Nicolas Cage is a force of nature. He’s one of the best actors of his generation, a man who takes on roles no other actor of his stature would dare touch. He gives 150% in every role, whether he’s a publishing exec that thinks he’s turning into a vampire (Vampire’s Kiss) or a big game hunter trapped on a boat with loads of angry animals (Primal). Cage has the rare ability to just go for it, whether that means explosive action or something more somber. He’s a one-in-a-million actor who works tirelessly, putting out half a dozen movies a year, and it’s about time we paused to give the man the respect he deserves.
Cage now stars in Pig, about a man looking for his only friend, a kidnapped truffle pig. His performance is subdued and nuanced, a far cry from what people expect from an actor the internet has tried hard to turn into a meme. He’s a passionate performer and a genuine nerd. There’s an entire Community episode dedicated to figuring out whether Cage is a good actor or bad actor, but I can answer that one – he’s a great actor.
The Man Has Range
Most actors who have been around as long as Cage find a groove, a kind of role they know they play well and can bank on. Some of that is typecasting and some is comfort, but Cage is having none of that. He goes for whatever role he wants and then gives it his all. It’s easy to be a movie star that always plays some version of your regular persona, but Cage has never let himself get comfortable.
The actor made his big screen debut in Fast Times at Ridgemont High as a guy flipping burgers. Since then, he has genre-hopped through comedies, big-budget action extravaganzas, comic book movies, horror flicks, and indie dramas. He’s worked with some of the greatest directors of all time: Francis Ford Coppola, Oliver Stone, John Woo, David Lynch, Werner Herzog, Ridley Scott, the Coen brothers, and Martin Scorsese, to name a few. He’s played superheroes and scumbags, cops and crooks, and just about everything in between.
In an interview with The New York Times, Cage explained that he wants to work as much as possible because that’s what his favorite stars did back in the day. He also noted that he’s aware of how his career’s been viewed by the masses, though it was never the plan.
“For an actor to say, ‘I want to try something else,’ is a challenging road to take,” he said. “I can’t worry that people aren’t going to get it. […] I’ve taken risks. But there has been a collision between the acting experiments and the memeification extrapolated from them.”
He Always Understands the Assignment
Cage may call them acting “experiments”, but he clearly always understands the assignments. Sure, he may apply unusual techniques or references to his work, but he clearly gets the roles he takes. He’s a scholar of film and a huge nerd. He’s also somewhat of a method actor, eating a live cockroach on camera for Vampire’s Kiss and having teeth pulled without anesthesia for his role in Birdy. He always gives all of himself, and clearly does his research.
Cage’s desire to keep working and dedicate as much effort to straight-to-video releases as arthouse cinema or big-budget blockbusters has earned him some derision from folks who feel that he’s just doing it for the paycheck. Actor Sean Penn notoriously called Cage a performer instead of an actor, but Cage took the slight as a compliment.
“In a way I agree with him,” Cage told The Guardian. “I would rather be a performer than an actor. Acting to me implies lying. ‘He’s the greatest actor in the world’ is like saying, ‘He’s the greatest liar in the world.’ To perform, in my opinion, is more about emotion.”
Turning It Up to 11
Putting that emotionality into his work is what makes Cage one of the best actors working today. He’s often at his best when he’s not speaking at all, simply emoting through silence or screams. He’s tragically bone-chilling as an ambulance driver in Scorsese’s Bringing Out the Dead. He can be extremely funny, hamming it up as a small-time crook who steals a baby in Raising Arizona or falling in love with Cher in Moonstruck. He has tremendous range and isn’t afraid to give it his all, but people have seemed to latch onto his wildest roles the hardest.
Cage, for his part, is fine with being thought of as the guy that goes wild with it.
“You show me where the top is, and I’ll let you know whether I’m over it or not, all right,” he told Variety in 2017. “I design where the top is.”
There are plenty of “memeable” moments in Cage’s career where he goes full rage Cage, but his bathroom scene in Mandy is the ultimate. After his wife (Andrea Riseborough) is burned alive in front of him, Cage’s character Red has a complete mental breakdown. He grieves, screaming and launching himself around his bathroom with a bottle of booze. He’s bloody and in his underwear, but the only thing I can look at is his face. True, soul-wrenching grief is a difficult thing to portray on screen, but Cage does it. He’s so vulnerable that some viewers find the scene comedic, uncomfortable with that level of raw emotion.
That’s really what Cage’s filmography is about: raw emotion. He takes on a wide variety of roles and sometimes attacks them from unusual angles, but it’s all in service of delivering a truly human performance. And for that, I salute you sir.
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/Film – ‘Slash Film: Nicolas Cage is Better Than Your Nicolas Cage Memes’
Author: Danielle Ryan
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July 15, 2021