A candid conversation with the oscar-winning actor about his strange dating habits, the famous coppola family and the fatal charm of that fabled cockroach
On the day of the 1996 Academy Awards ceremony, Nicolas Cage is dressed in a
Wide-lapelled Hugo Boss tux, walking around his apartment, a penthouse in
downtown Los Angeles that could be a set in a “Batman” movie, with burgundy
walls, deco furniture and sculptures of comic-book villains. He’s pacing,
‘”freaking out,” while waiting for his wife, actress Patricia Arquette, to
When she arrives, she finds a husband with nerves so frayed she realizes
immediate action must be taken. She puts on a CD and asks him to dance. The
couple do a spirited tango that calms Cage enough for them to leave in the limo
At the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, they sit for three interminable hours
before Jessica Lange approaches the podium to announce the Best Actor winner.
When Cage hears his name, he bounds up to the stage with his bow tie askew and
his face smudged with lipstick from Arquette. He clutches his Oscar so tightly
it looks as if he might crush it. No one would blame him if he did.
Cage, a professional actor since he was 17, has, at the age of 32, made more
than two dozen movies. Although many of them have been celebrated, he has never
been viewed as the type of mainstream actor– such as Tom Hanks or Tom
Cruise–who collects the big awards. Rather, he is a quirky outsider who has
portrayed, in the words of one writer, “more mondo bizarro, slack-jawed studs
than any other actor of his generation.” His reputation for recklessness, excess
and oddness hasn’t helped. Cage had his teeth pulled while shooting “Birdy” so
he could “connect” to the pain of his character, a wounded veteran. He trashed a
trailer on the set of “The Cotton Club.” He ate a cockroach–a live one–for
“Vampire’s Kiss.” With no movie role as an excuse, he smashed a ketchup bottle
against the wall in a restaurant to impress a girl and, as he said, “heighten
This is not to say that Cage hasn’t been taken seriously as an actor. He has
a significant following of fawning reviewers (Janet Maslin recently wrote in
“The New York Times” about the “riotous energy of his outward charm”) and
passionate fans. Although there have been a few forgettable roles in some
abysmal bombs–“Trapped in Paradise” remains one of the worst motion pictures
ever made his great performances are remarkable.
Directors rave about him. Norman Jewison, who directed him in “Moonstruck,”
calls him “a poet who will do anything. “Joel Coen, with whom Cage worked in
“Raising Arizona,” describes him as “a little Addams Family.” David (“Wild at
Heart”) Lynch calls him “a jazz musician of actors, completely unafraid.” Mike
Figgis of “Leaving Las Vegas” says simply, “He’s an artist. A brilliant
Before adopting his current stage name, Cage was Nicolas Coppola, son of Joy
Vogelsang, a modern dancer, and August Coppola of the famed Coppola family.
His uncle is director Francis Coppola, his aunt is actress Talia Shire and his
grandfather was the composer Carmine Coppola. August, a respected academic and
artist, was an eccentric parent. Nicolas’ mother suffered from mental illness
and was often institutionalized (the couple divorced when Cage was 12), and
August used a creative, if occasionally severe, hand in raising his three sons.
As the inventor of the Tactile Dome in San Francisco’ s Exploratorium museum,
August turned his children into guinea pigs by having them feel their way
through early versions of the obstacle course in the dark. Other kids might
watch sitcoms, but August took his children to see art-house movies to soak up
Federico Fellini and “Nosferatu’s” Max Schreck.
His first professional acting job was playing a surfer on TV’s’ “The Best of
Times.” After dropping out in his senior year at Beverly Hills High School (he
later earned a GED), Cage played small parts in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”
and his uncle’s “Rumble Fish.” Better roles came after he changed his name.
First he was cast in “Valley Girl” by director Martha Coolidge and then in
pivotal roles in such films as “Racing With the Moon,” “Birdy, … Peggy Sue Got
Married” (during which he met Jim Carrey, now a close friend), “Raising
Arizona” and “Moonstruck.” “Wild at Heart” and “Vampire’s Kiss” both helped
build his reputation for weirdness (as did the recent “Kiss of Death”). Then he
began to cross over into more mainstream films, including “Honeymoon in Vegas,”
“Guarding Tess” and “It Could Happen to You.” But just when it seemed that he
was switching to family entertainment, he signed on to play the riveting main
character in “Leaving Las Vegas.”
