Cage - the perfect saviour

Debut director on how he landed the Con Air star to partner a pig

by Richard Mowe

Nic Cage in Pig. Director Michael Sarnoski says Cage 'got the vibe we were going for which is kind of like a poem but a lot of people did not get that'
Nic Cage in Pig. Director Michael Sarnoski says Cage 'got the vibe we were going for which is kind of like a poem but a lot of people did not get that' Photo: Courtesy of EIFF
When Nicolas Cage reveals that he compares your film (Pig) and script to a cinematic haiku where the spaces between the syllables are as important and evocative as the syllables themselves, any budding director would know that he is on to good thing.

Cage and debut director Michael Sarnoski hit it off over lunch with the star of such actioners as Con Air and The Rock suggesting that he liked the very sparse dialogue, and even the sparse usage of shots in Pig, which has become a sleeper hit. “What the camera is resting upon, they gel with the performance. That was, I think, something that a lot of thought went into, and was a welcome breath of air for me,” Cage has revealed.

From Sarnoski’s viewpoint Cage was perfect for the role of Rob, a dishevelled truffle hunter from a backwoods farm whose pig is abducted and he goes off in search of the animal, a trail that leads him to some murky characters associated with his other life and with the upmarket restaurants of Portland in Oregon. It is one of the few areas in the States where truffles do grow naturally. Cage’s character is aided and abetted by Amir (played by Alex Wolff from Hereditary) driving them around in a flashy sports car.

The journey, of course, takes him back to his past to reveal who he is and where he is going.

Michael Sarnoski:  'I tried to foster a sense of mutual respect on set'
Michael Sarnoski: 'I tried to foster a sense of mutual respect on set'
Sarnoski who grew up in Wisconsin, had grown up on a diet of Eighties rom-coms courtesy of his sister before he decided to make film directing a career choice and moved to Los Angeles.

The premise of the film was not obvious to some of his would-be financiers. “Once Nic was attached to it they said, ‘Well we thought it was going to be more of an action movie so if you could change the second half and make it more action based then we might be interested.’

“You soon can work out which financiers are really interested in the subject. It always does seems like it is going to be really difficult and not work out but then it always seems to in the end. I guess it was surprisingly easy considering I was a first time director. In the moment it feels like the world is ending but I finished the script at the beginning of 2018 and we were shooting the film in mid to late 2019. That is quite a quick turnaround for a first movie or indeed any movie.”

Sarnoski had made some shorts in college but none that he would want to show people. He collaborated with producer Vanessa Block on the story outline before he produced the final script.

“We were the ones who were going up to Portland to scout locations even before we had the financing. On paper it was a huge leap but in my experience it wasn’t because film sets are designed to make the director feel safe,” said Sarnoski.

“You surround yourself with heads of department who keep you on the right track. It is kind of simply having a conversation with them and getting on the same page. It comes together in a very organic way. I did not feel overwhelmed but rather I felt I was being taken care of. I tried to foster a sense of mutual respect on set. I did not feel, ‘Oh boy what have I gotten myself into.’ Everyone was very collaborative.”

Pig director Michael Sarnoski: 'Nic brought a ton to it because the script is not very clear about what the back stories are and it leaves things open-ended for the audience'
Pig director Michael Sarnoski: 'Nic brought a ton to it because the script is not very clear about what the back stories are and it leaves things open-ended for the audience' Photo: Neon
Sarnoski doubts he would have been able to finish the film without an actor of the calibre of Cage on board. “He got the vibe we were going for which is kind of like a poem but a lot of people did not get that. He knew what he needed to do with it and all other concerns were blown away. He is an actor who understands and respects the script so it all flowed much more easily. I have been am a huge fan of Nic Cage but I am always surprised that some people say they never knew Nic Cage could act. I get that he has done some action movies but I never doubted that he could act on a fundamental level. I had no concerns about that.

“Nic brought a ton to it because the script is not very clear about what the back stories are and it leaves things open-ended for the audience. Nic and I had our own ideas about some of those things but we never really talked about it. In general he had his own whole back story for his character. I did not need to know it as long as I could see it in his eyes.”

Because of the tight budget Sarnoski decided that he could not afford a trained animal to co-star with Cage. “So we pretty much went around different farms and met farm pigs. We ended up with one called Brandy, who had such soulful eyes. I did not expect to find such a cute pig. An animal trainer worked with her for a week to teach the basics but mostly Nic spent time with her and she learned that Nic would have food for her and she followed him around and looked as if she loved him.

“Beyond that it was just keeping things calm on set so she would not get spooked. Trained animals are used to working on a film set. On the days we had Brandy, however, we took it all down a notch.”

Pig after its European premiere at the Edinburgh International Film Festival and French premiere at the Deauville Film Festival is now on release in the UK and Ireland.

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