The Rock's Script Wasn't Enough To Satisfy Nicolas Cage

In retrospect, Nicolas Cage's casting in Michael Bay's bloated 1996 noise-fest "The Rock" was a little odd. In the film, Cage plays Stanley Goodspeed, a chemical weapons expert who isn't used to operating in the field. It's established in dialogue that Stanley has never used a gun, but he finds himself being taken along on a high-stakes raid on Alcatraz, where nerve gas-equipped missiles have been set up, merely to defuse the weapons. Stanley eventually learns to do military style violence (he chucks a grenade with the best of them), but perhaps the character may have been better served by an actor with experience playing shy, nebbish-like characters. Stephen Tobolowsky, perhaps. 

Arguments aside, Cage makes the role his own, and he manages to have a good deal of chemistry with Sean Connery, his co-star. Connery's confidence and bluster occasionally overwhelms Cage's panic, so when Cage stands up to Connery, it stands out. Many may recall Stanley's declaration that he's not an action hero, but a guy who drives a beige Volvo. Cage has a lot of funny moments in "The Rock," and many of the film's fans have pointed to the flick as a high point in the "action" phase of the actor's career. 

The irony of that is Cage didn't want it that way. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly conducted during the release of Bay's "Ambulance" earlier this year, the director set the record straight on Cage's initial attitude toward "The Rock," and his disappointment thereof.

'Dude, you're an FBI agent who's never used a gun'

According to Bay, the script for "The Rock," written by David Weisberg, Douglas Cook, and Mark Rosner, contained very little in the way of levity, and the comedic moments were improvised by Cage on the day of shooting. Bay also pointed out that Cage was uncomfortable with being a comedic character, "There's nothing funny written in that script. Nothing. That's all improv." Bay said. "And Nic didn't want to do any of that."

Evidently Cage was expecting to play more of an archetypal "badass" character. Indeed, according to Bay, Cage arrived on set eager to sell tickets to the gun show, so to speak. The actor had been working out to give himself action hero muscles, he asked for a chance to show off a little bit. Bay had to correct him. The director recalled:

"Nic didn't want to do it because he always thought he was a goofball and he wanted to be a serious macho man. When he came to the set, he said, 'I've been working out, I want to have my arm sleeves ripped off.' I'm like, 'Dude, you're an FBI agent who's never used a gun. You're a chemical weapons expert.' But Nic is brilliant in the movie."

Prior to "The Rock," Cage had never acted in a straight-up action film, having played in comedies, crime dramas, and some legitimate tragedies (he won an Academy Award for his work in 1995's "Leaving Las Vegas"). Bay's film was an opportunity to expand his repertoire. That he was expected to play another comedic character seems to have been a mild disappointment. 

Cage and his physique

On the DVD commentary track for "The Rock," the cast and crew revealed that Cage contributed quite a bit to the screenplay. The scene wherein Stanley laments the sad state of the world and dreads the idea of raising a child, only to learn that his wife is pregnant, was evidently Cage's idea. It was also revealed on the commentary track that someone — it was not revealed who — told Cage that he was unable to play an action star because he was too "quirky" an actor. Cage, perhaps seeing that as a challenge, took on the "The Rock" to prove that someone wrong.

Cage's concerns about his improved physique going unnoticed were assuaged by Bay's inclusion of a scene early in the film. Stanley, relaxing at home, plays a guitar in the altogether. While Bay insisted this was a way to placate Cage, the actor saw it as a performance choice. Stanley is comfortable enough at home to hang around naked. Whatever the reasons, both the actor and the director got what they wanted out of the scene. 

After "The Rock," Cage continued to star in action films, quickly making "Con Air" and "Face/Off" in rapid succession. Whoever the "someone" was that challenged Cage to making action films has, by now, thoroughly been proven wrong. 

"The Rock" is streaming on Sling, on DirecTV, and other streaming services as well.