Nicolas Cage’s heroic ambitions never got off the ground in Metropolis but now the eccentric star says he’s ready to roll as Gotham City’s next big villain.
The Oscar-winning actor says he’s hatched a plan to reinvent Egghead, one of the feckless villains from ABC’s Batman, the campy 1960s live-action series that starred Adam West.
“I think I want to have a go at Egghead,” Cage told a Texas television station.“I think I can make him absolutely terrifying. And I have a concept for Egghead. So let them know over at Warner Brothers, I’m down for Egghead.”
The 58-year-old star is enjoying a fresh resurgence with his latest off-kilter film, The Unbearable Weight Massive Talent, which premiered at the SXSW Festival. The premiere’s red carpet is where Cage uttered his cryptic Egghead comments. It’s not clear whether Cage was joking, serious, or some combination of both. I’d vote for that third option, but judge for yourself in the video below.
(In the video, Cage also cites his interest in Jules Verne’s Captain Nemo as a screen role. That affinity goes back more than a decade. Cage mentioned it in 2010 when I interviewed him on stage at WonderCon in San Francisco.)
Cage may have just been chumming the fanboy waters with click-bait potential but he’s also an “all-in” kind of guy, so that would depart from his usual true believer energy. Perhaps his interest is genuine, but would a veteran actor of his stature ever choose a red carpet interview as the ideal avenue to announce his interest to Warner Bros. and The Batman director Matt Reeves? Maybe that's the exact right way to dig up opportunities in the shifting sands of today's entertainment business but, again, I’m not sure that Cage is that, uh, cagey.
Now, Egghead would never be my choice as the ideal Gotham character to showcase the reckless alchemy that is a Nicolas Cage performance. I can think of, oh, at least nine better ones, in fact (just scroll down to take a peek at the list below). Still, if the actor who won an Academy Award for Leaving Las Vegas (1995) is seeking a "Greeting Gotham City” career move, then that’s compelling stuff to consider.
It’d be far easier to take Cage’s overture at face value if he had named a major villain that was native to DC Comics. Egghead, after all, was created for comedic television purposes. Still, I’m duly intrigued by Cage’s implied makeover concept for Egghead. What could make him terrifying? A disaffected omelet chef who becomes a breakfast cannibal looking for a Gotham buffet? A megalomaniacal geneticist with a diabolical plan to clone and replace Gotham’s leading citizens? An animal rights extremist who unleashes a prehistoric army of carnivorous chicken on the unsuspecting citizenry? I’m rooting for the killer chicken option just for the “Cage-free” joke potential.
I doubt anyone has ever looked at Nicolas Cage and thought, “Egghead!”
This August marks the 40th anniversary of the star’s big-screen debut, which came in Amy Heckerling’s classic Fast Times at Ridgemont High in the summer of 1982. Fast Times is the only film that lists the actor as “Nicolas Coppola” in its credits. Cage was in strong company in the comedy, which was based on the on-campus reporting by Rolling Stone writer Cameron Crowe and featured newcomers Sean Penn, Forest Whitaker, Phoebe Cates, Judge Reinhold, Eric Stoltz, Jennifer Jason Lee, and Anthony Edwards.
Cage was born into the famous Coppola clan in Long Beach, California, in 1964. He grew up watching the inane Batman reruns but he also was an avid reader of comic books, too, and he proved his passion for the medium in the 1980s when he chose his screen name (it was inspired by Marvel’s Luke Cage) and then again in 2005 when he named his newborn son Kal-El Coppola Cage (Kal-el is Superman’s Kryptonian name).
Devotee or not, Cage’s forays into comic book adaptations have been a bumpy experience. Fan interest was ignited when Cage took on Marvel’s hellacious anti-hero in Ghost Rider (2007) but the final result managed to be a pedestrian screen story without any spark, which is especially unexpected for a movie with motorcycles and fire in every scene. Then there was the odious 2012 sequel, which made me feel like my skull was the one bursting into flames.
