As the meme-ification of Nicolas Cage continues to take hold, a few moments to salute just what a terrific actor he is.
Nicolas Cage is a cultural phenomenon. Simply search “Cage” on the gif function of any device and it will result in hundreds of ludicrous images from any number of his substantial back catalogue. Cage contorting his features or standing in questionable fashion choices reciting post-punk dialogue like its Shakespearean verse is a definite. These extreme performances wherein a mild-mannered Cage snaps (usually pushed by tragic or horrific circumstances) into an aggressive, unpredictable and undeniably entertaining alter ego have helped to coin a new term known as ‘Cage Rage’. Films such as Vampire’s Kiss (Cage plays a publishing exec who’s convinced he’s a vampire) the psychedelic nightmare Mandy and more recently Richard Stanley’s Color Out Of Space have all sought to harness the power of said Rage.
Cage’s career has reached a point where no avenue is left unexplored. So much so that one of his next features is a self-referential piece called The Unbearable Weight Of Massive Talent which tells the story of a cash strapped Nicolas Cage who has resorted to making birthday appearances for a pay day, only to get embroiled into an FBI investigation. An unusual concept, but having appeared in over 100 feature films there is only one actor I know that has the presence to make it work. With The Unbearable Weight Of Massive Talent being one of six films slated for 2021 he’s showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
Perhaps what cements Cage’s cult status is the perceived fantastical nature of his own personal life, which seem more like the antics of Castor Troy or Sailor Ripley. From purchasing an illegal Tyrannosaurus Rex skull to having to publicly deny being a vampire, it’s clear why Cage captures the attention of the public.
There is a temptation to label Cage with a ‘so bad he’s good’ tag or ‘just a B-movie’ star, somebody who doesn’t take the job seriously. But both of these statements would be doing the actor a monumental injustice. His dedication to the craft and each role he portrays is peerless. He’s known for undertaking extensive research for each project he takes on, culminating in him drawing upon musical pieces, ancient poetry, philosophy and film from all over the globe.
Whilst shooting Face/Off, Cage recalls studying German Expressionist films such as Nosferateau and The Cabinet Of Dr Caligari to influence his performance. He would later state that “[John] Woo’s operatic style would allow him to push the boundary of his physical performance”. It is exactly Cage’s dedication to character that has seen him work with all-time great filmmakers Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, Brian DePalma and The Coen Brothers to name but a few.
It’s easy to forget some 25 years on but Nicolas Cage has won an Oscar too. Best Actor for his portrayal of Ben Sanderson in Leaving Las Vegas. Cage, unrecognisable due to weight gain and a sickly demeanour, gives a truly tragic and compelling performance as the alcoholic who goes to Vegas to drink himself to death. It’s a portrayal which oozes with compassion, sympathy but also a trapped frustration at the man he is, unable to correct his course despite the efforts of a would-be saviour. Leaving Las Vegas is an uncomfortable watch and Cage deserves all the credit not only for his work in the film but for having the courage to take on a character without any redeeming qualities at a time when he was on the brink of Hollywood stardom.
Marlon Brando, Christian Bale, Daniel Day-Lewis. These names are the ones people would most associate with method acting. The name on fewer people’s lips would be Nicolas Cage. But he’s as prolific as anybody when it comes to completely immersing himself in a role.
Whilst on the four week shoot for Leaving Las Vegas Cage would regularly film himself inebriated and watch the footage back before filming. In his head it was the only way to give a completely honest performance.
The late 1990s were arguably the most commercially successful years of Nicolas Cage’s career to date, starring in hits such as Con Air, The Rock, Gone In 60 Seconds and City Of Angels. To many in the industry, he was considered a rare commodity, an independent actor who could carry a multi-million dollar box office smash. At a time when film industry finances were spiralling out of control with inflated budgets, marketing costs and mammoth star wage bills, Cage was an actor who seemingly cared only for what he could bring to a role.
March 2003 saw the end of the awards season and an aggrieved Nicolas Cage. He’d been nominated for the Best Actor Academy Award for a second time but on this occasion was left wanting. In Spike Jonze’s film Adaptation Cage plays two roles, Charlie Kauffman and his fictional twin brother Donald. The characterisation of each Kauffman is distinctive and they spar with each other seamlessly throughout the film. Cage is at ease as both the laid back, charming Donald and the leering, weathered Charlie. It’s a miraculous thing to witness an actor at the top of his game try to one-up himself.
His co-star Chris Cooper picked up the Best Supporting Actor Oscar but arguably it also feels like Cage was wrongly overlooked for both Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor gongs. Cage would later say that acting opposite a tennis ball whilst wearing an earpiece that spewed his own lines at him was one of the most “acrobatic” challenges as a performer that he has ever had.
The new millennium would bring new challenges for the actor and a mixed bag of mid-budget critically condemned vehicles. There were rumours that Cage was in debt having spent large amounts on, among other extravagances, haunted mansions and an octopus with seemingly magical properties. These whispers weren’t helped by the fact that Cage parted with much of his real estate portfolio. Titles like Next, Knowing and Bangkok Dangerous were, to some, clear paydays and nothing more to Cage. Cage himself disputes that, insisting that each role offered him a chance to do something different. Despite the naysayers, Cage still continued to be a bankable option and the best thing about these questionable productions.
Throughout his career, one thing could never be said about Nicolas Cage: that he’s boring. He’s not a man who ‘phones it in’. He’s not an actor who will appear on screen for five minutes, pick up the paycheque and leave. It isn’t in his nature to do vanity projects. Take, for example, Tom Cruise. Could you imagine Tom Cruise glugging down a bottle of vodka in his Y fronts, covered in blood screaming in anguish? Perhaps you could. But Cage does it with heart and you believe every single moment.
Nicolas Cage’s middle name is Kim, but it may as well be Lazarus. He’s the king of reinvention. From quirky indie actor, Hollywood action star, legitimate thespian, romantic leading man to B-movie God, his ability to redefine his career is the key to his longevity in the industry. Rainbow-tinted horror is his territory at present, chewing scenery most recently in Willy’s Wonderland playing a quiet janitor who is pitted against some murderous demonic animatronics.
So, what does the future hold for the actor? Characteristically it’s a varied bunch of projects. He will have his first foray into television starring as Joe Exotic in the adaption of the Tiger King documentary series. He is also rumoured to be returning as Ben Gates in the third instalment of the lucrative National Treasure franchise.
There’ss a generation that may only know Cage from Youtube compilations, Gifs or sound bites. They may even – shudder – consider him a joke. To that generation, I say look deeper. Explore his filmography and watch more than a two-second clip. You won’t regret it. If you take our advice you’ll soon see that there is much more to the man than the meme.
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