Nicolas Cage is an Academy Award winner known for turning in memorable, completely original performances in a wide range of beloved movies: The action hit “Face/Off,” the searing drama “Leaving Las Vegas” and the wonderfully surreal “Adaptation.” Even after acting for several decades, Cage manages to surprise and find completely original ways to approach roles. And yet he doesn’t prefer the term “actor.”
“For me it always implies, ‘Oh, he’s a great actor, therefore he’s a great liar,’” Cage says. “So with the risk of sounding like a pretentious asshole, I like the word ‘thespian’ because thespian means you’re going into your heart, or you’re going into your imagination, or your memories or your dreams, and you’re bringing something back to communicate with the audience.”
Cage speaks extensively about his career on the latest episode of Variety’s Awards Circuit podcast, from being born into a family of artists (his uncle is Francis Ford Coppola) to his current film, “Pig.” Listen below!
Cage knows that his unique acting choices can sometimes be perceived as broad. When asked about the term “over the top,” he replies, “Well, when they say that to me, I say, ‘You tell me where the top is and I’ll tell you whether or not I’m over it.’”
Cage notes that his choices have been by design – trying to break form with what audiences have been used to seeing. “It was my aunt Talia Shire who first said to me, ‘Naturalism is a style,’” he says. “And I was also a big believer in arts synchronicity, and that what you could do with one art form you could do and another meaning. You know, in painting, for example, you can get abstract, you can get photorealistic, you can get impressionistic, why not try that with film performance?”
Cage continues: “Stanislavski said the worst thing an actor can do is imitate. Being a bit of a rebel, I wanted to break that rule. So I tried with ‘Wild at Heart,’ a Warhol-like approach to the Sailor Ripley character. In movies, like ‘Prisoners of the Ghost Land’ or even ‘Face/Off’ or ‘Vampire’s Kiss,’ I was experimenting with what I would like to call Western Kabuki or more Baroque or operatic style of film performance. Break free from the naturalism, so to speak, and express a larger way of performance.”
But the actor admits he was looking to return to a more subtle style. Cage is currently earning raves for his turn in “Pig,” in which he stars as Rob, a solitary former chef who now hunts truffles with his beloved pig. When the pig is kidnapped, Rob goes on a journey to retrieve her that ends up revealing much of his past. It’s a gorgeous meditation on love and grief from first-time feature director Michael Sarnoski, who Cage refers to as “Archangel Michael.”
“I knew after a couple of flops that I had been marginalized in the studio system; and I wasn’t going to get invited by them,” he says. “I always knew that it would take a young filmmaker who would come back or remember some movies I had made and know that I might be right for his script and rediscover me. And that’s why he’s not just Michael, he’s Archangel Michael. This wouldn’t be happening if he didn’t have the open mind to say, ‘Come with me.’”
Cage discusses working with his mammal costar Brandy, who wasn’t the best at taking direction, and how his own relationship with his beloved cat Merlin helped prepare him for some of the emotional scenes. He also discusses a wide range of topics, from his casting idea for “She-Hulk” to a joke in the Melissa McCarthy movie “Spy” about a “Face/Off machine” – a tribute to the John Woo action flick where he and John Travolta play characters who swap faces. (Cage has not yet seen “Spy” but loves the joke and wants to check it out.)
Cage actually cites how there was a point in “Face/Off” where the lines between reality and fiction blurred for him. “There was a moment in there where I think I actually left my body, where I just got scared,” he recalled. “Am I acting or is this real? And I can see it when I look at the movie, that one moment, it’s in my eyes.”
Also in this episode, Vicky Krieps and Mia Wasikowska discuss their intertwined roles in Mia Hansen-Løve’s “Bergman Island.” In the film, Krieps plays a filmmaker named Chris who travels with her husband to Faro – the island where Ingmar Bergman lived and worked. While there, Chris starts to dream up a new screenplay about a young woman who comes to the island for a wedding. Wachowski plays Amy, the woman within Chris’ story whose life bears more than a passing resemblance to Chris.
Krieps and Wachowski speak about their roles in the film, which the latter described as “an echo of each other.”
Variety’s Awards Circuit podcast is hosted by Clayton Davis, Michael Schneider, Jazz Tangcay and Jenelle Riley and is your one-stop listen for lively conversations about the best in movies. Michael Schneider is the producer and Drew Griffith edits. Each week, “Awards Circuit” features interviews with top talent and creatives; discussions and debates about awards races and industry headlines; and much, much more. Subscribe via Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify or anywhere you download podcasts. New episodes post every week.
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Nicolas Cage Doesn’t Consider Himself an Actor: ‘I Like the Word Thespian’