This is the way I imagine it:
(The phone rings a dozen times. On the 13th ring, Nick Cage Picks up.)
Nick Cage: Speak.
Nick Cage’s Agent: Hey Nick. I’ve got one for you.
NCA: Why am I bringing a movie to you? You said you needed to work and “refill your vessel,” as you put it.
NC: Not why did you find a movie? Why do you think it’s right for me?
NCA: It’s a western. About buffalo hunters.
NC: And I play the buffalo?
(There is a long, almost uncomfortable pause. Then Cage laughs like Charlie Bodell in Peggy Sue Got Married.)
NC: I’m kidding. I’m kidding. Can’t the talent joke around with his agent? Unless they want me for the buffalo. I could do that. Yeah, I’d be an incredible buffalo, maybe the last buffalo standing or a buffalo who seeks revenge. Is that what they want?
NCA: (Sighs) Not this time, Nick, although I’m sure you would kill as a buffalo. No, you’re one of the hunters, Or I should say THE hunter. A guy named Miller. The script will be there at your house by this afternoon.
NC: Back to the original question: Why me? What makes this movie – what’s it called?
NCA: Butcher’s Crossing.
NC: Butcher’s Crossing? Weird. OK, what makes Butcher’s Crossing the next Nick Cage movie?
NCA: It’s not all on the page, but there’s something about a guy making a stand, risking it all on the last great buffalo hunt, that made me think of you. It’s got layers. There’s not too much on the page like I said, but that’s where you come in and make Miller come to life. The director’s a guy named Gabe Polsky. He’s mainly done hockey movies before this, but his pitch for you was strong. And it’s been a few months since you made a movie, so I thought you could at least look at it.
NC: I will. Send me some of the guy’s previous movies, too. And a buffalo. A live buffalo, if possible, but at least a rug. No, wait, that’s a bear. Send me a buffalo head.
NCA: Any other client, I’d tell them to shove their buffalo head. But I know you, and I know you can make magic if you get the right tools and totems to mix in the potion. So, I don’t know how I’m going to do it – maybe call the pre-production office and see if they can help – but yeah. I will have all of that sent over. It’s Wednesday, so let’s talk over the weekend. Give you a chance to check it all out.
NC: Woooohh! (Hangs up)
The following morning, NCA’s phone rang at 6 a.m. Bolting up from his sleep, he picks it up on the second ring.
NC: (Before NCA has even said hello.) I’m in. Sign me up. You work out the financials, but I want this buffalo head included in the deal. It spoke to me.
NCA: (After a stifled yawn): I’m glad it inspired you.
NC: Not just inspired. It spoke to me. He’s the one who convinced me to do the movie. He showed me the path to who Miller is.
NCA: That’s great, Nick.
NC: Set up a meeting with the director. I want to bring Miller to him at the meeting, so don’t tell him any of my ideas for the character.
NCA: You haven’t told me any of your ideas yet. Do you want to share, or do you want me to be surprised, too? But only do that if you think I’ll be surprised in a good way. I don’t want a call from anybody asking me why Ronnie Cammareri is wearing a wooden hand. But it worked, right? Should’ve gotten you an Oscar for Moonstruck. At least a nomination.
NC: It won’t be like that. But I don’t want to give it all away, so let me give you just two words: Pipe and bald.
NCA: Pipe and bald? You?
NC: No, Miller. I see him as a pipe smoker. Not cheroots or hand-rolled cigarettes. That’s an Old West cliché. A pipe. A big pipe like Sherlock Holmes used to smoke, but not yellow. Darker.
NCA: Do you need a pipe sent over?
NC: No, I already have one. Got a few. Almost a thousand. I don’t have the exact pipe I need yet, but I’ll find it. You could send over some pipe tobacco, though. I went through almost 3 pounds of shag since I got the idea last night. I’ve been smoking and thinking ever since.
NCA: (Under his breath, mumbles, No wonder you were talking to a dead buffalo head.) And bald? What makes you think Miller is bald? Remember, this will be shot on location…in the mountains…real mountains, not LA mountains…in the winter. And you want to be bald?
NC: It was the buffalo’s idea.
(A very long pause, with both men waiting for the other to react and break the tension.)
NCA: Go on.
NC: The whole point of men killing buffalos, millions and millions of buffalos, was to get the skins. They didn’t want the meat, most of which they left rotting in the sun. They wanted the skins. We watched a documentary about it before I called you. So, the skinning of the buffalo and the shaving of Miller’s head become very symbolic. Miller even carries a straight razor that he runs over his scalp when deep in thought. Imagine Brando’s Kurtz, just not fat. And instead of water, there’s a shot of me slowly running the razor across my bare head. It’s key. That, and the pipe. Gotta find the right pipe. Maybe after I shave my head. So send a lot of shag.
NCA: Do you want me to send someone to shave your head?
NC: No. I will do that myself. Miller didn’t have a barber.
The Monday morning after the Butcher’s Crossing premiere.
NCA: (Under his breath) I hate making these calls…(very upbeat) Hey Nick, How is it going?
NC: Don’t try. I’ve seen the numbers.
NCA: It’s not that bad. The per-screen average in theaters not showing the Taylor Swift concert movie was actually pretty good.
NC: Are there any theaters not showing the Taylor Swift concert movie?
NCA: Three. (long pause) Butcher’s Crossing was in two of them. But only for the matinee. They were showing the new Scorsese film at night. Killers of the Flower Moon. Runs 3 ½ hours, so there was no time for a second screening of your movie.
NC: (with increasing intensity) So you’re saying it’s not me? This is my third movie to come out this year, not counting the Superman thing I did for that Flash movie, and I’ve still got Dream Scenario coming out next month. Are people getting tired of Nic Cage?
NCA: Stop it. Just…stop. There’s no way it’s you. It’s just timing. The movie’s fine; actually it’s pretty good, but only because you’re in it. You made Miller unforgettable. It’s a movie about how greedy Americans almost wiped out a species just for their skin, and even with those gruesome old photos jammed in over the end credits to drive it home, all the audience is going to remember about Butcher’s Crossing is you. Nic Cage. I know I tell you that a lot, but this time I mean it. Sure. Miller is no Memphis Raines or Castor Troy. And he’s no Red Miller, either. But he’s up there. Of the hundreds of movies and characters you have created, he’s in the top 30. You take that head-shaving thing with the straight razor and make it a TikTok challenge, it’ll go viral in 24 hours. Only don’t. The last thing we need is people dragging a straight-edge razor across their heads because Nic Cage told them to.
NC: You’re right, I can’t worry about what happens once my work is done on a project. That is in the hands of the Movie Gods. It’s my job to give them options.
NCA: That’s the Nic Cage I know. The empty vessel is waiting to be filled again.
NC: And if Dream Scenario doesn’t get the Movie Gods’ attention, I’ve got four more in the pipeline heading their way. So tell me. What’s the next Nic Cage movie going to be? Thrill me!