Nicolas Cage (American actor/carbon-based life form)
By: John Semley
I think it was probably somewhere around the time I heard that he’d be strapping on the flaming chains to play skeletal vigilante Johnny Blaze in Ghost Rider that I really got into Nicolas Cage. Of course, as a younger man I’d always liked his films. Coming in just as Cage was making his uncomfortable action hero turn in the late 90s, I remember watching The Rock, Con Air and Face/Off with a zeal that had hitherto been reserved for Jurassic Park, Robocop and Terminator 2 (great films all, but crucially lacking the Cage factor). It was enough to get me to tune into Honeymoon in Vegas when it used to air, pretty much constantly, on TBS.
Beyond pretty adolescent memories of Cage as Stanley Goodspeed eating pressure for breakfast or Cage as Cameron Poe working to preserve the structural integrity of a fluffy-stuffed bunny, I’ll say this: Nicolas Cage is a great actor. Leaving Las Vegas was practically last decade’s The Wrestler, and since delving head-first into a career cashing cheques, Cage has come up for air long enough to lay down great performances in Adaption (which he’s fantastic in, no matter how fun it is to mock of the film itself) and 2005’s one-two sockeroo of Lord of War and The Weather Man, both of which flew under the radar in a pattern consistent with most of his work this millennium. But more to the point: Nicolas Cage is goddamn hilarious.
Sure sure, he’s genuinely funny in a handful of his films (Raising Arizona, Honeymoon in Vegas, Wild at Heart) and genuinely unfunny in others (Trapped in Paradise…uh, Trapped in Paradise). What matters, though, is how he lives his life, the very way in which he chooses to exist. To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, here are some real-deal facts about Nic Cage:
- He was married to Elvis’s daughter for like four minutes, mostly because he really likes Elvis. He also tries to deny that they were ever married at all.
- He owns the most haunted house in America—some wacky Gothic mansion in Louisiana. He also owns a house in the East Coast that has its own bird sanctuary, a private island in the Exuma archipelago, and a bunch of other weird property. Feeling the pinch of that economic downturn thing, he recently sold his Bavarian castle.
- His son’s name is Kal-El. Yeah, like Superman.
- He’s a Coppola. And just like a Coppola he’s spent the last decade-or-so confirming suspicions that any flashes of brilliance or nuance in his work may just be flukes.
- He has a weird fan following, many of whom dedicate what appears to be all of their spare time to producing images of their idol graven in pencil crayon.
- One of the three major motions pictures he showed up in during 2006 was The Wicker Man, a film so misguided that it has steadily been accruing so-bad-it’s-good cult cache. This probably has a lot to do with the number of women he socks in the jaw. Or the number of women he socks in the jaw while wearing a bear costume.
Some saint assembled these best scenes from The Wicker Man into one highly watchable morsel.
Besides all this, Nic Cage is always up to something wacky. The funny finds him. This has to do with his ever-elusive hairline, sure, and the plugs and wigs which should get top billing for any movie he’s in. But I think this has more than just a little something to do with both the types of roles he takes nowadays (mostly Eddie Bauer action heroes), and his dependable ability to phone in those quirkily pokerfaced performances that have become his trademark.
This year alone, Cage has starred in Knowing, a movie about a global catastrophe that has him (in the trailer alone), promising his son that he’ll never let him die, and is starring in the upcoming Bad Lieutenant remake helmed by Werner Herzog—which, I imagine, will explore the chance beauty that reveals itself when Cage, channeling Harvey Keitel, jerks off in front of a couple teenage girls while moaning “Is that how you suck on a guy’s cock? Show me how you suck on a guy’s cock.” He also has two animated films in post-production and is slated to appear as cop-cum-vigilante Damon Macready in the adaptation of Mark Millar’s Kick-Ass comic (which might be pretty good). He’s also set to star in two films next year that in one way or another tackle the timeless, unfailingly stirring themes of witchcraft, wizardry, sorcery or spell-casting: the medieval period piece Season of the Witch (alongside C-lister Ron Pearlman), and the seemingly voodooed Disney flick The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (alongside D-lister Jay Baruchel).
It’s not just that Cage is everywhere, or that his image and face have become as synonymous with mediocre action/sci-fi fare as Seth Rogen’s or Ben Stiller’s has with middling comedies. It’s that, like these other two, his ubiquitous presence has no bearing on his versatility as an actor, given that 95% percent of the time he’s just going to “Wha? Huh? WOOOOO!” and “HOW’D IT GET BURNED!!!” all the way to the bank. In shying away from his initial critical successes of intimate, character-driven films like Leaving Las Vegas or Moonstruck, precisely sculpting his body and emerging on the other side of his Academy Award as an action star, Cage has made a name for himself as the contemporary hack-for-hire, with all the Christian Bales in Hollywood carefully following in his footsteps. After all, as anyone whose watched Extras knows, nobody really becomes an actor because they want Academy Awards, critical respect and the esteem of their peers. They do it to satisfy a deeper, more primordial need, one which rouses all of us: the desire to own the deed to a Bavarian Castle.