NEW YORK—Love or hate Nicolas Cage, you have to admit he has good genes. Of all the famous families in show business, the one that Italian immigrant Carmine Coppola started is arguably the most successful in film history. It is one of only two families to have three generations of Oscar winners (the Hustons—Walter, John, and Angelica—were the first) and is the only one to have two Oscar-winning members of its third generation.
Watch the trailer for Knowing.
The Coppolas have won a total of 23 Academy Award nominations. The list includes: Carmine’s Oscar for composing the music for The Godfather: Part II; his son Francis Ford Coppola’s four wins (for writing The Godfather, producing, writing, and directing The Godfather: Part II, and cowriting Patton); granddaughter Sofia’s win for best screenplay for Lost in Translation; and grandson Cage’s Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas. Carmine had three children: Francis, two-time Oscar nominee Talia Shire (whose own son Jason Schwartzman has costarred in several films), and Cage’s father, August Coppola.
August decided to take another direction. In a New York hotel room, Cage says that the choice his father made influenced his decision to take a lead role in the movie Knowing, which tells the story of a college professor who concludes he may have found the secret to the universe.
“I didn’t have to do much research for the role because I grew up with a father who was a professor,” he says. “That seems strange, I know, but my grandfather came to America because of his skills as a flautist. He was the first-chair flautist for [Arturo] Toscanini. So the reason we are here [in America] is the arts. I think the family was grooming my dad to be a medical doctor, but he had an interest in books and was particularly interested in literature and philosophy. That was his calling, and that was before Francis decided that he was going to be a filmmaker. My father had already gone on his philosophical journey via a literary path, and that was a train that was not going to stop. Nor did he want it to stop, and I am happy to say that he is continuing to write his books. The other members of the family have taken a different path, and I believe that my own son is returning us to music.”
The film, which opens Friday (March 20), has Cage playing professor John Koestler, a widower with a young son whose school opens a 50-year-old time capsule. Inside it is children’s art depicting their predictions for the future. However, his son, Caleb (Chandler Canterbury), brings home an envelope that is the work of a girl who heard voices and wrote down numbers that may be a different kind of prophecy. As Koestler examines the list, he comes to the conclusion that she has correctly predicted every major disaster of the past 50 years.
Cage says he thinks science fiction is a good match for his own skill set and his sense that he’s at his best when he plays characters who express themselves in the abstract. “Good science fiction is intelligent and it asks big questions that are on peoples’ minds. An actor can communicate in an abstract way and have audiences go along for the ride because they accept that. They are willing to [go] out there with you, and that is more and more where I like to dance. I also got a little tired of movies where I had to shoot people. I would rather entertain you with imagination than service your blood-lust appetites.”
Cage has been involved in raising Weston, his son from a relationship with actor Christina Fulton, since 1992. He says that when he read the script he saw similarities in the relationship between the father and son in the film and his relationship with Weston, who is now in his late teens.
“I dedicate the movie to my son, because for a long time it was just the two of us and I had memories of that. The script came to me at the right time. I had the life experiences and the emotional resources to play John Koestler, and the lines in the scenes were similar to my times with Weston. I had been looking for a way to express those feelings for a long time. Lawyers and psychologists say there is a full moon out if a father wants to see his son, and that is not true. Just because you are a man doesn’t mean you can’t raise your kid. So I wanted to express that and show that archetype in a movie, and show that you can have a devoted relationship between a father and a son.”