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Nicolas Cage continues to do things his way

Published: Thursday, February 16, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, February 22, 2012 15:02

Here's the thing to remember about Cage: He really means all this stuff. Collectively, his films have grossed more than $4 billion worldwide. He also has one of the most diverse bodies of work of any actor of his generation. Cage, 48, has won an Oscar (for "Leaving Las Vegas") and he has directed a movie (2002's "Sonny," about a male prostitute played by James Franco). He has made films for Martin Scorsese and Oliver Stone and Werner Herzog and Alan Parker and David Lynch and Michael Bay and John Woo.

Say what you will about his choices, which at times have been dubious ("Bangkok Dangerous," "Season of the Witch"). Laugh all you want when one of his movies goes radically wrong (a two-minute clip of choice scenes from his performance in the 2006 remake of "The Wicker Man" has amassed more than three million views on YouTube).

But Cage commits to all his roles with the same ferocity, regardless of their pedigree. And he is completely, utterly self-aware. He knows to turn down his volume when acting in PG-entertainments such as "National Treasure" or "The Family Man." There's no need to scare the children in those. But the bulk of Cage's films have been genre pictures, because those are the ones that allow him to try out the crazy stuff: Fighting axe-wielding killers while hugging a naked prostitute ("Drive Angry"); eating a live cockroach on camera ("Vampire's Kiss"); peeing a jet stream of fire ("Spirit of Vengeance").

"Nic is just like a kid: He always wants to come out and play," says Neveldine. "He's always coming up with ideas on the set, and 97 percent of the time what he brings is amazing. And he's a Method actor, so he puts one million percent into every single take. Brian and I trip on that stuff. We love it when Nic goes crazy. You do have to grab him sometimes and say ‘OK, let's pull it back a little.' But he's so passionate and intense. The guy is a force."

He also refuses to apologize. Cage knows some people see him as a sell-out — a gifted actor who has devoted himself to paycheck roles. But he's much too far along in his career to worry about stuff like that. Whatever critics and audiences think of "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance," Cage says he's genuinely proud of it. The film is not quite like any comic-book movie you've seen before, and it gave Cage a chance to experiment further with his craft. So what if he looks like a skull during the best parts of his performance?

"'Spirit of Vengeance' is an incredibly abstract, psychedelic bit of pop art. It's like Lichtenstein," he says. "I have to give some respect to Sony (Pictures) for being brave enough to make something like this. You don't see this kind of movie coming out of studios often. And Neveldine and Taylor made sure the film is still accessible to large audiences. Acting has to stay exploratory and fresh and challenging. Otherwise it gets stale. And this movie was definitely challenging. There were times when it seriously messed with my head. But it also allowed me to try something new with my acting. These days, that's what interests me most."




We asked Nicolas Cage to say the first thing that popped into his mind when we mentioned the titles of five of his older movies.

—"Rumble Fish":

"Best (musical) score of any movie since (Ennio) Morricone. There is no one better than Stewart Copeland when it comes to scoring films.


"It was a workout. I was playing twins and I had to make them completely separate individuals and make it seem like they were talking to each other. On the set, I was acting opposite a tennis ball, using an earpiece to respond to dialogue I had previously recorded as the other twin. I had to memorize all the dialogue of two characters. The degree of difficulty was really high."


"It was early in my career, and I was living in fear I would get fired every other day. I wanted to play the character like Jean Marais in (Jean) Cocteau's ‘Beauty and the Beast,' so I gave him that voice. And then (director) Norman Jewison called me on Christmas Eve to tell me the dailies weren't working. I knew then I had to act from the spinal cord. The irony is that I think I was tapping into (screenwriter) John Patrick Shanley subliminally, because I found out later the original title of that movie was ‘The Wolf and the Bride.'"

—"Honeymoon in Vegas":

"Fun in Hawaii with Sarah Jessica Parker. It was a fresh period in my life, full of potential and possibilities. I was coming into a new phase in my career in terms of what I wanted to do with acting and comedy in particular. (Director) Andrew Bergman really liked my interpretation of his dialogue. I really responded to his italics."

—"Wild at Heart":

"That was my first attempt at what I call a Warhol-esque approach to acting. In Stanislavski's ‘An Actor Prepares,' he says you are not allowed to imitate. But rules are made to be broken, so I tried to challenge that. I believe in art synthesis. Warhol used to do that. He would take (Mick) Jagger or (Elvis) Presley and use them in his paintings. So I decided to take Presley and embody his aura while playing Sailor Ripley. It was an overlay of performance over performance."

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