The Godfather' and 'Apocalypse Now,' and by the time they got around to the actual audition, I'd forgotten my lines. I needed to change my name just to liberate myself and find out I could do it without walking into a Hollywood casting office with the name Coppola."
5. In the movie, the Caine character finds his son a lasting disappointment. "He's not exactly cruel, although he does inflict horrible wounds in his kindly advice that just makes you want to kill yourself. In between setups, Caine would refer to my character as a loser, and I knew right then what the dynamic of the father-son relationship would be like."
6. They shot in Chicago in the winter, using artificial snow when the real stuff wasn't on the ground: "I actually got to the movie later than intended because I was shooting another picture. When I arrived, we had a month of snow, and then we started building artificial snow. To be honest, I was relieved by that, because it's impossible to act when you're freezing. You can't relax when you're shaking and shivering. I learned that on 'Moonstruck,' back in Brooklyn."
7. Cage won his Oscar for "Leaving Last Vegas" (1995), where he gave an unforgettable performance as an alcoholic who goes to Vegas to drink himself to death, and finds a hooker (Elizabeth Shue) who pities him and eases his journey toward oblivion.
"It was so amazing how that worked out. We shot it so quickly, in just over three weeks, it just flowed out of everybody. Mike Figgis [the director] is like music, he is music, he had music playing on the set. Elizabeth Shue was very relaxed, there was nothing painful at all about the experience, and it just was one of those magical moments when all the elements came together perfectly. The irony was, when I made the movie everyone said it was career death. I told them I'm never going to win an Academy Award anyway, so let me do this and just let me express myself the way I want to."
8. "The Weather Man" is a big studio production with a big budget and a big star, but it's written and played like an art picture. Is that a contradiction?
"It's very risky for an actor who's a bankable star to make pictures like 'The Weather Man' or 'Lord of War' [also in current release], because they inevitably promote them like big studio releases. And they're not big studio movies, they're more edgy, thought-provoking, independent-spirited films. What happens is, it goes into the computer, and everyone says they can't open the movie because they thought it was X when it actually was Y.
"I want to make all kinds of movies. I do want to make big movies that are a lot of fun to go to, but I also want to make movies that are going to stimulate some thought and maybe raise some awareness. And so please don't think you're gonna go on a roller-coaster ride with those movies."
9. Cage and his wife, Alice Kim, have a new son, born Oct 3. "His name is Kal-El. Alice and I wanted a name that was exotic and American and stood for something good, because our son is exotic and he's American and we think he's good. And Kal-El was Superman's name when he was born. I just liked the sound of it."
10. His work in Ridley Scott's "Matchstick Men" (2003) was brilliant, I thought, but the movie got mixed to negative reviews.
"I'm at the point now where I know I'm doing something right when a movie gets mixed reviews, because then I'm not in the box. I don't want to make it too easy for people and I don't want to make it too easy for myself. I want to try something unusual. I feel good about the bad reviews because I feel like I've affected them on some level. They may not know what I was trying to do but they felt something.
"I met David Bowie once years ago, and I said, 'David, how do you do it? How do you keep reinventing yourself?' He said, 'I never got comfortable with anything I was doing.' "