Finn Little Didn’t Quite Know Who Surfer Co-Star Nicolas Cage Was

In his short but prolific acting career, 17-year-old Finn Little has covered a lot of terrain, from desolate shorelines to U.S. ranchlands. And his latest, The Surfer, took him to the idyllic beaches of Western Australia. 

From director Lorcan Finnegan (2019’s Vivarium), The Surfer centers on a man (Nicolas Cage), who takes his son (Little) to the beach where he used to surf as a child, only to be confronted by violent locals. The film is being sold by WME Independent out of the festival, where it is screening out of competition in the fest’s Midnight Sessions section.

Inspired in part by Australian New Wave cinema and in part by John Cheever’s short story The Swimmer and the subsequent 1968 Burt Lancaster film, The Surfer also pulls from rampant localism in the surf community that has been documented from Palos Verdes, California, to Australia. As for Little, he was just happy to be back filming in his native country.

Little’s feature debut came in 2019 at age 11, when he appeared opposite Geoffrey Rush (Storm Boy) and Noomi Rapace (Angel of Mine). But the actor is best known to U.S. audiences for his role on Taylor Sheridan’s Yellowstone. That series follows the Duttons, a ranching family that goes to great lengths to protect its land and way of life from encroaching parties, land developers and the government. Little plays a troubled teen adopted by the Duttons after his father dies. 

It was before Yellowstone that Little first worked with Sheridan on Those Who Wish Me Dead, in which he starred opposite Angelina Jolie. “He just got me and understood the way I acted,” says Little. “He was able to tailor his directing in a way to get the best performance out of me. In a not-so-conventional way, he knew what to ask me in order to give him what he wanted.

Yellowstone was definitely a big step up from anything I’ve done,” Little adds of the series, which pulls in massive ratings on both linear TV and on streaming, where it is now licensed worldwide. (Yellowstone patriarch Kevin Costner is also in the Cannes lineup, debuting the first installment of his two-film epic Western Horizon out of competition.) 

For The Surfer, Little was cast off of a self-tape and a Zoom meeting with Finnegan. During the production, which took place in November, Little was in his final year of high school, so he was busy flying back and forth from the set in Western Australia to Brisbane to finish his schooling. He says he was never particularly preoccupied with the star power of his scene partner. “I knew the name Nick Cage, but I couldn’t put his face to it,” he admits. “I don’t know a lot of the people I work with, which is probably pretty bad.”

The young actor had seen The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, in which Cage plays an actor named Nicolas Cage who gets caught up in the politics of a drug cartel, and the 1984 war drama Birdy — arguably, neither of Cage’s best-known works. 

Little’s assessment of Cage may come as a surprise to anyone familiar with the many, many memes featuring Cage in camp classics like Vampire’s Kiss and TheWicker Man (“The Bees!”): “He’s not very melodramatic, and I like his acting style. He says a lot with his expressions and with his face rather than in other ways. He just keeps it very calm.”

As for the actual surfing, the Brisbane native only had been on a board once prior to landing the role in The Surfer. Body doubles were used for the majority of the film’s more surf-heavy sequences, but production set up some lessons before filming so Little would be comfortable in the water. “I remember one of my first surf lessons, my instructor, Tim, was like, ‘Let’s just go all the way out.’ I thought ‘fine’ and I trusted him and everything,” recalls Little, who was confronted by larger-than-excepted swells. “The amount of power in those waves is insane.”

Little will soon head back to the States to film the next season of Yellowstone but is unlikely to bring his board along for the ride. “I told myself that I would keep surfing after the film was done — I have not gotten around to it,” he says with a laugh. “And I don’t think they have beaches in Montana.” 

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