The movie was based on a novel by John O’Brien, a writer who killed himself
a few weeks after learning his book was to be made into a movie. Cage’s
character guzzles vast amounts of booze while carrying on a tortured affair with
a hooker (played by Elisabeth Shue). The $ 3.5 million independent film almost
wasn’t released, but Cage’s performance helped make it a quiet hit and brought
him new stature–along with the Oscar statuette.
Cage followed “Leaving Las Vegas” with “The Rock,” his first
action-adventure film. Two more such movies are coming: “Con Air,” in which he
plays a prisoner, and a futuristic John Woo movie in which he will costar with
Cage, who lives between movie sets in two homes in Los Angeles and one in
San Francisco, has had a series of turbulent relationships. With actress
Kristina Fulton he had a son, Weston, now 5. Cage and Fulton split in 1991
during the filming of “Honeymoon in Vegas,” but he remains close with his son.
His two-year romance with model Kristen Zang ended during the filming of
“Leaving Las Vegas. “A year ago, he married Arquette, whom he met at a Los
Contributing Editor David Sheff, whose interview with Salman Rushdie
appeared here in April, caught up with Cage during a rare hiatus. Sheff reports:
“Cage has two homes in L.A. The first is an 11-room house built in the style
of a German castle in the Hollywood hills, and the second, where we met, is an
apartment in a part of town that isn’t frequented by white people, let alone
white movie stars. That’s exactly why he chose it. He’s rarely recognized on the
streets in the predominantly, Hispanic neighborhood and says it’s a revelation:
‘I can pretend I’m living incognito in some South American country.’
“Cage gave me a tour of the apartment and offered coffee. Although he is
said to be weird and intense, I found him sincere, gentle and circumspect. Once,
when the tape recorder stopped rolling, he worried aloud if he might hurt
people’s feelings by his candor. But when the interview resumed, he said that he
didn’t know how to talk any way but truthfully.”
PLAYBOY: You’re the nephew of director Francis Coppola and his sister,
actress Talia Shire, and your grandfather was an Academy Award-winning composer.
Is talent genetic?
CAGE: There certainly are creative families. All I know is that for whatever
reason, I was drawn to acting at an early age. It wasn’t because of influences
as much as it was a way of expressing myself. I put on puppet shows and wore
makeup to disguise myself. I saw how one could go undercover and create
characters. I used this knowledge once to stop getting beat up on my way to
PLAYBOY: How did acting stop you from getting beat up?
CAGE: Throughout fourth grade, a bully came up to me every day on the school
bus. Abig, fat bully. He forced me to give him the Twinkie from my lunch bag or
get slammed. One day I thought, I’m not going to do this anymore. I put on my
brother’s jeans and a pair of cowboy boots, slicked back my hair and put on some
shades. I got on the bus, went up to the bully and told him I was Roy Wilkinson,
Nicky Coppola’s cousin. I said, “If you mess with him again I’m going to kick
your ass.” He bought it, and the next day, when I got on the bus as Nicky
Coppola, he left me alone.
PLAYBOY: That sounds like a story contrived for a movie star’s bio. Did it
CAGE: It absolutely happened. I did it another time, too. There was another
neighborhood bully who was always beating me and my older brothers up. One day I
became the Incredible Hulk. I took off my shirt and screamed as loud as I
could and chased him. I was just a skinny little runt of a kid, but he ran off.
PLAYBOY: What did you learn from those experiences?
CAGE: That I could act and that there was power in being able to act.
PLAYBOY: Were you encouraged by your family?
CAGE: The opposite. When I was in high school, I went to audition for a
school play and came home late. The dishes weren’t washed and my father let me
know it. “Nicolas, you are never going to be an actor, so don’t even bother to
try.” It was the one time I stood up to my father. I just lost it. I said,
“You’re wrong. I am going to be an actor. You are going to wish you hadn’t said
that to me.” Later he said he did it to make me want to prove him wrong, but I
don’t believe him. There always was this strange dynamic with my father. He’s
given me so much in terms of my ability to look at the world in a special way,
because he’s a great thinker. But at the same time, there’s this thing. I don’t
know how to explain it, but I think it has something to do with my mother
telling him that I wasn’t his kid.
PLAYBOY: Why did she do that?
CAGE: They were fighting and she just said it to him: “Nicky’s not your
child?” She admitted to me that she told him that in the heat of anger. I’m sure
she doesn’t feel good about it, but you know how people say things in an
argument. I said, “But I’ve lived with that anger from my father for 30 years.”
