Nicolas Cage Explains His Dinosaur Skull Fiasco and Hunt for the (Literal) Holy Grail

The Oscar-winning actor also discusses why one of his least favorite films is 1986's 'Peggy Sue Got Married,' which his uncle directed.

The characters Nicolas Cage has played throughout his decades-long career are as wild as his actual life.

In an interview with the New York Times Magazine that published online Wednesday, the Oscar-winning actor touched on an assortment of topics, from the films he hated (Peggy Sue Got Married) to encouraging a young friend by the name of Johnny Depp to go on his first audition ("Overnight sensations don’t happen. But it happened with him," Cage says).

But it was some of his past extravagant purchases and his search for historical artifacts that really stood out in the 5,500-word interview.

The Leaving Las Vegas star made headlines a few years ago when it was revealed that not only had he shelled out six figures for a real dinosaur skull, but he had to return it for legal purposes.

"The dinosaur skull was an unfortunate thing, because I did spend $276,000 on that," he told the magazine's David Marchese. "I bought it at a legitimate auction and found out it was abducted from Mongolia illegally, and then I had to give it back. Of course it should be awarded to its country of origin. But who knew? Plus, I never got my money back. So that stank."

But that incident sparked a new interest in the 55-year-old actor: a quest for the Holy Grail.

"I started following mythology and I was finding properties that aligned with that. It was almost like National Treasure," he said. "It’s like when you build a library. You read a book, and in it there’s a reference to another book, and then you buy that book, and then you attach the references. For me it was all about where was the grail? Is it at Glastonbury? Does it exist?"

He continued, "Yeah, if you go to Glastonbury and go to the Chalice Well, there’s a spring that does taste like blood. I guess it’s really because there’s a lot of iron in the water. But legend had it that in that place was a grail chalice, or two cruets rather, one of blood and one of sweat. But that led to there being talk that people had come to Rhode Island, and they were looking for something as well."

It may have been the literal search for a while, but Cage came to a conclusion after also trekking through England. "What I ultimately found is: What is the Grail but Earth itself?" he said.

Cage also explained that one of his least-favorite films he made was 1986's Peggy Sue Got Married, which the director (also his uncle) Francis Ford Coppola insisted he do. 

"Yeah, I didn’t want to make that movie," Cage said. "I must have said no five or six times. I said, 'Uncle, why do you want to make this movie at all?' 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. In fact, Ray Stark from Tri-Star flew up to fire me, and thankfully Uncle went to bat and said, 'Young Nicky’s doing this.’ But needless to say, I never worked for them again after that."

In a 2018 profile, Turner blasted Cage for the way he acted on set, going so far as to call him an "asshole."

Cage also reminisced about encouraging a young man by the name of Johnny Depp to try his hand at acting when all his friend wanted to be was a musician.

"We were good friends," Cage began, "And we would play Monopoly, and he was winning a game, and I was watching him and I said, 'Why don’t you just try acting?' He wanted to be a musician at the time, and he told me, 'No, I can’t act.' I said, 'I think you can act.' So I sent him to meet with my agent. She sent him out on his first audition, which was A Nightmare on Elm Street. He got the part that day. Overnight sensations don’t happen. But it happened with him."