Lily Sheen materializes on my computer screen from her New York City apartment with a big smile and a lot of laughs coming from her end of our Zoom meeting. She’s telling me about her time with Nicolas Cage, who plays himself in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, Tom Gormican’s action-comedy and meta-analysis of Cage as an iconic Hollywood figure. The movie follows the story of a fictionalized, washed-up version of the actor as he tries to figure out his next career move and ends up embroiled in an international drug ring scandal after being invited to the birthday party of a wealthy olive farmer (played by Pedro Pascal) in Spain. “He’s the coolest person I’ve ever met,” Sheen says, describing Cage as “someone who is really, really, really professional, and also doesn't ever let go of his own eccentricities.”
In The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, 23-year-old Sheen plays Addy, Nicolas Cage’s teen daughter he shares with Sharon Horgan’s Olivia. Addy is resistant to everything her father wants her to be interested in—silent German horror films, for example—and doesn’t really connect with him, as he has spent too much time away from his family to become Nicolas Cage, the Hollywood icon. It’s something that Sheen, the daughter of two famous actors, could connect with in her real life—up to a point. “Growing up, my mom and I were really close. I’m an only child and I would go to set with her when she would film. But filming really does drag you away from your family and your personal life,” Sheen says. “Addy feels that her dad never shows up for her and he’s prioritizing his career over her, instead of being able to see the two in equal lights. I didn’t grow up feeling particularly sidelined to my mom’s career. But it's impossible not to feel that, in some way, your family or the outside world wants you to fit into a box.”
As an adolescent, Sheen pushed back against the expectation that, because her parents Kate Beckinsale and Michael Sheen are both actors, she would be, too. She tried to “shirk” that expectation, focusing more on writing, until around age 15, when she found she enjoyed acting thanks to her school, which cast her in Shakespeare productions. She then briefly attended New York University, where she studied the Meisner technique, and decided to fully lean into the job and go on auditions. “My parents would be happy with me doing anything,” Sheen tells me. “My mom used to always say, Are you sure you don't want to go to medical school? My grandma was an actor and my grandpa was an actor and my mom is an actress. That’s the world that I really understood. But all I want to do is work.”
Despite her initial resistance to the job, Sheen has found comfort in using the craft of acting as a way to explore her inner emotions. “I can be repressed emotionally, so it feels good to work with someone like Nick Cage, who is the most explosive actor,” she says. She cites a scene from the film in which Addy and her dad are sitting together in a therapist’s office, totally disconnected from each other, as cathartic. “That therapy scene is really impactful,” Sheen says. “Being so young and giving up on your parents like that can’t be easy, and to get into the headspace where you stop expecting anything from your parents was tough.”
In the film, Addy strongly dislikes her dad’s interests, but in real life, Sheen is quite a fan of idiosyncratic indie cinema, as evidenced by the framed Harold and Maude poster that can be seen hanging behind her head on camera. She and Cage would chat during downtime about their favorite films, and Cage would regale her with old Hollywood tales in between takes on set.
Sheen calls her mom “the funniest person I’ve ever known in my life” and is adamant in conversation about how supportive her family was—and is—of their daughter. “It was really nice to be able to explore my own paths and figure out what I wanted to do. If I wanted to try ice skating, they were like, yeah, go for it. It didn’t ever feel like there was something particular that they wanted me to be, but it was cool to be able to examine that and see a bizarro world version of myself where I hadn’t had that experience,” she says.
And while most Gen Z-ers might feel a little embarrassed to see their parents engaging with the latest meme posted to @PatiasFantasyWorld, when Sheen’s mom shares hilarious insights into their mother-daughter relationship on Instagram, the actress finds it anything but bothersome. “I live on the East Coast and she’s in L.A., but we’re very lucky we can FaceTime,” she says about Beckinsale. “Growing up, we were a very jokey, silly family, so it’s always been a big part of our relationship. When she does share those texts and stuff like that, it makes me feel like, Oh my god, she actually really does think I’m funny.”
When it comes to her future projects, Sheen plans on following a Lynchian approach to creativity, which is to say she will let her dreams guide her. “I love his process of, like, it’s all a dream, let it happen to you, let it sink in,” she says. “I do Freudian therapy so that’s how my brain works a lot.”
But on a more practical level, the actress has some very clear ideas about the types of characters she would like to play in the future. “I’d love to do something weird and strange, something that allows the viewer to have a take that’s more reflective of themselves,” Sheen says. “I do love movies where the girls are strange or weird. I feel like so many times, even with Nic, he gets to do these characters that are incredible, larger than life, strange people. I feel like there are weird girls out there! I wanna see weird girls on screen being odd and unsettling.”