Cage’s failed mid-90s bid to portray Superman in a live-action film (with Tim Burton directing) has become the stuff of backlot legend, but the actor did get some Kryptonian consolation in 2018 when he voiced a snarky Man of Steel for the animated feature film Teen Titans GO! To the Movies.
Cage also unexpectedly channeled Adam West for his performance as the doomed Big Daddy in Matthew Vaughn’s subversive Kick Ass (2010), which may speak to his Egghead interests. It’s hard to imagine a middle ground between that film’s tonalities and the somber world presented in The Batman, which might be unfairly described as grim-grunge-goes-gritty. Egghead is an evil genius, sure, but he’s more of a sunny-side up guy than the desperate reprobates and cruel cynics who prowl the latest iteration of Gotham City.
Gotham was sunny once, too, like back in October 1966 when horror icon Vincent Price introduced the role of Egghead as a vainglorious criminal mastermind with a penchant for egg puns, egg weapons, and egg-themed plunder. The baddie’s pale bald head and the boasts about his IQ made him seem like a soft-boiled imitation of Lex Luthor, while his fancy-pants wardrobe (an immaculate ivory tailcoat tuxedo with yoke-yellow accents that perfectly matched his wide-collared shirt) suggested that he might be using the Penguin’s tailor.
Price returned to Gotham for three encore appearances and proved he was indeed smarter than his costumed peers when he became the only villain in the series who successfully deduced that Batman and Bruce Wayne are the same person. Egg-salent work, Captain Cholesterol! Egghead was later poached by DC Comics writers who used the imported villain in a few isolated appearances over the years, although in most cases he was restricted to brief cameos that often functioned primarily as sight gags.
So, Mr. Cage, why Egghead and why now? I have a theory that utilizes the problem-solving technique called Occam's Razor as well as a dollop of shaving cream. I’d point out the fact that Cage’s film credits now number into the triple-digits but there's just one that features Cage completely bald, and that's his upcoming western, Butcher’s Crossing. An all-bald Cage is a notable screen change for an actor who has endured plenty of snide commentary about the wild array of quirky hair styles that have accompanied his screen career's parade of loopy personas. Maybe Egghead is (literally) a smooth way for Cage to transition to his shaved phase.
If that's the case, I have two words for Cage: HUGO STRANGE. If you need a diabolical genius in Gotham with a polished pate, go with the fiendish intellect named Strange who makes men into monsters, not some Humpty Dumpty conspiracy nut with fragility issues and Great Gatsby wardrobe.
Perusing Cage’s body of work, I came up with eight more notorious Gotham City characters that correlate in some way with roles Cage has already played with distinction in past films. Bring on the bad guys!
CATMAN: This is the role that Cage was born to portray. Catman (like Cage) has plenty of ups and downs in a career that’s seen him ridiculed, dismissed, feared, forgotten, revamped, and redeemed. The character and actor also share an interest in mystical warrior artifacts, animal-print decor, and I suspect both view the Broadway musical Cats as a guilty pleasure. Catman the comic book character was salvaged when he was recruited for duty in Gail Simone’s landmark Suicide Squad run but the feline felon is still awaiting his own screen time in a live-action film. Cage has a head start on the role after playing Big Daddy in Kick-Ass, a role that came to life when Cage intuitively played the doomed hero while channelling the bizarre brio of Adam West. I'm not sure it's the sequel that Matt Reeves wants to make, but Bat-Pattinson vs Cage-Cat would be cinematic catnip.
MAN-BAT: No one does batshit crazy better than Nicolas Cage, which is why he’s starring in the upcoming Renfield feature film and why he should consider this leather-winged rooftop nightmare. Man-Bat was once Kirk Langstrom, a scientist who recklessly tests his miraculous new medical formula on himself – yes, just like Morbius, the Lizard and dozens of other ill-fated comic book scientists who scoffed at FDA testing. In his 1970 debut, Langstrom is transmogrified into a feral bat-humanoid who swoops out of the dark sky to attack his prey and looks scary as hell in the process, thanks to the unmatched artwork of the late, great Neal Adams.
