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The Changeling

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Date: 12:51 AM, 09/11/10
Fantastic interview from 1990


American Film, June 1990 p.22-29

the beasts within


Nicolas Cage Wild at Heart Enlarge

Wolflike in 'Moonstruck,' batty in 'Vampire´s Kiss,' he wears a snakeskin jacket, has a lizard tattoo on his back and lives with his cats in an apartment decorated with bugs, fish and the head of a wild boar. In other words, he was the obvious choice for David Lynch´s 'Wild at Heart.'

By Mark Rowland


It´s a warm, clear Sunday afternoon, the air fragrant with the scent of jacaranda blossoms and, if you live in Los Angeles, you don´t want to miss it. Nicolas Cage has settled into one of his favorite outdoor spots, a park bench by the murky La Brea Tar Pits. He, too, is dressed in black. The tar pits are ringed by a tall chain-like fence, for obvious reasons, but through the mesh, one can gaze upon a watery pool rippling with methane bubbles from the fissures below.


"It´s very prehistoric," Cage says approvingly. "It brings back memories. As a kid, I used to come here and imagine that the bubbles were from sea monsters. The funny thing is, there are still sea serpents. Imagine what it was like for Columbus to see a giant squid for the first time! That is a sea monster. The white shark, the blue whale..." his voice trails off sadly. "But we´ve discovered all our monsters."


Cage should know. Over the years, some of his best friends have been monsters. The several aquariums in his Hollywood apartment were once filled with sharks and octopuses; large exotic bugs are mounted in display frames on the walls. His ´67 Corvette is nicknamed the Blue Shark - "it even has the gills," he notes proudly."


Not to overlook the very large lizard tattoo that adorns Cage´s back - but we´ll get to that. The point is, the guy relates to primal. So maybe it´s no accident that some of his recent movie roles possess decidedly animalistic qualities: the madman who imagines himself a vampire in Vampire´s Kiss, the self-proclaimed "wolf" in Moonstruck who woos Cher to the strains of Puccini.


"I wouldn´t have been able to say that," Cage says, "but now that you mention it, I might have to agree. Though I have cats," he notes, warming to the thought, "and I do watch them. And some of what they do stays in my mind and appears later." A sideway look. "Especially when they have sex."


Nicolas Cage is not the star we expected, not from his generation, not in this day and age. Somebody forgot to blow-dry his hair, and the cowlick ended up in front. Somebody forgot to tell him irony is hip, passion passé. Somebody forgot to smooth out that walk and that talk. Kathleen Turner had it right the first time in Peggy Sue Got Married - this guy is not the one. She had it right the second time, too. He is the one.


Rumblefish, The Cotton Club, Birdy, Racing With the Moon, Peggy Sue Got Married, Raising Arizona, Moonstruck, Vampire´s Kiss - there aren´t many (any) 26-year-old actors with a resume this solid. Cage chalks it up to luck: "I´ve always been a gambler."


Yet it´s precisely that spirit, at once over-the-top and crazily logical, which lingers longest in our memory. He´s a character actor whose presence is frequently so powerful, it becomes part of the film´s signature. The movies, meanwhile, provide their own clues about Cage.


He has just gotten back in town after working on three pictures in a row. He was a painter caught in a love triangle in a movie set in New Orleans (Zandalee); before that, he was a helicopter pilot in Wings of the Apache (scheduled to bow in late May), a Top Gun-goes-drug-hunting-in-Latin America flick that he says intrigued him because "I like to keep myself off-guard with the choice I make," and "there is a kid inside me that likes helicopters and fireworks," and "film is a big-business industry, and this game needed to be played to secure that I continue to work."


Work in films like Wild at Heart, directed by David Lynch and starring Cage and Laura Dern. Due out in mid-August, Lynch´s long-awaited follow-up to Blue Velvet stars Cage as Sailor Ripley, a self-described "outlaw in love" on the lam with his adored Lula Pace Fortune (Dern); during their travels, they intersect with a variety of Lynchian figures portrayed by Isabella Rossellini, Diane Ladd, Willem Dafoe and Harry Dean Stanton, among others. For anyone who´s followed the careers of Cage and Lynch, it seems like a natural collaboration; these are two guys whose imaginations are unusually uncensorious.


