How Francis Ford Coppola Convinced Nicolas Cage To Make Peggy Sue Got Married

I think it is safe to say Nicolas Cage makes unusual choices when he approaches a character. Rarely, if ever, has he played a moment in a way that was completely expected. Whether it's through his voice, his body, his eye contact, or his work with the hair, makeup, and costume departments, Cage approaches everything from a completely singular perspective. Sometimes the choice is inspired genius, such as using the cartoon character Woody Woodpecker as the inspiration for H.I. McDunnough in "Raising Arizona." Sometimes you are just left wondering what he could possibly be even trying to accomplish, like all those direct-to-video movies he made in the last few years.

One of his strange, successful choices came in 1986 with the film "Peggy Sue Got Married," directed by Cage's uncle, Francis Ford Coppola. Maybe you've heard of him. The film is about a woman (Kathleen Turner) attending her 25th high school reunion on the verge of divorcing her unfaithful high school sweetheart Charlie (Cage). She then inexplicably gets transported back to her actual senior year of high school. Cage's Crazy Charlie earns that nickname. One might think of him playing the character as the dreamboat you just could not resist in high school, where you go back in time and remember what you saw in him the first place.

Cage didn't want to do that. He did not even want to do the movie in the first place, not even for his own uncle. No, if Cage was even going to contend with the notion of doing the movie, he had to make a wild choice. He had to do something with this character nobody would have expected, including his own cast mates. Like he would do with "Raising Arizona" the following year, Cage looked to cartoons for inspiration.

'I want to talk like Pokey'

I do not think I have ever sat down and watched an episode of "The Gumby Show." I knew the basics: Gumby was the green clay figure and he had a horse sidekick named Pokey. That was about it. The stop-motion animated series began back in 1956 on NBC, and its initial run went through 1968. So by the time I was coming of age, it was well off my radar. Well, the show clearly made an impression on Nicolas Cage, because when Francis Ford Coppola pleaded with his nephew to be in the movie, he only agreed to do it if he could take vocal inspiration from one of the show's primary characters. As Cage revealed in an interview with the New York Times:

"Yeah, I didn't want to make that movie. I must have said no five or six times. I said, 'Uncle, why do you want to make this movie at all?' He said, 'It's like "Our Town!"' By the way, I couldn't stand 'Our Town' ... He said, 'Just come to rehearsal.' I said, 'Look, I'll do it if you let me go really far out with the character.' 'How far out?' 'I want to talk like Pokey from "The Gumby Show."' So I went to rehearsal, and everybody was rolling their eyes because I was talking like that, and my co-star Kathleen Turner was very upset, because she wanted me to be Al, my character from 'Birdy,' and instead she got Jerry Lewis on psychedelia. It did not go over well."

If you have seen "Peggy Sue Got Married," you will know that Cage's voice is truly strange and arguably the thing you remember most about that character. He has affected this high-pitched, slightly squeaky voice that certainly sounds like Pokey, if you go back and look at those Gumby shows. As it turned out, the choice was a brilliant one. Nothing would make someone reach deep into their own regrets about a past love if you go back and realize they have been this weird buffoon their whole life. You just missed it. The voice makes him unappealing in retrospect but utterly captivating in the moment, because there just isn't anyone else like this. It's a calculation no other actor would have made aside from Nicolas Cage. Thankfully, he agreed to do the part, even if nobody else really got it. Cage even said, "Ray Stark from Tri-Star flew up to fire me, and thankfully Uncle went to bat and said, 'Young Nicky's doing this.'" Francis loves his family.

Why does Nicolas Cage hate 'Our Town' so much?

The thing that really struck me about his "Peggy Sue Got Married" story was his animosity towards the play "Our Town." Thornton Wilder's Pulitzer Prize winning play has been a staple of the American theatre since it premiered back in 1938. Sure, it's a bit of an old fashioned, creaky play today, but it's not trash by any means. Well, his resentment, ironically, sends him back to high school, which is the perfect era of petty jealousies. He explains:

"I had bad memories about 'Our Town.' In high school I was cast as Constable Warren, and Jon Turteltaub, who later directed me in 'National Treasure,' got the lead. He never let me forget it. And I just don't like the play. It's a Norman Rockwell borefest."

First off, I love that Nicolas Cage and Jon Turteltaub are high school buddies. As a fan of the "National Treasure" movies, it warms my heart to know that these two old friends got to make a few absolutely ludicrous movies together with massive budgets. Secondly, high school theatre is a formative experience for a lot of young creative people, whether they become professional actors or not, and I know that the competition on who gets what parts can be immensely powerful. I recall plenty of occasions of people standing in the wings watching the show, muttering to someone else about how they should have gotten that part instead of the person doing it. And those things stay with you, even if they become trivial with age. You may laugh about it, but you still remember it.

But it makes you wonder ... how good of an actor is Jon Turteltaub? Did we miss out on a movie star because he decided to direct movies like "The Meg" and "Cool Runnings" instead? We will never know.