The fact is, if you look at a picture of my dad and you look at me, it’s obvious
that I’m his son. But it was always there. I never knew there was this question
until my mother, in the hospital, told me about it. She apologized. But there
has always been an edge from my father toward me, and that must be the reason.
PLAYBOY: What kind of person is he?
CAGE: He’s one of the most remarkable characters anybody’s going to meet.
How can I explain my father? He intimidates my friends. They get uncomfortable
around him. For starters, he’s an imposing-looking figure–white sideburns, a
combination of Sean Connery and Beethoven. When I was a kid, the other kids were
seeing Disney and he was showing us movies like Fellini’s Juliet of the Spirits.
This was before video, so he would take us to the art-house cinemas. I saw
Citizen Kane, and that’s when I discovered Max Schreck and Nosferatu and Dr.
Caligari, which gave me nightmares.
PLAYBOY: What type of nightmares?
CAGE: At four, I used to have this terrible nightmare that I was on the
toilet and this giant blonde genie woman in a gold bikini would reach into the
bathroom window like King Kong and pluck me off of the toilet seat and laugh at
me. My father would come into my room when I was screaming and say, “Think of
the white horse. The white horse will come and take your bad dreams away.” And
it did. I would meditate on the white horse. I would visualize it in the black.
Now I say that to my son, Weston.
PLAYBOY: Do you understand what that dream meant?
CAGE: No. But I remember another one, too: a clown scaling a building like
Spider-Man. I knew he was coming and I would look out the window and he would
look up and smile at me as he was coming. These and other dreams pervaded my
childhood. I was scared of many things. My father created the Tactile Dome in
San Francisco’s Exploratorium. You crawl in total darkness and feel your way
through sponges and netting and you fall into two tons of birdseed or land on a
water bed. But we were going through this exhibit when we were, like, six, and
it scared the shit out of me. Looking at it now, it’s brilliant. Disneyland
wanted him to do one, but he wouldn’t because he wanted it to be free.
PLAYBOY: Your father was an unusual man, but your mother was deeply troubled
for a long time, wasn’t she?
CAGE: She was plagued with mental illness for most of my childhood. She was
institutionalized for years and went through shock treatments. She would go into
these states that lasted for years. She went through these episodes of poetry–
I don’t know what else to call it. She would say the most amazing things,
beautiful but scary. I’m sure they had an impact on me. If I look at home movies
of when I was two years old, I see that she was a very caring mother–the way
she touched me. I remember one birthday party when I got scared by all the
candles. I’d try to run away and she would turn me back. It was very beautiful.
But the hardest part was going to visit her in the institutions. I was quite
young. There was a long hallway we had to walk down to see Mom, past people
grabbing at us. At the end of it, she was always there, sitting, waiting.
Sometimes she would go into a Rip Van Winkle mode and forget everything that had
happened–that her father had died or that I had become an actor. She’s fine
now, but much time was lost.
PLAYBOY: How does a child cope with something like that?
CAGE: The strangest thing about it is that, even when things got really
bizarre, I was able to detach and look at it with a scientific curiosity. I’m
sure it had some impact on me, though. I do consider her the driving force in my
PLAYBOY: Maybe her illness was behind the nightmares.
CAGE: Maybe, yet I always felt protected. She never wanted to hurt anybody.
The hardest part was seeing someone I love suffer.
PLAYBOY: What was the impact on your father?
CAGE: He stayed married for 16 years trying to make it work, and that’s a
heck of a situation. His blood pressure went up. He did most of the raising of
PLAYBOY: Was he able to help you understand what was going on with your
CAGE: I don’t know. It was really hard on him. I think he got angry. It’s an
impossible situation, as anybody should know. I wouldn’t change it for anything
in one way: I think it made my life rich and gave me a depth of emotion; it’s
like a blessing in disguise. I gained something from it. It gave me an insight
and a sensitivity that I don’t think I would have had.
PLAYBOY: When they finally split up, was it traumatic?
CAGE: No. I was relieved. It was uncomfortable, though. I had to sit down
and talk with the judge. I went in and smiled the whole way through the meeting.
PLAYBOY: Was it a question of whom you wanted to live with?
CAGE: Yeah. And that was a sad day because my mother, obviously, wasn’t able
to raise us, yet she still tried to be strong and have dignity, and she wanted
custody. You know, you see shows like The Brady Bunch and they paint these
pictures of a family without problems. That’s not fair. It makes everybody feel
like they are abnormal.
PLAYBOY: Was your Uncle Francis a major influence in your life?
CAGE: I had great summer vacations with his family, and I lived with them
for a while. Francis is a powerful man who enjoys his position.