"The funny thing is, the less literal route is the more truthful way, I think," Cage says. "Because you get at what´s beneath the surface. There are flashes that happen in people´s brains that are real, and people do not want to put them out. I guess that´s where a signature would come from, to allow yourself to put those flashes out there and not edit yourself or hold back. Because chances are that someone else has had that flash."  Cage quotes the painter Francis Bacon: "'It´s impossible to record anything as a fact today without causing deep injury to the image.' I agree with that. In fact," he says laughing, "I stole the line and put it into my last movie."


"There´s a lot of things that make Nick unique," Lynch observes, "His way of delivering lines, his look. He´s got an ability to do real heavy things and goofy things. His attitude encouraged me to think of things for him to do, because he´s so good at going into strange places. You give him an idea, and he grabs onto it like crazy. He´s like a wild dog on a leash."

Lynch says that Cage was his only choice for the part. They weren´t exactly friends previously, but Lynch noticed that they kept bumping into each other in local drugstores and at Hollywood´s veteran eatery Musso & Frank Grill. "We both like to sit at the counter there," Lynch explains. "I like to stare at the chimney above the grill. It reminds me of old Hollywood, and Nick is a Hollywood type of guy. You know, a big smile, sunglasses, kind of the gold Eldorado type of thinking. He could be a Las Vegas performer or a big movie star. He happens to be a movie star."


The night he introduced Cage and Dern at a local restaurant, Lynch recalls, the historic Pan Pacific movie theater was burning to the ground a few blocks away. "The film has a lot to do with fire, so that was kind of interesting," he notes. "I sat opposite Nick and Laura, and the whole time I´m sitting there, I´m thinking how both of them have this same quality of being beautiful and not beautiful, intelligent and yet so understanding of 'ordinary life.'"


Which is the way Cage comes off in person. He´s at once better- and more conventional-looking than he appears onscreen, exhibits a dry wit and a regular-Joe manner. He doesn´t act like an actor. Hard to believe he made his first screen splash in Rumblefish alongside peers like Matt Dillon; Cage never seemed that young.


"I do feel older than my years," he admits, "but I don´t know why that is. A lot of times on the set, I thought David [who is 44] looked younger than I did. I think I wear darkness on my face more than he does. But I don´t know if that´s because I´m just fascinated by it or because it really is there."  Have you always felt like that?  "Well, elementary school was tough because I was considered too serious. I think I was voted 'most stubborn,'" he recalls, still sounding a little annoyed about it, "which is really a boring award. Maybe I was trying a little to be like my father in those years. He was very serious. But I don´t have that mannerism anymore. I mean, I don´t want to be taken seriously. Like, sometimes, I´ll wear a stupid T-shirt that says ITALIA on it. I visited a friend of mine, and his wife said to me, 'Nick, it´s impossible to take you seriously with that stupid T-shirt on.' Well, that was exactly the idea.


"It´s funny, people who don´t know me say I come up very old. My closest friends tell me I´m a kid."  He grew up Nicolas Cage in Long Beach, California, the youngest of three brothers. His father, August Coppola, currently dean of creative arts at San Francisco State University, has a doctorate in comparative literature and is an author and pioneer of studies with the blind. His uncle, Francis Ford Coppola, makes movies.


"I feel more like Nicolas Cage than Nicolas Coppola," he muses. "It´s more me now. Nicolas Coppola is really someone from the past, a little boy running around and dressing up for Halloween." He remembers seeing Apocalypse Now at a young age while visiting his uncle, meeting Brando and shaking his hand. "It was an impressive movie. But I didn´t know who he was."


At 15, Cage enrolled in San Francisco´s American Conservatory Theatre. His original motivation for becoming an actor was to meet girls. "The reasons change as you get older, I guess." A few years later, Cage was in Rumblefish, the first of three appearances in Coppola-directed films.

"I am not going to say my uncle hasn´t helped me, because he has," Cage says. "I´ve learned so much from him, and he´s given me the opportunities to work that have been terrific. But I´ve always felt, because of my connection, that I´ve had to try a little harder than everyone else. I would go into a casting office and the whole thing would be about what Francis had done. They could never see past it."


