Nicolas Cage was born Nicolas Kim Coppola, on the fringe of cinema royalty. His uncle is the director Francis Ford Coppola and his aunt is the actor Talia Shire. He grew up one of three brothers in Long Beach, California. He was raised by his father, August, a comparative literature professor who introduced him to the masterworks of Italian and German filmmakers, sparking his love for cinema at an early age.
Cage says as a teenager, he was mesmerized by the great performances of actors like Charles Bronson, Bruce Lee, John Travolta and James Dean. And after seeing Dean in “East of Eden,” he knew he wanted to be an actor.
Nicolas Cage’s first movie credit came in 1982 in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” Cage says he was hazed on set for being a Coppola, so he decided to change his name, inspired by the Marvel Superhero, Luke Cage.
“When people think of Nicolas Cage, I wanted it to have, like, a punk rock energy at that time,” Cage said. “I wanted it to be unpredictable. You don’t know what you’re gonna get. I wanted it to be exciting and a little scary.”
Cage owns one of the most eclectic lists of film credits in Hollywood. He’s been in more than 100 movies, pivoting from renegade, to leading man to action hero to a slew of lesser features and back again.
When Cage read the script for 1986’s “Peggy Sue Got Married,” he worried it was going to be too much like the play “Our Town,” which Cage hated. So the actor, who grew up watching “Gumby,” decided to base his character’s voice on the voice of Gumby’s sidekick Pokey.
“Because I thought the movie would be boring,” Cage said. “And so I thought, ‘If I do that, that won’t be boring. That’ll be like, what the hell is he doing?'”
He took inspiration from a cartoon character for the Coen brothers’His catalog of inspiration ranges from cartoons to haunting German films he watched as a child.
Cage was saving up a memory from the 1927 German expressionist science-fiction film “Metropolis,” which he watched as a child, to use in a scene as Ronny Cammareri in “Moonstruck.” Decades on, it remains one of his memorable roles.
It was 1995’s “Leaving Las Vegas,” the story of an alcoholic screenwriter, that Cage says was the answer to his prayers. He knew it was the kind of movie he wanted to make.
“I was saying to myself, literally, ‘I’m never gonna win the Academy Award, so let’s just do this anyway,’ because nobody wanted to make it,” Cage told Alfonsi.
Cage was wrong about the award. His performance earned him both a Golden Globe and the Academy Award for best actor.
At the Oscars, Cage announced that he loved the idea of blurring the line between art and commerce by making the small film. But then he started doing.
“That was about staying unpredictable and trying something new again,” Cage said. “But at the time when I did it, I think it pissed a lotta people off, you know? It was like, ‘Well, that’s, you’re an actor’s actor. You’re not supposed to be doing adventure films.'”
Cage says he zigged when everyone in Hollywood wanted to him zag, making big budget action movies like the “The Rock,” “Con Air,” “Gone in Sixty Seconds,” “The National Treasure” franchise and “Face/Off.” The movies were box-office hits and it moved the comma on Cage’s pay-check – and he bought the things he liked: exotic cars, castles, an island, a mansion in New Orleans and even afrom Mongolia.
When the real estate market crashed, Cage says he was over invested and couldn’t get out in time. He ended up owing millions to the IRS and creditors and never once considered pressing the bankruptcy button. Instead Cage moved to tax-free Las Vegas, dug in and worked non-stop, making three to four movies a year and paid back all of his debt.
During that time, some critics accused Cage of making movies just for the paycheck.
“Even if the movie ultimately is crummy, they know I’m not phoning it in, that I care every time,” Cage said. “But there are those folks that are probably thinking that the only good acting that I can do is the acting that I chose to do by design, which was more operatic and, you know, larger than life and so-called ‘Cage rage,’ and all that. But you’re not gonna get that every time.”
Exhibit A – his 2021 performance as a heartbroken chef in “Pig.” The movie earned Cage a second nomination for the Critics’ Choice Movie Award for best actor.
“When I played Rob in ‘Pig,’ I felt I entered the room. I felt that I was closer to me than maybe I’ve ever been before in film performance,” he said, adding, “That I wasn’t acting. I felt that I was doing exactly what I care about. I think it’s probably my best movie, and I think I’ll put that up against ‘Leaving Las Vegas’ or anything else.”
By any measure, Cage is not slowing down. He’s revamping the role of Count Dracula in a movie out now called “Renfield,” and has another five movies coming up.
“You know me,” he said. “Yeah, I do have a tendency to go all in.”