PLAYBOY: Like the Godfather?
CAGE: Yeah. There’s a strange mixture of pride and competition that I
sometimes feel in the family. Very intense. It’s a family rich in the sense of
passion and feeling. We come from a long line of robbers and highwaymen in
Italy, you know. Killers, even. It’s loaded with grudges and passion. There is
also a lot of creativity.
PLAYBOY: Did you really once chase him around humming the theme from The
CAGE: We were playing miniature golf when they decided to play that theme
over the loudspeaker. So I continued to hum it. I wouldn’t stop. He was ready to
PLAYBOY: Did he encourage you to act?
CAGE: In some ways, but he was always hard on me. It was a mixed blessing. I
started acting when I was 17 and my fellow actors didn’t accept me. They said I
was there because of Francis Coppola. These actors know who they are. I felt I
had to work twice as hard as the next guy to prove myself. I felt the burden of
being his nephew. On the set of Fast Times at Ridgemont High, the actors would
congregate outside my trailer and recite a version of Robert Duvall’s line from
Apocalypse Now: “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.” But they said, “I
love the smell of Nicolas in the morning.” It was psychologically hard: No
matter how good you are, you feel you’re not good enough. So I really had
something to prove.
PLAYBOY: To others or to yourself?
CAGE: To others. See, I knew something that no one else could possibly know.
I knew that I had wanted to act long before I knew anything else. Long before I
knew who Francis was. I knew it as a six-year-old boy sitting on the rug in my
living room, fantasizing about how I could get inside the TV and be one of those
people. It was a coincidence that my uncle was a great director.
PLAYBOY: Still, do you deny that Coppola opened doors for you in the
CAGE: I can’t deny that he had an impact on my career, but, as I said, in
some ways I had to work harder. When I finally auditioned for him–for The
Outsiders– he kept me there for hours and turned me down.
PLAYBOY: But he did cast you in Rumble Fish, The Cotton Club and Peggy Sue
CAGE: Yeah. But what really helped me was when I was able to disassociate
myself from him. At first I was working as Nicolas Coppola. When I changed my
name, everything changed. I auditioned for Valley Girl as Nicolas Cage.
PLAYBOY: How did you decide on Cage?
CAGE: The name came from an African American comic-book superhero I love,
PLAYBOY: And what happened after you changed your name?
CAGE: I arrived on the set of Valley Girl and the director didn’t know I was
related to anyone. I got the part that day. It was the validation I needed. I
felt like I was floating, like all this baggage was gone. Francis saw the movie
and called. I could hear the excitement in his voice. He wanted me to be in his
next two movies.
PLAYBOY: The most often reported story about one of those movies, Cotton
Club, is how you destroyed a trailer. gAGE: I was very frustrated on Cotton
Club. I was slated for three weeks of work. I was there for six months, in
costume, in makeup, on the set, in case Francis got an idea that would involve
my character. Meanwhile, I’m getting offers for starring roles in other movies
and I can’t do them. So my behavior–all the acting out—came from frustration.
I was young.
PLAYBOY: Despite that, he cast you in Peggy Sue Got Married.
CAGE: Yeah. I turned it down four times.
PLAYBOY: What convinced you to take it?
CAGE: Francis did. He said it was like Our Town. He said he really wanted me
to be in it. I asked, “If I do it, can I change my voice and do something
different with it?” He asked, “How different?” I said, “I want to talk like
Pokey.” You know, from The Gumby Show.
PLAYBOY: Why Pokey?
CAGE: I was channel surfing and I heard that voice. It stuck with me. That’s
the way my brain works. My character was an adult who goes back to high school,
when guy’s voices haven’t necessarily changed yet. Also, Francis was doing a
story about a woman who goes back in time via her dream. He painted the trees
pink and the sidewalk salmon. Why can’t actors bend things a little bit, too?
PLAYBOY: And Coppola went for it?
CAGE: He said, “We’ll see what happens in rehearsals.” So I started doing
this way-out voice and people were rolling their eyes, saying, “What the hell is
going on?” Kathleen Turner came over and said, “You know, film is a permanent
record. Be careful what you do.”
PLAYBOY: Why didn’t you listen?
CAGE: I had a strong-willed way of looking at things. I guess you could say
I was confident. In my 22-year-old mind, I wanted to change acting. I was
reading books about Edvard Munch, about how people were lambasted for their art.
I welcomed the idea of bad reviews because that would mean I was doing something
that challenged the critics. I thought I could change acting, which isn’t really
my goal anymore. But at that time I was headstrong.