Just before his audition for the lead in Martha Coolidge´s Valley Girl, Nicolas sensed it was time for a change. "Though some of the names I was entertaining were so ridiculous," he remembers. "Nick Faust. Nicolas Mascalzone - my great grandmother used to call me that - it means 'bad boy.' My favorite color, Nicolas Blue. Cage came from this [comic-book] superhero name Luke Cage. I really dug him. I always thought it was an interesting name."


He got the part. (Coolidge told him later that if she´d known he was a Coppola, it probably would have colored her perceptions.) The movie, a seemingly conventional teen comedy about a girl who falls for a guy from the wrong side of the tracks, turned out to be a surprisingly sensitive character study, with Cage singled out for plaudits.


"It´s still one of my favorite movies, actually, because it was a situation I´d gone through in [Beverly Hills] high school. I was taking the bus there, and other guys were driving Porsches. If there was a beautiful girl and I wanted to take her out, I couldn´t do it, she just wouldn´t go for it. I think that movie was about not listening to your friends, that it´s 'just you and me.'"


Around this time Cage went through an equally dramatic rite of passage by procuring a tattoo. Specifically, a tattoo on is back of a lizard about eight inches long, sporting a top hat and cane and holding a wax flute.

"At first, it was just a lizard," Cage explains. "But after I went home I thought, This is too serious and pretentious. So I went back and gave him a top hot and a cane. Then I remembered that I used to love those orange wax flutes that you get on Halloween. You can see I was trying to put everything in there.


"I remember the look on my father´s face when he first saw it - he just went white." Cage laughs. "But it was a kind of pleasing moment for me. I had sort of broken away and become a man, which is an interesting thing about tattoos. In African cultures, they have things like tattoos and scarification, where you go from boyhood to manhood. There is nothing like that in American culture, except maybe a bar mitzvah, and there are a lot of people walking around in modern cultures who are still kids. It always boggled me that I got one, but then I started to realize what it was - I was trying to show that I´d become an adult."


Cage drew strong notices for his turns as a hoodlum in Coppola´s The Cotton Club, a self-centered cad in Racing With the Moon and, most notably, as a disfigured Vietnam vet trying to rouse his friend out of catatonia in Alan Parker´s Birdy. The latter earned the Jury prize and 12-minute ovation at the Cannes Film Festival. Cage likes the movie but isn´t nearly so fond of his performance, which he likens to "emotional vomit."


"I really think that the first five or six movies were an education for me, a learning process. I started early and that´s how I taught myself, through trial and error. With Birdy, I was just open emotionally and let whatever happen happen. After that, I tried to have a bit more thought behind the lines and structure of a scene."


Following Birdy, Cage traveled to Montreal to play The Boy in Blue, one of those inspirational sagas - in this case about a turn-of-the-century Canadian oarsman - that are sent directly to video stores without ever passing go. Cage calls the film a "travesty," but also "pivotal" because it forced him to reexamine his methods. "I wanted to put back into acting a more surreal or expressive style that wasn´t totally run by literalism, which seemed like a dead end. I wanted to go totally in the other direction. And I began to realize a way that I could at once distort and reach a higher truth."


His next role, as Kathleen Turner´s husband, Charlie Bodell, in Peggy Sue Got Married, seemd like "an open door" to try out his new approach. "The movie was in a dream state, and here Francis was painting sidewalks salmon and trees yellow. I thought, Well, if he can do that. ..." Cage turned Charlie Bodell into a romantic goofball, one not unlike and perhaps inspired by Jerry Lewis in The Nutty Professor. "I thought it would be entertaining to everyone," recalls Cage. "Then I began to see that it wasn´t."

In fact, Cage´s innovations nearly got him fired from the production. "It was a shock to Kathleen Turner, I guess. It was like she wouldn´t be in love with a guy who is that ridiculous. I know the Tri-Star people had gotten on the Lear jet to talk about removing me; they said, This is not cutting it. But Francis cooked everyone a big spaghetti dinner. I didn´t know that he was going to have to fight for me," Cage insists. "I was just enjoying what I had stumbled upon. I would have definitely done it that way, no matter who was the director."


But what if another director had fired you?  Cage laughs uneasily. "Well, I would´ve had to wait for another opportunity and try again. Because it had to come out somewhere."  His acting in that film remains his most controversial - one national magazine proclaimed it the year´s worst performance. Cage appreciated the response. "I thought that was good. It means they got it on some level. I struck a chord."


