Interview: Michael Sarnoski on Nicolas Cage & Truffle Pigs in Directorial Debut PIG

As a huge fan of Nicolas Cage (Leaving Las Vegas, Mandy), I’m always excited when we get a new Cage movie. His latest film, Pig, is a side of Cage we haven’t really seen before and the way he flawlessly breaks your heart into a million tiny pieces by the end of the film makes it all the more impressive.

Written by Michael Sarnoski and Vanessa Block, and the directorial debut of Sarnoski, Pig centers around a truffle hunter named Robin, played by Cage, who lives alone in the woods with only his truffle pig for companionship. Alex Wolff (Hereditary) stars as Amir, a young businessman who buys truffles from Robin and then sells them for large sums of money to high-end restaurants.

When someone steals Robin’s truffle pig, Amir reluctantly agrees to take him into the city to get the pig back. The result is nothing like John Wick, which Pig is already being compared to, but instead it’s a complex and heartbreaking study of relationships and grief. The film also stars Adam Arkin (How to Get Away With Murder) as Amir’s controlling father, Darius.

Dread Central was excited to have the opportunity to talk with Writer/director Michael Sarnoski about his inspiration for the story of a truffle hunter, finding the perfect pig to star alongside Nicolas Cage in Pig, working with Cage, and a lot more. Read on to find out what we talked about! You can also read my interview with star Alex Wolff here.

Synopsis: A truffle hunter who lives alone in the Oregonian wilderness must return to his past in Portland in search of his beloved foraging pig after she is kidnapped.

Dread Central: I saw Pig and really liked it. It’s certainly a different kind of movie than I was expecting.

Michael Sarnoski: Yeah, we’ve definitely heard that a bit, the whole John Wick with a pig thing. In my mind it’s a pleasant surprise that it’s not that, but some people might be disappointed. We’ll see.

DC: I know you wrote the story with Vanessa Block, and you directed the film, so I have to ask, what inspired the two of you to write a story about a truffle hunter and his pig?

MS: Yeah, so the initial inspiration I think was just the basic image of an old man and a pig in the woods. I was vaguely aware of truffles, I think I’d had them once in my life before, but something about that isolation appeals to me and as I kind of dug into it deeper, I learned the fact that people steal truffle pigs and dogs. There’s this whole kind of economy around them, and I think I like the idea that this thing that we are all vaguely familiar with, that we have powerful associations with, but we don’t really know that much about truffles and the economy around them. I thought that would be fertile ground to kind of explore and allow a lot of creative freedom to make certain things up but also kind of expose certain things that are interesting and make sense, but we might not know about them.

On top of that I think thematically, I was at a place in my life where I was seeing what grief had done to the people around me. My dad passed away when I was a kid and when I got into my twenties, I saw not how that had immediately scarred my family but how it had changed the way they interact with the world, and I was interested in exploring how loss can shape how we see the world and interact with other people in the long term. Those two things kind of merged together in Pig. A guy who lost his pig and then has to delve into what grief has done to him and those around him.

DC: That’s so interesting. Nicolas Cage’s character Rob, as well as Amir, are both dealing with grief.

MS: I was very much into using the three; there was this trifecta of Nic’s, Alex Wolff’s and Adam Arkin’s characters; just how they were all approaching that from a different way. We all have these shared, core traumas that we all have to deal with but we all kind of manifest them in our lives in different ways. We shape how we are interacting in the world in different ways, so having these characters who are dealing with it differently, having to come to some sort of understanding together, that ended up being the heart of the film.

Writer/director Michael Sarnoski behind-the-scenes on Pig
(photo courtesy NEON)

DC: This is your first feature film and I have to say, it’s a pretty big deal that Nicolas Cage is starring in your first film. What was it like working with him on this?

MS: It was amazing. We were extremely lucky to get him, I remember someone had suggested him and initially I was like, “I don’t think he’s going to want to do this.” But then he read the script and loved it, really connected to the character and I remember the first time I met him, he really got it. It wasn’t like he wanted to change it in some way, he appreciated and respected the source material, and he just went for it, and he was a joy to work with on set. He’s a true artist and really dives into his roles but he is also so professional and reliable and so committed to both the script and the director, dedicated to making the project the best it could be, and was always one of the first people on set, not difficult at all.

I’d like to say he was some sort of diva that he was tough to work with on set and I had to wrangle him but that was not the case. He was just a really solid part of the creative team and was really a rock that we could all lean on. I mean, we shot the film in 20 days, we were doing mostly real locations, a lot of moving around in Portland, so it was really a tough schedule, but he just nailed it. He came super prepared, ready to collaborate and support the other actors. He’s a dream to work with, and a reason he’s been working for almost half a century.

DC: Why did you decide to make Nicolas Cage’s character, Robin, a former Chef? I find it interesting that he was this successful chef and would likely have had to prepare meat, and after losing his wife, his world seems to have completely changed. He leaves all that behind to live with this pig who he really loves, so I was wondering why you made the choice to make him a Chef?

MS: Part of it stems from when I was researching truffles. Once we decided that Portland was the right spot for this to be, because it is one of the primary places where there are actually wild truffles, and thinking about the character, who he is, why he would be in the woods, it just made sense to tie him to that food scene and the abilities that he has makes sense with that. I think the pig side and the cooking meat thing, I don’t see him as a vegetarian. He loves his pig but also as a chef, chefs really respect the material they are working with, so he doesn’t see the pig as something to cook.

I think it’s not unusual to imagine that a chef, despite having prepared many meat dishes, would still have a deep respect for the animals and where these things come from. I think that kind of carries with everything he does, he has this real, mutualistic respect with all of the small aspects of preparation in that world of food.

I think for me, the chef choice also, he was part of that. I don’t want to say the film subverts genre tropes, but it definitely presents as a bit of a film noir, a kind of cowboy comes to town film but then it goes in a different direction. I like the idea that instead of a gunslinger, his superpower is he’s just the best chef, that’s the replacement. Then that allows for everything to happen, especially towards the end where you’re expecting the kind of final shootout that might normally happen, he uses his superpower in a different way and that felt more meaningful to me and was a world that I was more interested in exploring.

DC: I had never heard of a truffle pig before I saw this movie, so I have to ask, what was it like working with the pig?

MS: So, truffle pigs are the classic animals that hunted down truffles because female pigs are naturally attracted to the scent of truffles, it’s the same as male pig pheromones. Nowadays, people mostly use dogs because you can just train them not to eat the truffles, which pigs tend to want to do, so you have to immediately feed them something when they find the truffle. I liked choosing the pig because that was more of an old-world way of doing it and working with the pig was amazing. Pigs can be difficult, and it’s something you can’t really plan for.

We actually didn’t use an acting pig. The producer Vanessa and I, we travelled around the local farms in Portland and just visited farm pigs and tried to choose one that had a fun personality, and its name was Brandy. Brandy was a farm pig, and we basically had a week to bring in an animal trainer to teach her the basics and get her comfortable, but mostly it was just trying to capture her real personality. We put food in places so she would go to them, so it was really interesting and very tricky.

Pig is in theaters now from NEON.



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