PLAYBOY: Do you think you were unfairly skewered for Peggy Sue Got Married?
CAGE: It was expected. I didn’t care. I was happy with the result of the
movie. A lot of my friends who didn’t like it at first now like it. It did well;
Kathleen Turner got an Academy Award nomination and it made a lot of money. But
I was lambasted by critics. I was the wart on an otherwise beautiful movie.
Francis blamed me; he hasn’t asked me to work with him since. I wanted to be in
The Godfather Part III. I thought that I would be a more logical choice as
Jimmy Caan’s son than Andy Garcia. I would have loved to be in Dracula. Dracula
is one of my favorite characters in literature. Much of my lifestyle is modeled
after him. I don’t drink blood, but otherwise–
CAGE: I just admire the sensibility. The Gothic decor of my homes is
inspired by it. To me Dracula is love in exile. I’m very inspired by that idea.
PLAYBOY: Have you told your uncle that you feel slighted?
CAGE: No. That’s not the way it works in my family.
PLAYBOY: Although many reviewers hated your performance in Peggy Sue, Cher
apparently liked it. Based on it she selected you as her co-star in Moonstruck.
CAGE: She was amazing that way. She saw something that nobody else saw. You
wouldn’t think of the guy who was sort of Jerry Lewis on acid as a romantic,
PLAYBOY: Did she ever tell you what convinced her?
CAGE: She said she had just recovered from a car accident when she saw Peggy
Sue Got Married. My performance, she said, was like watching a two-hour car
PLAYBOY: That made her want to work with you?
CAGE: Shrugs I know how it sounds.
PLAYBOY: Do you consider Moonstruck an important movie in your career?
CAGE: That was the only movie I made that went into blockbuster status. Now
I look back on it and think, God, I was starring opposite Cher. I was 23 and
doing romantic scenes with her. I was about the same age as Eric Stoltz, who
played her son in Mask. There was an incredible amount of pressure to have a
certain amount of male power with her. I remember thinking, I’m going to imagine
what it would be like to kiss her. When we did kiss, there was a lot of power
there. She’s obviously a passionate woman. My only disappointment was that some
of my best work was cut by the director. Norman Jewison took me out for dinner
afterward and said he had to cut some of my scenes because they overshadowed the
PLAYBOY: Was he right?
CAGE: I don’t know. On the one hand, if he had kept them in, maybe I would
have gotten an Oscar nomination, too. You have to understand: This man is the
conductor and he’s trying to make the orchestra work. I am more certain that
some of my work in Vampire’s Kiss should not have been cut. It was unfair: I was
the driving force of that movie. And it was some of the best work that I have
PLAYBOY: Did you really eat a live cockroach for that movie?
CAGE: Yeah. The script said it was supposed to be a raw egg. But it didn’t
make sense to me that my character would eat a raw egg. He thinks he’s a
vampire. I was trying to graduate up the food chain from pistachio to cockroach
to pigeon to person.
PLAYBOY: Sounds logical.
CAGE: Yeah. And there was another factor: I knew that if I ate the bug, you
and I would still be talking about it today. People wouldn’t forget that.
PLAYBOY: Couldn’t it have been a fake cockroach?
CAGE: It had to be real. I wanted everyone to know that the bug went into my
mouth. I’m sure that’s the reason the movie has stayed on video-store shelves
for so long. I hope there are other reasons–I think it’s a good movie–but
people want to see the movie in which the guy eats a real bug.
The fact is, I’m not sure I like being associated with cockroaches. I’m not
that wild about them. Yet cockroaches and I have become linked. My manager threw
a birthday party for me once and there was a giant cake in the shape of a
PLAYBOY: Would you do something that extreme for a role now?
CAGE: I don’t think so. I’ve learned a lot since then.
PLAYBOY: Would you have your teeth pulled for a movie, as you did for Birdy?
CAGE: I wouldn’t. I didn’t need to pull my teeth out then. Medically I
did–my baby teeth weren’t coming out–but I didn’t need to do it while I was
making the movie.
PLAYBOY: Why did you?
CAGE: I thought it would be a way to connect with some kind of physical
pain. I don’t know what I was doing. I found myself, at 19, in a demanding role
without proper training. I would cut my script up into a million pieces and tape
monologs all over my hotel-room walls so that wherever I looked I saw my lines.
I kept on the facial bandages I wore for the role, which was more interesting
than pulling the teeth because of the reaction in public places. The way teenage
girls would look at me and laugh. I thought, What if I really were bandaged up?