Still, Cage enjoyed playing a fullblown romantic lead in Moonstruck, partly as a change of pace after Peggy Sue and partly to excorcise some personal feelings. "I wanted to express this pure love," he says. "I had just broken up [with the actress Jenny Wright], and I had a lot of emotion. I had gotten over it, but it made me want to do something with the experience. It was almost a love letter in a way. I was talking to Cher and kind of hoping that Jenny would be out there somewhere hearing it or seeing it. It gave me a chance to express feelings that coincided with my own."


Sandwiched around the fairy tale of Moonstruck are two more Cage performances that, like Peggy Sue, float in and out of a dream state - his roles as an excon-turned-baby snatcher in the lunatic comedy Raising Arizona and a young literary agent who goes mad and imagines himself a vampire in Vampire´s Kiss.  Cage asserts that the Coen brothers´ script for Arizona was the best he´d ever read; its attractions included the plot mix of skewed reality and genuine nightmare.


"I think dreams are gifts," he says. "And it´s in the dream state that an actor can have the license to do those larger-than-life gestures. It´s harder to do that in a 'natural' world because it could throw off the whole structure of a film. But it´s also very real. I think David Lynch´s movies are more real than Spielberg´s - they´re the inside reality. So I try to find the film that will do those things, whether it´s a dream state or just being insane."

It´s a coin toss as to in which of these camps his character in Vampire´s Kiss belongs. But no matter what your interpretation of the film, this modern twist on the Dracula myth remains an unduly neglected gem, and Cage´s performance is a tour de force. Despite the film´s low profile and disappointing box office, it´s the movie he says he´s most proud of, and it earned him a best-actor nomination from the Independent Feature Project West.


"It wasn´t a practical choice to make," he points out, "but it was an honest choice. When I was eight years old, I used to watch those silent German expressionist films like Nosferatu and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari - well, you can imagine the effect they had on me. They were much more horrifying than anything today - claustrophobic and really spooky. I would have nightmares about them. With Vampire´s Kiss, I saw an opportunity to say, Well, this man is insane, and so I have a right to do what I want; I can use some of those old German facial expressions and hand gestures and combine it with sound. That´s why I was so excited about it."


By comparison, he notes, the forthcoming Wild at Heart will probably be among his more realistic roles. "I guess it´s open as to what´s entertaining and what´s not," he concludes. "I´m just more entertained with something that would give you bad dreams."


Cage´s home in Los Angeles is in a regal apartment building that´s one of the last vestiges of old Hollywood. There´s a story that George Raft once painted an enormous caricature in the building´s elevator shaft and that Bing Crosby kept a flat there for extracurricular activities. Mae West lived across the street for decades.  Cage isn´t sure how much longer he´ll be staying there - "they don´t like my life-style" he remarks cryptically - but the digs are at least spacious enough to store the evidence of his multifaceted cerebrum. One room is darkened by thick curtains and lit by a curved chandelier; another´s balcony provides a panorama of Hollywood, at least on a good day. Elegant deco lamps and furniture vie for space with such whimsical props as a huge bumblebee. There´s a boar´s head mounted over one doorway (a gift from a friend, Cage explains hastily) along with the aforementioned bugs and fish tanks, which currently house only a few small species. "That´s what happens when your´re away so long," he sighs. "I hardly know these guys."


The only things missing, it seems, are mementos from his movies. "I have to learn to start doing that," he says. "I wish I had the wooden hand from Moonstruck. I wore a snakeskin jacket in Wild at Heart and, at the end of the film, I gave it to Laura. I thought she´d like it. I just don´t keep stuff from movies. It´s almost like I´m trying to shed their skin."


He turns the crank to a handsome gramophone and gently places down the needle on a 78 of Caruso singing, a voice that beckons form another century, another world. He signals a point in the performance where Caruso´s voice literally cracks from sorrow.  The range and quirkiness of Cage´s character tend to obscure their strongest common thread - that Cage is, in both the classic and modern sense, a very Romantic Man. From Valley Girl to Peggy Sue to Moonstruck, he pursues his loves with a resoluteness worthy of Wuthering Heights. In Raising Arizona, he steals a baby to save his marriage. In Vampire´s Kiss, he dies for lack of love. In Wild at Heart, he is once more head over heels. Or as David Lynch puts it, "Nick makes it cool to be in love."


