How Sergio Leone's Once Upon A Time In The West Influenced Nicolas Cage [Exclusive]

Sergio Leone might be most famous for his Man With No Name trilogy, but (arguably) his best Western didn't star Clint Eastwood. "Once Upon A Time In The West" was a landmark late-era Western for cinephiles. It's rougher and crueler than his previous Spaghetti Westerns and features two extremely intimidating adversaries who spend the whole runtime trying to prove which one is the sweatiest, baddest gunslinger in the West. 

On one side is the black hat, the bad guy of the picture, named Frank and played by Henry Fonda who, up to this point, was known as a good guy charmer in Hollywood. He eschews that image right up front when he guns down a kid in cold blood. Imagine Tom Hanks showing up in a Western today where he straight up wastes a child in his introduction. 

On the other side is Harmonica, played by Charles Bronson. He's soft-spoken and lets his guns do the talking for him. There's an air of a man you do not want to mess with to Bronson in this picture and it turns out that very leading man tone is what Nicolas Cage had in his mind when approaching his newest project "The Old Way." 

'Bronson don't give a s***'

Talking with our own Jeremy Smith, Cage was asked about his influences for the character of Colton Briggs, and Cage responded instantly with the name "Charles Bronson." In fact, he repeated it two more times to send the message home.

"Charles Bronson, Charles Bronson, and Charles Bronson. I think 'Once Upon a Time in the West' might even be my favorite movie. I think his performance as Harmonica is arguably one of my top five favorite performances ever because he was able to, with [director Sergio] Leone, convey so much and do so little, and it looked like he meant it. He's acting opposite Henry Fonda, who is a hugely lauded film actor, with 'Young Mr. Lincoln' and 'The Grapes of Wrath' and all that -– even 'The Oxbow Incident.' But Bronson don't give a s***. I mean, just like, 'Well, you've got a Purple Heart, and you almost got shot down in a B-52. You're on set. You're looking in his eyes, and you mean it.' I grew up watching that. When I got invited to do Colton Briggs, yeah, he was always on my mind. I don't know if I got close to that, but that's certainly what I was aspiring to."

Cage is a big pop culture fan and has been very vocal about his love of comic books (he not only notoriously nearly played Superman once, he even named his son Kal-El) and movies, so it shouldn't be a surprise that he'd sail right past Clint Eastwood and go for the meatier performance from Bronson.