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Actober: Unleasing the Cage – Exploring the Career and Appeal of Nicolas Cage

To be a good actor you have to be something like a criminal, to be willing to break the rules to strive for something new.
Nicolas Cage

When you hear the name Nicolas Cage, what is the first thought that crosses your mind? Talented? Untalented? Genius? Insane? Overacting? Over-dramatic? Under appreciated? Over praised? Do all of these things apply to Nicolas Cage? Well, to some extent it can be argued that they do.

Nicolas Cage is unlike any other actor, a force of nature that never seems to run out of energy. Cage is a little like Marmite (a bitter-tasting spread to all those who are not from the UK), you either love him or you hate him. Although, it’s hard to hate certain films in which he’s the lead actor. Films like Raising Arizona, Leaving Las Vegas, Con Air, Face/Off are all hailed as masterpieces in their genre. And, Cage delivers a strong performance in all of these films and a performance which differs throughout these four films.

Although, he has almost become the butt of a joke nowadays, associated with bad films like Drive Angry, Ghost Rider and SSeason of the Witch. Many, would be quick to jump to call him a bad actor, but Cage is far too complex to simply dismiss him as a bad actor.

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There’s no doubt that in the past he had saddled with debt and has starred in some films simply for the pay check. The actor himself once confessed, in an email to director Paul Schrader, that he was “an A-list actor doing a A-list work who is being forced into B-list presentations because I had some hits in action films a million years ago.” Perhaps the average cinema goer, is put off by Cage’s reputation and associate him with negative press and in turn this has an effect on the jobs Cage gets offered?

Cage’s  performances have allowed him to retain his cult status for decades. He’s ideally suited for the VOD market, where name talent can bring more immediate commercial viability than in the studio arena. “Nick has built a solid VOD base, which allows him to continue to work in features while other actors have migrated to long-form television,” says Schrader, who directed Cage in two projects and seems to understand how to work with Cage to get a killer performances. There is a sense that Cage’s involvement and his name being attached to a project guarantees a certain amount of profitability on VOD, and this is reason why he has remained a success for so long.

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It is clear that Cage has an appeal which continues to pull people in. However, is Cage a good actor? There is no doubt that he is a man who is deeply committed to his craft. He calls his eccentric acting style Nouveau Shamanic and prepares for roles using this technique. In an interview Cage, explains that he came across the style after reading a book by Brian Bates called The Way of the Actor. Cage details how ”thousands of years ago, pre-Christian for example, the medicine men or the tribal shamans were really actors. What they would do is they would act out whatever the issues were with the villagers at that time, they would act it out and try to find the answers or go into a trance or go into another dimension, which is really just the imagination, and try to pull back something that would reflect the concerns of the group.”

Cage is referring to the early history of theatre, where the players donned masks and performed Biblical and moralistic stories on a traveling stage. Actors were nomads roaming the world. Whether you’re a fan of his work or not, you can’t help but admire how seriously he take his job. Nouveau Shamanic is not like The Method, the performance concept developed by Lee Strasberg, Stella Adler, and Sanford Meisner which itself is derived from Konstantin Stanislavski’s System of Acting. Adler, Meisner and Strasberg all had their own approaches to The Method, from behavioral to sociological and psychological.

This is problematic as it implies that there isn’t a true and ‘right’ way to giving a performance fuelled by The Method. With Cage, he isn’t trying to be authentic or tap into an inner turmoil. He isn’t trying to be naturalistic or realistic. Cage is trying to bring the viewer’s attention to the fact that he is performing. He cuts right to the root of what all of these methods are ultimately trying to get an actor to return to: their sense of play.

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During a 2004 episode of Inside the Actors Studio, James Lipton read Cage one of his own quotes, referencing his recent choice of roles. “I would probably have turned to crime. But I kept it on film.” Seeing Cage act on-screen is often like witnessing someone who is rebelling against the system. Cage doesn’t get on well with authority, and no one can tell Cage what to do. He simply acts on his own impulses. Whether he’s lost his mind or is simply pulling a kind of meta-level fast one on the public, he remains an enigma and compelling to watch on-screen.

Unlike many of his peers, who exist on the same level of fame, he does not see himself as a force beyond the screen or have delusions of film being a catalyst for social change. Off set, Cage is a private man. He keeps a low profile. In front on the camera, he can express himself freely; but sometimes he’s a little too free.

What Cage needs is to be reeled in from time to time, and given the right material he can give us a phenomenal performance which blows our minds. As Schrader points out that the actor can’t take full responsibility for the outcome of every role he takes on. “As an actor, he always provides that Nick Cage ‘spark. Nick will always provide the spark. It’s up to the individual project how best to use it.” A good director will recognise their actor’s potential and encourage them. You can release the Cage, but it’s always best to keep him on a tight leash.

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