By Chris Holloway
Why Nic Cage is a better actor than you might think.
It’s movies like Ghost Rider, The Wicker Man or Dying of the Light that give Cage a bad rep for his overacting and, in some cases, visible loss of interest in playing his part, but most people forget that Cage is actually an Oscar winning actor, with some seriously great roles under his belt. I’m here to highlight his best performances and why he’s an extremely talented actor with some serious range.
Let’s start with Leaving Las Vegas, a haunting and tragic story of a man (Cage) who loses everything and decides to run off to Las Vegas to drink himself to death. That description pretty much sets up the tone of the film, and more importantly, Cage’s performance in this film is pure gold, and is the reason he holds an Academy Award for Best Actor. In preparation for this role, Cage actually got wasted daily and filmed himself walking around the room so he could master his speech patterns and movement properly. This led to what is widely known to be his best role in his entire career, and for good reason. His unnerving and shockingly realistic presence on screen is sometimes scary, even uncomfortable, to watch. If you haven’t seen Leaving Las Vegas, it’s a dark, realistic portrayal of the disease that is alcoholism, shot on a cheap 16mm camera, without any permission to film in half the places that it was filmed. It’s truly a testament to what you can do as an independent filmmaker and I wholeheartedly believe Nicolas Cage’s nuanced and engaging performance was one of the founding things that make the film so great.
Now, before we move onto his other career highlights, I want to address the elephant in the room. Cage has starred in a lot of notably bad movies, often accompanied by his over (or under) acted performances. In an interview with The Guardian, Cage said:
“…There’s a need by some folks in the media to think that we’re not in on the joke. But you don’t go around doing the things that character does – in a bear suit – and not know it’s absurd. It is absurd. Now, originally I wanted to play that cop with a handlebar moustache and like a really stiff suit, and the producers wouldn’t let me do it… And then you would have known how in on it we were, Neil and myself. The fact that that movie has been so lambasted means there’s an inner trembling and power to that movie. It has become an electromagnetic movie! And so I love it.”
Cage seems to have a genuine love for all his roles, and even if they are over the top and absurd, it seems as though he knows all of this, but doesn’t let it stop him, as he’s mentioned in other interviews that he can’t keep himself away from his work. I also have a theory that he takes a lot of the other roles in terrible films because of either obligations to his agents or (the more likely option) he’s gained this (misguided) reputation of “good-bad” actor and has seemed to just roll with it over the years… for a laugh?
Onto another movie that solidifies Cage as the fantastic actor that I think he is, Adaptation. In this movie he plays the screenwriter of the film, Charlie Kaufman and his twin brother, Donald. This gives Cage room to freely play around with two completely different characters, one slightly over the top and outgoing, the other more quiet, reserved and kind of tortured by his self-loathing. The way Cage plays off himself is masterful here, as he was acting off of someone who was in full makeup to look like him, or Spike Jonze, who was reading lines off camera. Either way, he nails both roles, and both are so fun to watch. Not only that, but Adaptation is a fantastic movie. In an interview from 2002 Cage says:
“I really saw it as a chance to do something totally brand new, I like opportunities to be transforming myself, as an actor, I feel like that’s what we do…”
Now, I could go on about his other pictures for hours and hours but I think the last quote from the man himself sums it up. Even if the results are either made fun of or panned, Cage is always trying to push himself, and even when he’s not, he seems to be in on the joke.
If you don’t believe me, go and watch Leaving Las Vegas and Adaptation. If you have more time (and haven’t already seen them) also go and watch Con Air, Raising Arizona and Bringing Out the Dead.