Nicolas Cage Says He Turned Down 'Lord of the Rings' and 'The' 'Matrix' Because He 'Put Family First'

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent actor tells PEOPLE about priorities in his Hollywood career and why he doesn't take himself too seriously

Nicolas Cage
Photo: Getty

Nicolas Cage has his priorities straight.

In his new comedy The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, the Oscar winner, 58, plays a fictionalized version of himself who's always seeking the next role to put himself back on the map. As a result, he's not the most attentive dad to his 16-year-old daughter (played by Lily Sheen).

Cage tells PEOPLE, however, that in real life he's always put his work second to family matters.

"First and foremost ... there's no version of Nick Cage in reality that doesn't want to spend time with his children," he says. "There's no version of Nick Cage that didn't put family first over career. I turned down Lord of the Rings and I turned down Matrix because I didn't want to go to New Zealand for three years or Australia for three years because I needed to be home with my son Weston, that's a fact."

"So there is a huge disparity between that Nick Cage in Massive Talent and the Nick Cage sitting in front of you right now," he adds.

Cage's son Weston is now 31. The actor is also dad to son Kal-El, 16 — plus he and wife Riko Shibata are expecting a baby later this year.

Nicolas Cage attends the premiere of "The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent" during the 2022 SXSW Conference and Festivals at The Paramount Theatre on March 12, 2022 in Austin, Texas.
Nicolas Cage. Rich Fury/Getty

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While the version of himself portrayed in Massive Talent may not be completely aligned with the real Cage, the film does poke fun at his storied filmography and the passionate fandom surrounding his career. Director Tom Gormican and co-screenwriter Kevin Etten both got the surprise of learning how the real Cage differs from the persona that precedes him.

"The thing that surprised us most is he has this reputation of this sort of crazy, wild guy. Then he came and he was so unbelievably prepared and he had thought so much about the character," says Gormican. "We were just fascinated by his process."

Adds Etten, "He understood that if he took something like this on he would get to really, on a huge scale, play with people's ideas of who they think he is versus who he really is. It's like a big performance art piece in that way."

Cage explains that being able to poke fun at himself is a trait he's fostered for years: "I always say to myself, 'I never had a career, only work.' What I mean by that is sometimes — and I won't mention names — but when you get into this career-minded perception of one's self it can be a slippery slope, and it can lead to things where you start believing in your own mythos and you start taking yourself way too seriously."

"You become pretentious and then you fall into the realm of diva," he continues, "and that's when mistakes happen in your personal life and on camera."

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent — which also stars Pedro Pascal, Tiffany Haddish, Neil Patrick Harris, Ike Barinholtz and Sharon Horgan — is in theaters Friday.

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