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Post Info TOPIC: The Unlikeliest Action Hero - good interview from 1997


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Date: 2:06 AM, 10/11/10
The Unlikeliest Action Hero - good interview from 1997

The Unlikeliest Action Hero

Offbeat Oscar-winner Nicolas Cage is pumped to star in two summer action films. Just don't expect the usual cardboard cutouts.

By Mary Roach

The shortest distance between a T-bone steak and Nicolas Cage is 3 miles. That's the distance between Cage's downtown L.A. apartment and the Pacific Dining Car, a steakhouse famous for its colossal cuts and a pair of life-size plastic steers that hang from the sign. Mr. Cage wants to "eat big." His stomach is doing King Kong. The plastic steers fear for their lives.

To achieve steak, Cage, 33, is taking extreme measures. We're driving in a black 1994 Lamborghini (one of two Lamborghinis Cage owns, along with a Ferrari and a '67 Corvette Stingray, among other cars).

I would not have taken Nicolas Cage (Moonstruck, Raising Arizona) for a red meat and hot rod kind of guy. This is a man who reads Dostoevski and collects art glass. Who won an Oscar for a wrenching portrayal of a screenwriter bent on drinking himself to death. Who wooed his wife with a black orchid and a J.D. Salinger autograph.

Then again, this is also the man who has starred in three action movies in a row, bing-bang-boom: last year's The Rock and this week's Con Air, a Jerry Bruckheimer production that pits Cage against a planeload of death-row convicts, and later this month Face/Off, a John Woo shoot-'em-up-blow-'em-up co-starring John Travolta. He's also signed to be the next Superman. What gives?

Over the tumult of raging rpms, I ask Cage why, after winning a Best Actor Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas, he chose to go into action movies. "I wanted to try something new," he says. "I wanted to try to do the work that I've been doing, but apply it to a new genre of film. I wanted to do a hero with imperfections and flaws, things people can get in step with."

Rather than take his Con Air character, Cameron Poe, as it was handed to him, Cage refashioned him. Poe is a freshly paroled convict trying to get home in time for his daughter's birthday. He gets a lift on a Con Air flight, whose cargo consists of the seven baddest cons in the joint. The criminals, being transferred to a higher-security prison, attempt a hijack along the way. Cage changed Poe from a street fighter to an ex-Army ranger. "I had to make this man seem plausible as someone who could survive a situation that's incredibly dangerous," he says. "Also, I wanted to bring in a spiritual concept, which I hadn't seen in action movies." Cage's ideas met with resistance, but he prevailed. "I managed to stick to my guns. I'm proud of the character. I watch Con Air and I think: 'I made this guy. I got some clay together, and I built him.' "

Some of that clay came from Folsom Prison, where Cage went to research his role. "He talked to the guys there," recalls Bruckheimer, "picked up on the accents, the hair. Then he said to me, 'I'm going to be a cross between Elvis and Gregg Allman.' " Producers and directors have come to expect the unexpected from Cage. He once modeled a character's voice (for Peggy Sue Got Married) after the voice of Gumby's horse, Pokey, and another time from the voiceover of a L'egg's pantyhose ad. "Nick is the definition of the spirit of play," says Travolta. "He lives with his creativity in high gear."

At the moment, it's his Lamborghini that's staking a claim on high gear. "What I like about this car," Cage is saying, "is the way it sounds. It has this nice, low animal roar. And then on top of that, high-pitched jet whining sounds." Cage hits the accelerator. It sounds like driver's ed, when the car wants to be in third and you have it in first. And then, on top of that, someone using a hair dryer in the back seat. But what do I know? I drive a '66 Volvo. Cage asks me what model.

He looks pleased. "The Saint!"

"Actually, I call it the Slug."

"No, I mean that's the car the Saint drove, on TV. Great car." (As it turns out, Cage has the Slug confused with a different '66 Volvo.)

Cage prefers the term "enthusiast" to "collector" or "connoisseur." He's not obsessed; he's passionate. About cars, about glass, about cigars and comic-book art and Raymond Loewy model trains. About passion itself. "Passion is very important to me," he says in his measured way. "If you stop enjoying things, you've got to look at it, because it can lead to all kinds of depressing scenarios." Cage has an almost childlike enthusiasm for the good things in life.

Not necessarily the expensive things. He rhapsodizes about the sparkles in old cement sidewalks. He gets excited thinking about "what it feels like to drive to the beach and hear the sound of an engine and feel the sunlight on my face." He attributes his passionate nature to his father, August Coppola, a literature professor and brother of film director Francis Ford Coppola. (Wishing to be judged on his own merits, Nicolas dropped the Coppola name; "Cage" comes from a comic-book hero, Luke Cage.) "My father was always getting excited about something," Cage says. "It's genetically inside me somewhere."

Outside the Pacific Dining Car, Cage eyes a team of parking valets. "I wonder if they'll let me just park here."

"You're Nicolas Cage," I remind him. "You're driving a Lamborghini. You can park anywhere you want to."

"Well, I just, you know, I don't want to ..." The valet knocks on his window. Cage's end of the conversation sounds like Jimmy Stewart on a low self-esteem day: "Oops, hello. OK. All right. Oh, over there? Thank you, thank you." Earlier, I asked him how he'd describe himself if he were writing a personals ad. He thought for a while, and then he said: "Trying to do the right thing."