What would that reaction do to me?
PLAYBOY: The lore is that your dentist didn’t use Novocain.
CAGE: Of course he did. But it still was painful when the Novocain wore off.
People embellish things. But I admit I did things for effect that I wouldn’t do
now. I no longer need to live my part when I’m not in front of the camera.
PLAYBOY: There are other infamous off-screen antics. What’s the truth behind
the bizarre story about you and Jim Carrey abducting a room-service waiter when
you were making Peggy Sue?
CAGE: That story was blown out of proportion. We were young and fooling
around, and the guy knew we were joking. I know there are stories about me, some
of which I generated. But I started acting at an early age and didn’t have
proper training. I was doing what I thought my heroes would do. In those days I
was trying to create my own mythology. I had heard all the stories about my
heroes, so I wanted to make stories for myself.
PLAYBOY: Heroes such as?
CAGE: Marlon Brando, Montgomery Clift, Cary Grant, Robert De Niro.
PLAYBOY: Stories like?
CAGE: Living the part, pushing things past the limit, pushing yourself the
way Brando, in his death scene in Mutiny on the Bounty, was lying on a block of
ice so that he would be shivering the shivers of death. The way Clift stayed up
all night to do a scene in which he was tired or De Niro gained 40 or 50 pounds
to play Jake LaMotta. That kind of stuff. That reckless, adventurous style was
fun and fascinating.
PLAYBOY: But it’s behind you now?
CAGE: Yes. I learned from that period in my life. I sensed what was useful
and what wasn’t. I also came to understand that I have a life to live. I can’t
interrupt my life each time a new role comes along. That’s not to say that an
element of the character doesn’t stay with me. But I know how to turn it off
when I go home. And I’ve learned that you can use the feelings better from a
distance than by being immersed in someone else. The poet doesn’t write the poem
when he’s crying the tears of pain that inspired it. He writes the poem after he
has cried the tears.
PLAYBOY: Did you learn this the hard way?
CAGE: Women in my life were not happy living with a character who wasn’t me.
I don’t do that anymore, though there is always an influence of the character
PLAYBOY: During Honeymoon in Vegas, you apparently freaked out your co-star,
Sarah Jessica Parker, because of your gambling. Was that more method acting?
CAGE: When you’re living in Las Vegas for a couple of months, it’s
impossible to walk by the tables and not throw something down to see what
happens. The whole casino is geared so you do that. You can’t find where you
want to go, you can’t find exits easily, the rooms are pumped with oxygen so
you can’t sleep. You’re always up and you go downstairs and you gamble. I was
making small bets–$ 50 on red or black–but wasn’t getting off on them. So I
started going for the bigger numbers. It made her a little nervous. But I wasn’t
the guy at the baccarat table betting a million dollars.
PLAYBOY: How much were you betting?
CAGE: At one point it got up to about ten grand. She was getting ill. I lost
ten grand and I couldn’t get it back. I went up to my room and ran on the
treadmill for about an hour so I could feel better about myself. Then I set my
alarm for half an hour before the set call. I went down to the table and bet
twenty grand and got all my money back. Then I stopped. I never bet again. I
didn’t like the way it made me feel. The only feeling that’s more poignant than
being a winner is the feeling of being a loser. I don’t like that feeling, so I
never did it again.
PLAYBOY: But what would have happened if you had lost the $ 20,000?
CAGE: I would have gone to 40, 80, 160– until I got it back. I was going to
get my money back.
PLAYBOY: That movie began what you call your “sunshine trilogy.” Did you
plan to lighten up?
CAGE: It was an accident and it was also thought out. I had reached a point
where people had an idea about who I was. There is a narrow-minded consciousness
in Hollywood. As shocking as it seems, they really think you’re the character
you play. I did weird movies like Wild at Heart, in which I wore a snakeskin
jacket and, part of the time, a prosthetic: a big, black-and-blue nose. I did
other weird movies. So it was, “Nick Cage? He’s the guy with the snakeskin
jacket and the wooden hand in Moonstruck , and he eats cockroaches. He’s not
right for that role, you know.” You can intense yourself right out of the
business; I’ve seen it happen.
I neglected doing comedies for some time. Part of it was that I didn’t want
to acknowledge that side of myself. I knew it was there, though; I knew that in
elementary school, it helped me make friends and survive. So I decided to tap
into comedy. The three movies I did at that time were Honeymoon in Vegas, It
Could Happen to You and Guarding Tess.