DEADMAN: Okay, not technically a villain but Deadman is one of the great DC Comics characters introduced in the 1960s and a periodic source of spectral consternation for the Caped Crusader. The spooky character started (and ended) life as Boston Brand, a famed trapeze artist killed by an assassin’s bullet. Brand’s spirit begins a posthumous manhunt for the shooter, a plot modeled in part on The Fugitive television series. (The Fugitive’s Dr. Richard Kimble searches for a killer with a prosthetic arm, Brand searches for a killer with a prosthetic hook.) Following leads is no easy task for an ethereal entity who can’t be seen, heard, or touched. That’s familiar metaphysical terrain for Cage, who memorably starred in City of Angels (1989) as a brooding angel named Seth who walks unseen among humans but yearns to better understand the mystery of their existence. With Ghost Rider, Cage also revved up for any screen duty entailing a supernatural agent of vengeance.
MR FREEZE: Like Egghead, Mr. Freeze was a name imported to DC Comics from the Batman television series but the comparisons pretty much end there. Egghead was reduced to a running joke (or a runny yoke?) while Freeze rose in stature and with good reason. Freeze’s visage is striking and his freezing arsenal opens up some vivid possibilities for creators, who have shown their appreciation by expanding and enriching the character with an increasingly tragic backstory. The outstanding Batman: The Animated Series did the most to give Freeze a chilling backstory laced with pathos. Freeze does everything to keep his beloved wife on ice in a frosty twilight hovering between life and death. Cage displayed a poignant understanding of a brilliant man driven to ethical extremes in voicing the Astro Boy part of Dr. Tenma, the scientist who feels crushing guilt and grief after the death of his son and responds by building the film’s tragic title character.
THE PHANTOM STRANGER: The enigmatic and wandering loner of the DC Universe is no villain but he’s been the frustrating frenemy of Batman for decades with his confusing warnings, abrupt disappearances, and fortune cookie pronouncements. The Caped Crusader is no fan of magic-based challenges, which is why Cage could be terrific as a vexing foil spouting mystical mumbo jumbo. In the classic Detective Comics no. 500, for instance, the aloof Stranger offers Batman a chance to travel to a parallel world to prevent the murder of his parents in that reality. Tapping that kind of It’s a Wonderful Life approach to Batman’s iconic origins could make for an emotionally charged epic. Cage has plenty to draw on, with the magic-man work he did in The Sorcerer's Apprentice as well as “the road not taken” themes of The Family Man and A Christmas Carol: The Movie.
TWO-FACE: Harvey Dent has received a generous amount of face time in Hollywood, all things considered, with live-action portrayals by Billy Dee Williams, Tommy Lee Jones, and Aaron Eckhart. Why not add Cage to the list? Gotham’s District Attorney was a force for law and order until an underworld figure’s revenge left his face half-mutilated and his mind fully bent. The duality themes and facial mayhem are familiar turf for Cage who portrayed both a lawman and a homicidal maniac in Face/Off, and has a flair for grotesque pathos.
TWEEDLE DEE & TWEEDLE DUM: Introduced in a 1943 issue of Detective Comics, this rotund tandem of tricksters aren’t brothers, they’re cousins named Dumfree Tweed and Deever Tweed. Their resemblance to the original Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum (the daft twins from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass) led to their literary nickname. (The duo are easy to mix up with Mad Hatter, another Gotham villain successfully pinched from Carroll in the same decade). Cage showed his prowess for multiple parts with Adaptation, when he joined forces with director Spike Jonze and screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, the creative tandem behind Being John Malkovich. Cage portrays the Kaufman Brothers, both Charlie and his (fictional) sib, Donald, who have varying degrees of social ineptitude and buggy anxiety, not unlike the Brothers Tweed.