Where his family is concerned, that means respecting their privacy. He has made it clear: no questions about his wife, son or parents. Because I'm a journalist and I'm paid to do the wrong thing, I'll tell you what I know. In 1995 Cage married actress Patricia Arquette, eight years after walking up to her in an L.A. deli and proclaiming -- having never met or heard of her -- that one day she would be his wife. In the intervening years (the two dated only briefly the first time around), both Arquette and Cage had children with other people. Cage and ex-girlfriend Christina Fulton, also an actress, share custody of 6- year-old Weston. Cage himself had an atypical childhood. His mother, a modern dancer and choreographer, was hospitalized on and off for depression, leaving Cage's father to raise the children.

The T-bone is served. Cage picks up his knife. "I'm going in now." The meat is red inside, a half-shade shy of raw. "Sometimes," he drawls, "I just like 'em to run it through a warm room."

In his jeans and T-shirt, cutting into a steak, he could be any guy, just a Regular Joe eating dinner. I decide to give him a quick Regular Joe test. "So, Nick, do you own any power tools?"

"Power tools ..."

"You know, like a saw."

"Sure, yeah, I have a saw, yes. A hand saw." He has a funny look on his face, like maybe he plays it instead of using it to cut wood. "I use it to make wood objects with my son." No power tools.

Question 2: Does he turn to the sports page first? He doesn't. "The word 'sports' has always given me anxiety," Cage says. "I was the guy, when they had the lineup in school, who wasn't picked. So I've got a problem with sports."

Cage passes Item 3 (Name two or more actors on Baywatch), but Item 4 (Own a dog?) is questionable. It's a Chinese crown-crested hairless.

"Any other pets?"

"Well, my ... I, um, I have an octopus. And a boa constrictor."

Shades of another Nicolas Cage, the impulsive bad boy of the mid-'80s. It seems to me you buy an octopus for the same reason you smash a ketchup bottle against the wall on a date, or trash a studio trailer, or eat a live ****roach (all previous Cage antics). To get attention. To make an impression. To show off.

Cage looks hurt. "It's for Weston. Weston likes animals. I do, too. I like octopuses. I can't help it."

Cage freely admits that his behavior in his early 20s was something of a put-on, an attempt to generate a mythology around himself. "I wanted to make an image for myself as an outlaw type. A kind of rock 'n' roll sensibility."

The octopus is one of many sea creatures Cage houses in an aquarium at his house in the hills above L.A. I relate the story of my own aquarium. When I was around 14, I got tired of cleaning it and flushed the fish down the toilet. Cage stops chewing. "You flushed your fish down the toilet?" He resumes chewing. "Who am I to judge?" A minute goes by. He can't let it go. "It isn't the best thing to do to your animals, is it? I mean, you could have returned them to the pet store, probably."

"I'm sorry. Now I feel bad."

Cage's eyes are on his plate. "We all do things we wish we hadn't done."

As far as one person can know another in the space of two hours, Cage seems to me an earnest and well-intentioned individual. "Gracious, genuine and artistic" is how Travolta describes him. A thinking man, a man with a conscience. He refuses to pose with a gun in movie posters. It pains him to be thought of as beefcake. He almost seems ashamed of his muscles. "In Con Air, the body is a character," he explains. "I play a man who works out to survive." Cage mentions a recent article that describes him on the set of The Rock telling the director, "I want to rip my shirt off and show my pecs ..." Cage frowns. "I didn't say that. I've never used the words 'my pecs.' "

As much as Cage loves what he does, it seems to bother him that acting doesn't, ultimately, matter, that it's not "necessary." He tells me he's often wondered whether, if mankind colonized another planet, actors would be "one of the select few on the rocket." He shakes his head. "I don't think we would be. I think it'd be scientists and farmers and such."

Here's another character test for Cage: What do you do with a reporter who's parked her car in a lot that closed a half-hour ago? We try the gate. It's locked. Cage thinks a moment. "Well, you want to stay at my apartment?"

So I slept in Nicolas Cage's bed. He slept in a different bed, on the other side of town, where his house and his wife and his octopus are. The apartment is strictly a pied à terre for interviews and entertaining. Personal effects are as scarce as food. (Sum total of kitchen cabinet contents: Glenlivet scotch, Hershey's chocolate sauce, Pam cooking spray.) The walls are mauve; the carpet, faux leopard skin. We learn he has, in the heartless words of Phytorhum Shampoo, "lifeless" hair. A note signed "The Wife" pronounces him yummy. I take a copy of The Rock from a cabinet of videos and curl up on Cage's sofa, a green leather behemoth that turns corners and takes no guff. Cage's acting may not be necessary, but it sure makes for an entertaining evening.



Faery Queen of Cagealot Castle

Status: Offline
Posts: 8403
Date: 2:17 PM, 10/11/10
RE: The Unlikeliest Action Hero - good interview from 1997

Wow..... You have been busy Lady T! flowerface2

I so so love this interview thank you for posting it and for always finding such amazing stuff. It's always a pleasure to re visit these older interviews.starry

Clever how the writer weaves the concept of the 'unlikeliest action hero' into the encounter with real life Nic, the tough cool guy right there with the sensitive guy. What a compelling wink.gif combination.flowerface

How cool of him to let the journalist stay at his place, and what an experience for her! wow2




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