PLAYBOY: After these mainstream movies, what drew you to Leaving Las Vegas?
CAGE: The script astounded me. I was crying when I finished reading it. It
is, more than anything, a story about unconditional love. It is definitely one
of the coolest relationships I’ve ever read in a screenplay. There’s something
about true love that is incredibly elusive. But my character, Ben Sanderson,
found true love. Ben dies, but is it a sad ending? I don’t know.
PLAYBOY: We read that the breakup with your girlfriend, Kristen Zang, fueled
CAGE: The split-up was a difficult one; it had been a tumultuous
relationship. But it was also a sweet relationship. We just weren’t right for
each other. I was a lot older than she was. I had to get up early and she liked
to sleep in like you do when you’re 18. She wanted to go to nightclubs. So there
was a sadness when we had to split up and that sadness went into the movie,
because the breakup came around the same time. A lot of the times when I was
saying “I love you,” I was just heartbroken.
PLAYBOY: Did it surprise you that this was the movie that brought you an
CAGE: I was surprised it got released. Maybe the Academy is changing. I’m
not knocking studio movies; I think they’re cogent and valuable and help
people enjoy their lives–and I make them. But the past few Oscars were geared
toward big studio movies. It seemed as if a movie had to do well to have a shot.
Well, the fact that they gave me the award for a movie that cost $ 3.5 million
and which was shot on 16mm film seemed like a huge statement on their behalf:
that they were changing and now were open to alternative movies that took
chances and weren’t afraid to end tragically. A lot of people had said Leaving
Las Vegas would be too dark for the Academy.
PLAYBOY: You were predicted to win. Did that make you less nervous?
CAGE: No. In some ways it was worse: What if I don’t win? I’m not one to
assume. I didn’t even want to prepare a speech; I had written one in case I won
the Independent Spirit Award that was presented a few weeks earlier. When Sean
Penn won that one, I crumpled up my speech and threw it out. It’s not something
you want to do to yourself. I was afraid that that would happen again.
PLAYBOY: Was it jarring to go from the small, low-budget Leaving Las Vegas
to your latest release, The Rock, a big-budget thriller with Scan Connery?
CAGE: Yeah, but that’s the idea. I was trying to go as far away from Leaving
Las Vegas as I could. I did Las Vegas for me, for my soul–I wanted to do
something that I could be proud of. There are certain movies like that. Red
Rock West was another guerrilla, low-budget movie I did without even knowing if
it would be released. I thought it would be an interesting dichotomy. I thought
it would be mysterious: How is he going from this little art film to a $ 70
million studio film? It’s not the kind of thing you’re normally allowed to do.
It’s also a way to keep the machinery going–big-paying movies help me afford to
do things like Leaving Las Vegas.
PLAYBOY: Are you a Sean Connery fan?
CAGE: He was one of my heroes at an early age. I kind of learned what being
a man was about by watching James Bond. Now I realize that it’s other things–
more important other things. But I loved that image. My father looks a lot like
Sean Connery. When my dad took me to see Dr. No at the drive-in, I imagined
myself as James Bond’s son.
PLAYBOY: What do you think of Pierce Brosnan and the other Bonds?
CAGE: Connery was the best by far. He had an ease in that role that no one
has touched. Of course, part of it was the times. Now you can’t do a lot of what
he did in those movies. If you were to smack a woman’s behind to send her out of
the room, you would be in big trouble. He didn’t have to worry about being
politically correct. But for all the talk about how sexist that early Bond
was, every woman I know thinks Sean Connery is the greatest thing that ever
happened. So he’s doing something right.
PLAYBOY: Your salary is shooting up into the multimillions per
movie–reportedly $ 4 million to $ 7 million. Do those numbers make you chuckle?
CAGE: I don’t chuckle. I have respect for the dollar.
PLAYBOY: It’s a lot of money.
CAGE: There’s one thing I have some difficulty with, and that’s hanging on
to money. I find ways of spending money that mystify everybody around me.
They’re amazed. They want to know how I do it.
PLAYBOY: How do you?
CAGE: OK, let’s break it down. I live in Los Angeles and grew up in the car
culture. When I was 16, I got my first Triumph Spitfire, and my father wouldn’t
let me drive it.
PLAYBOY: Was he afraid you’d crash?
CAGE: I don’t know why he wouldn’t let me drive my own car. I would sit in
that car and pretend to drive it. In the meantime, he would drive it with my
stepmother. I bought it with my own money but had to watch him and my stepmother
driving it with the top down. I would have to pretend that I was driving.
