I am a fan of Nicolas Cage. That’s understating it. I love him sans the requisite irony, a fact far too many people are baffled to learn; indeed more often than not they violently affirm their distaste for a man I find endlessly fascinating. His career might seem confusing, but I think I’ve got at least that aspect of him figured out. Imagine if somewhere along the way, someone decided that Christopher Walken should be a leading man, and you’ve got Nic Cage. I am in fact certain that if Cage’s entire filmography was made up of weird little supporting roles of varying levels of manic intensity, he would be everybody’s favorite person in Hollywood.
But no, instead we have a huge number of movies that very mistakenly have Cage as the everyman protagonist, a complete misstep considering the fact that he is not a normal person. These are apt to feature the least compelling of Cage’s onscreen personas: Boring Cage, who doesn’t give the impression that his heart is really in it. Usually you can latch onto a few moments of weirdness or passion that he adds to the role, but it feels like he might be doing it for the paycheck, which I don’t actually think is true. Sure, Cage is chronically in debt (from private islands to dinosaur skeletons, he is perhaps the world’s most ridiculous impulse buyer) but he’s so earnest that I think he really does see something in every role he takes. It’s just that what he sees might exist only in his own head.
It’s the other sides to Cage that make him a compelling actor. Good Cage is for when he’s genuinely fantastic. In Adaptation, Leaving Las Vegas, Raising Arizona, and plenty of other movies he shows undeniable talent. A lot of these happen to be his less well-known works, but they prove that, with the right script and director, Nicolas Cage can be damned good.
Then we have my favorite, Insane Cage, for when he goes completely off the rails. You’re probably familiar with this video:
That’s really just a taste. And this is why I love watching him. More than anyone, Nicolas Cage can disregard the fact that he’s being filmed and let loose some kind of inner mania that I find…well, impressive. And there’s more to the madness than his bombastic freakouts. The slightly more subtle stuff is complete and utter gold.
Lastly there’s Nicolas Cage as a person, and frankly, I can’t begin to grasp a hold of the way his mind works. Yet I want so badly to try. This recent webchat between Cage and his fans is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever read, and makes me desperately want to meet him. He comes off as earnest, amiable, and entirely separate from our plane of reality. On playing the mostly-CG Ghost Rider:
Ghost Rider was an entirely new experience, and he got me thinking about something I read in a book called The Way Of Wyrd by Brian Bates, and he also wrote a book called The Way Of The Actor. He put forth the concept that all actors, whether they know it or not, stem from thousands of years ago – pre-Christian times – when they were the medicine men or shamans of the village. And these shamans, who by today’s standards would be considered psychotic, were actually going into flights of the imagination and locating answers to problems within the village. They would use masks or rocks or some sort of magical object that had power to it.
It occurred to me, because I was doing a character as far out of our reference point as the spirit of vengeance, I could use these techniques. I would paint my face with black and white make up to look like a Afro-Caribbean icon called Baron Samedi, or an Afro-New Orleans icon who is also called Baron Saturday. He is a spirit of death but he loves children; he’s very lustful, so he’s a conflict in forces. And I would put black contact lenses in my eyes so that you could see no white and no pupil, so I would look more like a skull or a white shark on attack.
On my costume, my leather jacket, I would sew in ancient, thousands-of-years-old Egyptian relics, and gather bits of tourmaline and onyx and would stuff them in my pockets to gather these energies together and shock my imagination into believing that I was augmented in some way by them, or in contact with ancient ghosts. I would walk on the set looking like this, loaded with all these magical trinkets, and I wouldn’t say a word to my co-stars or crew or directors. I saw the fear in their eyes, and it was like oxygen to a forest fire. I believed I was the Ghost Rider.
Holy. Shit. How can anyone not find this man amazing, when that is how he approaches his job? If I ever encounter him, I’m not going to be able to compose myself. I’ve accepted that. If you still think my devotion is weird, I implore you, see Vampire’s Kiss if you haven’t already. Some would say it’s a bad movie that fails completely at whatever the hell it’s trying to be. I’d say it’s nothing less than transcendent, with Nicolas Cage’s most baffling performance dominating every moment he’s onscreen. Bless this man.
Nicolas Cage stars in Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, in theaters this coming weekend. In many ways I’m sure it will suck. Nothing anyone says, however, will keep me from being first in line.