Nicolas Cage is an enigmatic inspiration.
The New York Times Magazine has an amazing interview up with Nicolas Cage that reveals a ton of fascinating information about the star, including how he wanted to be burned alive in a bear suit at the end of The Wicker Man.
But it goes beyond the funny tidbits and it gets right at the heart of what motivates one of the most fascinating actors in a generation while he's been on his extended quest for the holy grail.
We'll come back to that, but yes. He's been on a quest for the holy grail IRL.
Cage is truly an "original." He rose to stardom with off-kilter quirky roles in indie projects roles, he turned into a bonafide action movie star, then he won an Oscar. He can be deep, dramatic, strange, captivating, scary, and hysterical. All in one single moment.
But his life has started to even overshadow his on-screen exploits. Cage has, like so many things recently, become a meme. His face appears places, deep-faked into every major role ever, or just pasted everywhere in someone's office as a prank. Among the things he's owned are Castles, first issue Superman Comics, a Pyramid that awaits his body when his otherworldly spirit leaves it, and Dinosaur skulls that had to be, um. repossessed...
"The dinosaur skull was an unfortunate thing, because I did spend $276,000 on that. I bought it at a legitimate auction and found out it was abducted from Mongolia illegally, and then I had to give it back."
That sentence needs to be Cage's next movie. His real-life is very unique, but the Oscar-winner maintains that it's "boring" and he "mostly stays in."
Of course, when he does stay in his pet cobras try to kill him through hypnosis (which he later used in some of his own roles... he says.)
Whatever the truth of Cage really is, one thing becomes clear through the course of the interview: he takes his work extremely seriously. He is passionately committed to film as an artistic endeavor regardless of the project.
There is something refreshing, and enlightening about Cage's attitude that highlights process. Are all his movies successful?
No. We haven't even heard of many of them. The guy makes like 20 movies a year these days.
How is that even possible?
To him it's not just possible, it's necessary. Partly because of financial motivations, "Financial mistakes happened with the real estate implosion that occurred, in which the lion’s share of everything I had earned was pretty much eradicated. But one thing I wasn’t going to do was file for bankruptcy. I had this pride thing where I wanted to work my way through anything, which was both good and bad."
As to those financial mistakes: They were in large part the result of a real-life Grail Quest that had Cage searching for land and property around the world that connected to the mythology of the Holy Grail.
Yeah so he was on an ACTUAL grail quest
In something that could have carried over from his National Treasure character, Nic Cage did in fact go on some kind of extensive search for properties linked to the Grail legend. It resulted in some property in Rhode Island, among other things.
It turned out that while the real quest contributed to some financial troubles that led to needing to work more, the work itself became the new quest.
"In any other business, hard work is something to behold. Why not in film performance?"
As he's worked harder the more he's pushed the boundaries of his craft.
Successful actors in Hollywood are sometimes method chameleons or sometimes charismatic movie stars. There are many ways, many schools of thought, yet among all of them, Cage forged his own that nobody else understands, or uses.
Cage sees value in even what he calls 'bad acting' because it makes him laugh, or feel something. He can draw inspiration from Oliver's classic style, James Cagney's larger than life iconic moments:
Or even a strange moment from John Stamos in a commercial:
"No offense to John Stamos, because he’s a beautiful man and a lot of fun to watch on camera, but a million years ago he did a commercial for L’eggs pantyhose. In it, he said, 'I LOVE L'eggs pantyhose. And the way he went 'love' — he expressed it with almost a rock ’n’ roll screech. I saw that commercial, and I had to put it in 'Peggy Sue Got Married.'
(Editors Note: Stamos was not in L'eggs commercials, Cage was instead referring to the ads for Neet linked here)
When asked in the piece if he can teach his "Noveau Shamanic" style, Cage responded with a story about how it works exactly...
"Say you’re playing a demon biker with an ancient spirit. What power objects could you find that might trick your imagination? Would you find an antique from an ancient pyramid? Maybe a little sarcophagus that’s a greenish color and looks like King Tut? Would you sew that into your jacket and know that it’s right next to you when the director says “action”?"
This was, of course, what Cage actually did once for one of the Ghost Rider movies. He believes in the power of these items and that they can open him up to something honest, something more real than telling a good lie, which is how he characterizes acting like Laurence Olivier's.
"What is acting but lying, and what is good lying but convincing lying?'[Olivier] I don’t want to look at acting that way. Why not experiment?" - Cage
You start to get the sense that Nicolas Cage truly loves this acting process.
The real Holy Grail was all the Grail quests we made along the way
The focus is so often in our culture on end results. How did the movie do? Is it good? Did it win anything?
At Cage's level, the questions are about prestige and legacy as well. But he's interested in the work, literally. And maybe... that is the holy grail he's actually found. There is something ever-renewing about being locked into the process, and loving every second of it. Something enlightened.
Can we approach our work in this industry with the same verve and passion that Cage does, regardless of externally perceived "quality"? Or end results?
Showing up to audition, or taking pitch meetings, or brainstorming tv pilots is hard unrewarding work. We all hear a lot of "no's" in this town and there are plenty of people ready and willing to vocally hate on anything and everything.
By not focusing on results it seems that Nicholas Cage is having fun doing his work, and as a result, we have fun watching it.