Often, predicting the weather is less a science and more a matter of reinterpreting the lessons of the past. A blizzard may sneak up on a meteorologist, but they’ll always watch closely in the future for similar conditions; threatening clouds may fool a forecaster, but the menace will be addressed differently the next time. It’s only appropriate then that the cast and crew of the newest Nicolas Cage drama would similarly look to the past while attempting to tell the story of “The Weather Man.”
Cage, one of the few Hollywood A-listers who continuously goes out of his way to find unglamorous roles, adds Chicago weather forecaster David Spritz to a stable of memorable losers including Charlie Kaufman from “Adaptation,” Ben Sanderson from “Leaving Las Vegas” and diaper-stealing dad H.I. McDonnough from “Raising Arizona.”
“Yeah, but I don’t really see them as losers,” a suit-and-tie-clad Cage recently said while discussing such characters. “I see them as people who are confronted with enormous obstacles and figuring out ways of negotiating them. That’s the drama; that’s what makes them interesting to me.”
Spritz, a wealthy smooth talker who can barely hide his crumbling family life, has a million-dollar salary, fame and the kinds of worldly possessions that would make many jealous. What he really craves however is the acceptance of his esteemed father (Michael Caine), the happiness of his overweight daughter (Gemmenne de la Peña, “Erin Brockovich”), the trust of his son (Nicholas Hoult, “About a Boy”), and an unlikely reunion with his estranged wife (Hope Davis).
Like Cage, Davis stepped into her “Weather Man” role with a long, critically acclaimed history of playing similarly miserable, jaded characters. From “Mumford” to “About Schmidt” to “American Splendor,” few actresses have been as willing — or able — to sink their teeth into such world-weary women. And, like Cage, Davis’ past work guided her as she forecasted her performance.
“That’s interesting,” the wide-eyed actress said of comparisons to her “Schmidt” character, another woman consistently disappointed by a man she loves. “I do see parallels, yeah. The career guy who’s a little bit out to lunch when it comes to the family, not really present when it comes to his family members [then realizes his life is a disaster]. That’s a bad morning there.”
Cage’s Spritz is marked by many bad mornings, afternoons and evenings as well, many of which come hurling at him via food products tossed by disappointed viewers. To bring such welcomed hilarity to the film, the method-acting superstar agreed to take a virtual value menu of fast-food products off the face in take after take, all thrown at him by gleefully cruel director Gore Verbinski (“Pirates of the Caribbean,” “The Ring”).
“Gore did all the throwing,” Davis remembered, laughing. “He was very clear. I’m not quite sure why he wanted so much to throw the stuff.”
“Yeah, he enjoyed doing that,” Cage smiled, adding that the most painful object was “the Chicken McNuggets, in the square box. That’s got a pretty hard corner, and when Gore threw it, it really connected pretty good. And there’s a real good close-up shot of that reaction.”
Proving once again that an Academy Award belongs on his shelf, Cage pretended, over and over again, that he didn’t know the pain was coming. “A lot of it I seem to recall coming from the back, so I couldn’t blink or think about it, it just happened. The ones that came from the front, I remember trying to not blink or be surprised. I knew it was going to happen, but I was just trying to direct my focus on something else, so I wouldn’t think about it and it would be a surprise again.”
But don’t think that Davis was left out of the so-called fun. For another humorous scene that has Spritz attempting playfulness by throwing a snowball at his disillusioned bride, the director inflicted even more pain. “He also threw the snowballs at me that hit me in the face,” Davis said, adding that she had to pretend not to be scared. “But I was scared. I was scared that I was going to get my face smashed with a snowball.”
The success of “The Weather Man,” however, was contingent on far more than the casting of veteran losers, or their ability to take a snowball in the face. Looking back again on the past, Verbinski and the actors sought to capture the free-thinking, realistic tone of the classic films that momentarily hijacked Hollywood during the ’70s. Such legendary films, including “Five Easy Pieces,” “Scarecrow” and “Taxi Driver,” featured unappealing lead characters dealing with real life, and the unhappy endings that so often come with it.
“Someone was saying something the other day about people actively trying to eradicate tragic films from the box office,” Cage sighed. “That would be horrifying. That would be like Big Brother is watching you: ’Let’s feed everyone mush, and everybody’s going to be happy and let’s keep them sedated. We don’t want any rough edges rocking the boat; we like things the way they are.’ That would be terrible.”
“I think it’s important to make movies that convey reality with honesty,” he continued. “Shakespeare did millions of plays, most of them tragic, and in that way I think people can get prepared. Bring an umbrella, you know? Life is going to have ups and downs. So let’s use the movies or music to express ourselves — that’s really the voice of the people. It’s just that money sometimes gets in the middle and can tailor-make movies so that they’re really only there to generate box office [success], which is fine if they make people happy, but I think they would be remiss to not explore the other side as well.”
If his forecast turns out to be wrong, and your five-day outlook on the real world is sunnier than David Spritz’s existence, all Cage asks is that you don’t pelt him off the head with a box of McNuggets.
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