Before Brandon Routh and Henry Cavill picked up the Man of Steel moniker from Christopher Reeve, there was a point when Nicolas Cage might have become Superman. Cage and director Tim Burton spent years working on Superman Lives in the 1990s and the never-happened feature remains one of the most discussed lost projects in recent Hollywood history. But Cage says the fact that Superman Lives isn’t a real movie is almost irrelevant at this point.

“I would offer that the movie that Tim and I would have made, in your imagination, is more powerful than any of the Superman movies,” Cage said Entertainment Weekly, PEOPLE, and InStyle at the Toronto International Film Festival when asked about his take on how Superman is being portrayed onscreen at the moment. “I didn’t even have to make the movie and we all know what that movie would have been in your imagination. That is the Superman. That is the movie. Even though you never saw it — it is the Superman.”

Cage and Burton’s take on the character have long been a subject of much fascination — a documentary called The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened? was released in 2015 — and footage of Cage’s costume test for the character often recirculates online. Explained Burton of the lost film in a 2013 interview, “It was like Batman all those years ago; there was always a bit of controversy. Like, ‘Oh, it’s too dark.’ It’s like, well, now it looks like a light-hearted romp. We were trying to explore the more human side of the character and get into that whole thing.”

Speaking in 2015, Cage said he “had great belief in that movie and in what Tim Burton’s vision was going to be for that movie.”

“I would’ve loved to have seen it, but I feel that in many ways, it was sort of a win-win because of the power of the imagination,” he said to Yahoo! at the time. “I think people can actually see the movie in their minds now and imagine it and in many ways that might resonate more deeply than the finished project.”

Nicolas Cage/ Superman
Credit: Venturelli/Getty Images; DC Comics

In the years since Superman, Cage has remained a prolific performer, appearing in numerous films annually. His latest, Mom and Dad, reunites the Oscar-winning star with director Brian Taylor (who co-directed Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance in 2011).

“Brian and I are — can I be very bold? I’m his [Toshiro] Mifune, he’s my [Akira] Kurosawa. That’s how I feel about him,” Cage said in Toronto, where the film (which costars Selma Blair) had its world premiere. “I trust him and he lets me go. He knows exactly how to use me. Brian knows how to let me loose and he knows how to bring me back in.”

“Directing Nic is like directing the weather — he’s like Hurricane Jose,” added Taylor. “You can’t change it, you can only wear the right clothing and hope you don’t get destroyed by it.”