Most people watching the surreal A24 movie Dream Scenario will think of it as a project tailor-made for Nicolas Cage. It’s exactly the kind of oddity he likes — a character-driven, high-concept story that lets Cage exercise both sides of his acting personality: the quiet, soulful side he brought to films like Leaving Las Vegas and Pig, and the manic, shouty one that makes him go viral in films like Mom and Dad or The Wicker Man. It’s hard to imagine Dream Scenario working without Cage. But as writer-director Kristoffer Borgli pointed out after the movie’s secret screening at the 2023 Fantastic Fest in Austin, Texas, it nearly was made without him — Adam Sandler was originally cast in the lead role.
Cage stars as Paul Matthews, a nebbishy, ineffectual professor who suddenly starts appearing in the dreams of people around the world. “I didn’t have anyone specifically in mind when I was writing it,” Borgli told the Fantastic Fest audience at a post-screening Q&A. “For a brief moment, Adam Sandler was attached, and it just didn’t work out, for a variety of reasons of timing and everything. No one is to blame here — it’s just circumstantial. But it did lead to Nicolas Cage, which, you know, now I cannot see the movie in any other way.”
In an interview with Polygon at Fantastic Fest, Borgli went into more detail about how Sandler ended up off the movie. “We were setting this up during the pandemic. Everything was very uncertain,” Borgli said. “It was his schedule. There were just too many variables, and it just didn’t work out.
“It probably would have been a very different movie.”
That said, Borgli said he didn’t alter the script in any way when Cage took over the lead role. In his mind, the change was all tonal: “Nic Cage just really manifested a version of Paul Matthews that I think was uniquely his, that only he could do. And I really love it. I can’t think of a different version now. He made the script really come to life. […] He just made every part of the movie more watchable and interesting, with tiny little gestures and nuances. He made choices as an actor that were refreshing and fun, and in that sense, just made it better.”
Borgli said Cage astonished him a bit on the movie, because he’s never worked with an actor who came to a role so prepared and punctilious about the script. “When we did our first makeup test, when we started trying out outfits, he was already reciting the script perfectly,” he said. “I was amazed. He kept saying ‘It’ll get better!’ I’m like, ‘You’re so good already!’ There was never a flub of a line on set, even, which was just amazing to me.”
At the Q&A, Borgli also said Cage wound up being perfect for the role because of his specific sense of humor. At one particularly awkward moment in Dream Scenario, Paul prematurely ejaculates while also farting. “I doubted so much, writing cum-fart jokes,” Borgli told the audience. “I had people read the script and be like, No, that’s where I fell off. But I believe I found a kindred spirit in Nicolas Cage. I think he said something like ‘Why not three farts?’”
Dream Scenario is in theaters now.