Weston Cage Coppola Talks First Lead Role in War Epic 'D-Day,' Challenge of Family Name
Given the family name, it was almost inevitable Weston Cage Coppola would move into acting.
Son of Oscar-winning actor Nicolas Cage and part of the sprawling Coppola clan, one of Hollywood's most enduring dynasties, Coppola grew up in a supportive creative environment. But the journey has not been easy as Coppola has battled against accusations of nepotism and what he describes as "form of prejudice" against him because of his name as he worked to establish himself in both music and acting.
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Coppola, a graduate of Beverly Hills High School who also studied acting at the Youth Academy of Dramatic Arts and the Stella Adler Academy of Acting & Theatre, made his first foray into creativity with music and the black metal band Eyes of Noctum. The band worked with the noted Swedish metal producer Fredrik Nordström, who produced for the likes of Dimmu Borgir, and released one album, 2009's Inceptum, but disbanded in 2012.
Although music is still important, the now 28-year-old Coppola is focusing on acting and embracing the "challenge" that his name brings as he transitions from bit part roles to his first lead in Nick Lyon's World War II movie D-Day, produced by The Asylum and distributed VOD by Cinedigm. In the movie, based on true events, Coppola plays Lt. Col. James Earl Rudder, the famed U.S. military commander who led his squad up a 100-foot cliff to take out and then defend German gun positions at Pointe du Hoc during the pivotal Normandy invasions.
The Asylum co-founder David Latt described Coppola's performance in D-Day as a "breakout leading role" that "continues the family dynasty." Released to coincide with the 75th anniversary of the Normandy invasions, the film will be available Sept. 13.
Coppola spoke to The Hollywood Reporter about, among other things, his burgeoning acting career, the pressure of the family name and leaving black metal behind.
Growing up a Coppola, did you always want to go into acting?
Absolutely. It was a natural, innate desire in me to create and express myself artistically. So martial arts, acting and music all came to me simultaneously.
I've been doing martial arts now for 25 years. I'm a master in Sambo, I received my certificate from Sensei Boris Brezhnev. I do Muay Thai, tae kwon do — I have a black in tae kwon do — jiujitsu and judo as well.
What is Sambo? I'm not familiar with that one.
It's the Russian national martial arts. It's pretty obscure, but gaining popularity. It's a hybrid of grappling and striking. There's a version of it where you do more striking. That's called Combat Sambo.
You were in the black metal band Eyes of Noctum, did you decide to focus on music first? Or was that the first avenue you had some success with?
Acting was always my primary art form. I think that music and acting are the same for me. It's like my right and left lung, but I did get really infatuated with the style of music that I was into before, and went off to explore that, and I think it enhanced my acting in a way.
How would you say it enhanced your acting?
Well, the music that I was kind of venturing into had a darker element to it. So I think it made me understand how to play a villain better.
Is that because you want to play more darker roles?
Oh, I like to play, become, any character really. The music that I was doing at the time did enhance that, but I'd moved on to another genre that I'm more natural with. I'm going to start venturing into country as well.
You're talking about the black metal stuff in the past tense, like it was a former thing. You're not really into metal anymore?
Not the black metal type of music, no. I still like metal music and still do a lot of heavy rock, but it's not the genre for me anymore.
It doesn't speak to you anymore?
Yeah, I think it was just the journey that I needed to evolve as an artist.
Eye of Noctum made one album right?
Just one record with Fredrik Nordström — he's worked with Dimmu Borgir and other bands. And you know, it was the best that a black metal album could be, I think. We definitely, especially at my age, we definitely achieved what we were going for.
Were you still acting while you were making music?
Yes, I was still constantly keeping my thespian mechanism and creativity intact and well exercised throughout my entire musical career. And I did some work on the side, but even the way I went into my concerts was always from a theatrical angle.
With the whole black metal thing, I read somewhere that you were interested in the occult, do you still have an interest in that sort of stuff, Aleister Crowley, all that kind of thing?
Definitely. I mean it's brought me closer to God, mysticism and my spirituality. It's definitely made me understand how the universe works a lot better and to understand myself. I'm still very much devoted to my spirituality. I'm a very spiritual person. And the black metal genre welcomes that information. Black metal I think refers a lot to our inner power and that's why it draws so much upon the occult and gets into that symbolism and everything.
But I converted to Judaism. I always felt a connection to that faith, and that wasn't a contingency for my wife, as she was raised Jewish and is from Israel. I decided to do it out of honor.
Let's talk about acting now. You said before it was your primary focus but given your family name and your father, was there an expectation you would go into acting? Did you ever feel that?
I think that it was definitely encouraged, but everyone predicted that I would become an actor just because I spent the majority of my childhood getting together with friends and creating stories and having it videotaped. Literally making home movies that had stage blood and combat sequences and dialogue. It was really intense stuff and parents would come over and see their kids covered in stage blood, and be like, "what on earth?" So I think it definitely appeared that I would be either an actor or director with the way I was going as a child. Just entertaining people and creating stories.
I always became different characters. Sometimes my dad would take me out, pop me in a different costume. And I've been stopped, wanting to improvise or to immerse myself into a character and even got in trouble at school for wearing costumes. I just loved immersing myself in the characters.