"I am drawn to the romantic film," Cage agrees. "It´s a very powerful emotion. The movies that have really affected me are romantic movies, mostly from another era, like Wuthering Heights. The first time I saw East of Eden, it reached me in a way that nothing else had. They´re the films that really made me want to become an actor."


The trick to portraying romance onscreen is to respect its mystery, he says. "I certainly don´t think it´s a requirement to have an affair to make it work. Wondering what it would be like is more exciting than knowing. Like Cher with Moonstruck - I didn´t want to kiss her until the time I did have to kiss her in the film. And it really worked. It was exciting; I put every thought that I had about it into it. In fact, if I was going to have an affair with a lady, I would do it at the end of the shoot. It would be more meaningful if it had nothing to do with the movie. I would get nauseated thinking, Well, we´re going to **** because it´s going to help the character."


Cage is properly circumspect about his private life, except to say his relationships have often been "tumultuous" and that he´s presently in one. His work can be consuming, of course. "But I really don´t like working with some attachment to somebody," he adds. "It´s all the trials and tribulations that get me wanting to do something. In fact, it´s love that inspires me."


The afternoon light is beginning to wane as Cage, who describes his creature habits as "nocturnal," gets ready to hit the road. His motorcycle was recently stolen, which might be an omen, he thinks, but the blue Corvette suits him as well. "I bought this with the money I got from Vampire´s Kiss," he says. "I do like to go out and get something that will remind me of the work."


Though he recently purchased a Victorian home in San Francisco ("it´s the Edgar Allan Poe in me"), he´s more comfortable in L.A. "I like that it´s an automotive city. I like the wide-open space. I don´t feel oppressed here." He drives by night, eschews social gatherings but checks out "the musical scene - and furniture stores. I like to look at furniture." Cruising around when it get really late and the wide boulevards are quiet is the best thing of all.


What would a Nicolas Cage tour of L.A. be like? The answer, not too surprisingly, embraces ´50s tropical kitsch, a classic greasy spoon and a touch of the Mesozoic era, romantically speaking.


"It´s sort of a litmus test for a wife," he says. "Which is, if you can go to Kelbo´s and dance there under the Cocoa Bowl; and then go from there to Pink´s for a chiliburger - and not scoff at the concept - and then, come to La Brea Tar Pits, where you can do any number of things, especially at that hour...." Cage waits a beat, clearing some space for the imagination. "Then I would say," he smiles, "that the marriage potential would be very intact."



"Love one another but make not a bond of love.
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls"
~~~~ Khalil Gibran ~~~~

Faery Queen of Cagealot Castle

Status: Offline
Posts: 8403
Date: 12:58 AM, 09/11/10
RE: Fantastic interview from 1990

You won't believe this Bon but I bookmarked this interview today when I came across it looking for tattoo pics! Great minds think alike!bouncy

It is such 'Classic Cage' huh! an awesome interview, I totally love it! Thank you for posting. flowerface




The Changeling

Status: Offline
Posts: 1288
Date: 1:20 AM, 09/11/10
RE: Fantastic interview from 1990

You're most welcome Lady Argante!


"Love one another but make not a bond of love.
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls"
~~~~ Khalil Gibran ~~~~


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Posts: 6722
Date: 3:16 AM, 09/12/10
Fantastic interview from 1990

This is a great interview, and quite revealing.
Where did that young man go?  Nick is so guarded and careful in everything he says now.
I love reading his early interviews, he is thoughtful and erudite, passionate and funny, he must be an interesting, if perhaps difficult, person to know.
He seemed obsessed by love.

-- Edited by Lady Trueheart on Tuesday 16th of August 2011 03:59:44 AM



The Changeling

Status: Offline
Posts: 1288
Date: 5:03 AM, 09/12/10
RE: Fantastic interview from 1990

I agree.  The Nic of yesterday seems a totally different creature than today.  He seemed more open, vunerable even and definitely had a romantic streak in him.  I hope that somewhere under all the adultness of today, there still is a little bit of that sweet soul still living inside of him.  :)


"Love one another but make not a bond of love.
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls"
~~~~ Khalil Gibran ~~~~

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