Your father has a very distinctive acting style and he's talked a lot about his method and process in interviews. Could you describe your acting style? Is it a natural style or more surrealist?
It's meditative. It's almost like a trance when I'm acting. I really develop the characters with so much realism, I develop an attachment to them.
I never stay in the character, it's only when I'm acting and literally engaged in the scene do I become them. Outside of that I never stay in character, I never come to set in character or things like that.
I suppose you grew up around film sets? Were your relatives an influence too?
Definitely. The movie set was second home to me, living with my dad. And I've definitely spoken to many relatives about it. I like to be a bit of a Renaissance man and do many things at once. So my [Great uncle Francis Ford Coppola] told me to start with one thing and to grow from there, and it was good to kind of have that concreted in my mind because I didn't want to say the same message through many different avenues. And I'm putting my first artistic passion first.
How influential has your father been on your acting?
My father definitely gave me a lot of important advice on acting. The importance of your voice, controlling your voice, your expressions, knowing what your character wants, putting the time into the psychology of the character. It's about knowing your instrument. One important thing my father taught me is the art of delivery, how you say your lines.
My dad also introduced me to some of the greatest films in history from an early age, things like Seven Samurai, Rebel Without a Cause, the original Dracula, all of the greats, so that also was a big influence from him.
That's a very positive aspect of growing up in your family but are there also challenges to having your name? Have you experienced any negativity because of it?
I've experienced it to a point to where it felt like a form of prejudice. People would have these preconceived notions about me and assume that I assume things, or assume that I was under the impression that I was going to get a role, or get somewhere just because of my family, and that I was relying on it. And it was actually ferocious. I mean, there were times I would communicate with people and realize that they had completely made their own definition about me for themselves, without even getting to know me. That they didn't really know who they're talking to. They weren't allowing themselves to get to know me. That was rough.
You've done a few small acting roles, but in D-Day you're the lead, how did that come about?
Well, I received the notification for the audition from my agents and I read that it was a World War II film. I had no idea that I was auditioning for the lead. Initially, I auditioned for another role, that of Leonard G Lomell, who is played by Jesse Kove. He is literally like my brother from another mother, I love him dearly. We went to high school together and he was the best man at my wedding.
They asked for me to audition for Lt. Col. James Earl Rudder. I didn't know that that was the lead. And I went in and I got the part. My wife and I worked diligently on bringing the character to life and making him more believable. We did a lot of character research. And I'm very humbled to have played such a triumphant, valorous individual.
There are two former UFC stars in this movie in Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture and it looks, from the trailer, like a very physically demanding film. Was that a challenge for you?
It was comfortable for me. There's a part with Randy Couture where we got physical in a scene and to work with someone that's an expert like Randy, I felt like we could speak the same language because I've done a lot of stunting. Where another actor is afraid that they're going to get hurt, or do something in a really forced way then accidents happen or it looks fake because someone's not really aware. But Randy was amazing.
D-Day is based on a heroic true story. Did you feel the pressure of telling it right?
I'm very honored that I contributed to this because this battle should never be forgotten. It's a lesser known battle. It was the battle of Pointe du Hoc, which is, it occurred concurrently with the Omaha beach invasion in Normandy, France, on D-Day, June 6, 1944. We were the American troops, the Second Army Rangers led by my character, Colonel Rudder. They were ordered to scale 100-foot cliffs that had one of the most dangerous Nazi defensive positions on top of it.
They were sitting there on top and they had to use grappling hooks and they literally scaled this cliff and had been shot at by high-powered artillery and they still managed to clear it out, throughout the hilltop and also locate these guns that were going to be used against American forces, and they were able to destroy them even though the intel was wrong. It was a mission that was astronomically difficult and General Bradley, who is played by Chuck Liddell, said that this was the most difficult task ever wished upon a soldier.
It definitely felt like I had an enormous obligation [to play this role]. Because I didn't want to dishonor the armed forces, and of course anyone that had given their lives in that battle and that day, which was horrific. And I knew that who I was, the individual that I was playing, was a truly profound man and I really had to utilize a lot of breathing techniques and meditation to leave my body and to channel his energy correctly.
Looking ahead, you seem to have a whole host of projects lined up. Which ones are you particularly excited about?
I'm really looking forward to Freak Power, which was a movie that I did with my wife. My wife was the associate producer on it. It's the prequel to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. I'm very excited about that. It has some of my best work, and it was done in Colorado and we really had a great experience. Also our very dear friend Mark David was the cinematographer on that, he was the vp. And he's a brilliant individual.
Who wrote the film?
It was a written by Bobby Kennedy, the third, who was a relative of John F. Kennedy.
Oh, one of the Kennedys?
Oh really, OK. So who do you play in the movie? And is it based on Hunter S. Thompson's writings?
It's based on the period where Hunter S. Thompson was trying to become a sheriff [of Aspen]. He was really getting involved in the politics and everything. I play Skip Workman. That was a really great project to work on, I hope it comes out soon. I'm also going to be releasing an album soon and I'm also going to be pitching a travel TV show with my wife. I'm also writing my own series, it's definitely its own genre, it's got horror and crime elements.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
by Graeme McMillan