Finally I got it registered and then the car didn’t want to work. It was always
breaking down and I was always dragging it into the shop. I went to a rather
well-off high school, Beverly Hills High, but we didn’t have any money. We lived
right where it says YOU ARE NOW ENTERING BEVERLY HILLS. My father wanted me to
go to that school because he thought it was a good one, so I would take the bus.
None of the pretty girls wanted to go out with me. They didn’t want to ride the
fucking bus with me! OK? On prom night, I had a date. My grandmother had given
my brothers and me savings bonds. One brother cashed his bonds and got a stereo
system. My other brother bought a used car. I cashed my bonds and rented a
tuxedo and a limousine so I could take this beautiful girl to the prom. We’re at
the prom and I kissed her. When she responded I was so nervous I started
throwing up. The limo driver wouldn’t let me back into the limousine because
there was vomit on my shoes. So I walked home. That was my prom.
That’s the background. Then I finally started to make some money. I go for
cars. Do you understand? The cars I go for are the ones I’ve always dreamed
about. Italian cars.
CAGE: Ferraris, Lamborghinis. I have a lot of Italian furniture, I love
Italian wine, I love Italian clothes, and there is nothing like an Italian car.
Forget the fashion or the status crap–I don’t buy into that. But I do think
there’s an incredible amount of creativity coming out of that country. They say
the three ways that God shows himself to us is through the birth of a child, the
discovery of true love and the creation of a work of art. To me, a handmade car
is a work of art. It’s rolling sculpture.
PLAYBOY: Of all your cars, do you have a favorite?
CAGE: The Lamborghini is like a triple espresso. It’s like a bull, which is
its symbol. You can’t go anywhere without the police stopping you. You don’t
have to be moving. They’ll stop you just because you’re in that car. They will
give you a ticket even when the guy in the AMC Pacer is doing 100 and you’re
doing 35. They resent it. So I rarely drive it; only very late at night. Anyway,
at least I admit it. These actors work all their lives and start to make money
and say, “I’m not really into it, the money’s no big deal.” I think about the
guy who’s out there struggling for his next dime, listening to the actor saying
his millions are no big deal, and the guy says, “Fuck you.” I agree: Fuck him. I
admit I like having the ability to buy these cars. The money also allows me to
make low-budget movies for no pay, and it may allow me to branch out and try
other things. I want to make my own car–to design one. I’d like to start a
music company and a comic-book company.
PLAYBOY: What types of comic books do you read?
CAGE: All sorts. There’s one I like called Hard Boiled by Frank Miller and
Geof Darrow. It’s very intense with highly detailed drawings. I also like some
of the erotic comics. There’s a lot to be said for these Japanese cartoons of
girls doing sexy things.
PLAYBOY: What are the best sex comics?
CAGE: Legend of the Overfiend is a great one. It’s operatic. It’s not
something you’d want your kids to look at, but it’s wonderful.
PLAYBOY: For a fan of comic books, it’s surprising that you haven’t done
more thrillers or science fiction movies.
CAGE: Yeah. I would do them if they were offered to me. I want to be able to
make every kind of movie, whatever comes along that keeps it interesting. The
action-adventure genre is seen by more people than any other kind of movie in
the world. It’s nice to know that the work is going to be seen. This genre pays
better, too. And I see a need in this genre for character. With the exceptions
of Harrison Ford, Sean Connery and Clint Eastwood, I don’t think actors in
action movies have figured out how to do thoughtful characters. The others are
the same stoic, monotone men who obliterate everybody and save the day. So there
is an opportunity to inject the character with flaws and depth. That’s what I’m
PLAYBOY: Might you be accused of selling out for the big bucks?
CAGE: People will say whatever they want to say, but I do what I want. I
can’t worry about what people think. I’m interested in doing what I want and
working with great people.
PLAYBOY: How did you prepare for the role of the convict in Con Air?
CAGE: I went to Folsom State Prison to do research for that part. I had to
sign a waiver that said that there was a no-hostage policy, which meant that if
I was taken hostage, too bad, I couldn’t sue. So I go out in the yard with 3000
killers. My adrenaline was really high. I wanted to interview some of the guys
who I thought would look like my character. It was scary. I asked one guy, “How
do you stay alive?” He said, “You’ve just gotta get hectic.” What you mean?
“Just gotta get desperate, man.” There was one guy with four tattooed tears down
one side of his face, a mustache, a shaved head and a Jewish star on the other
side of his face. I went up to this big white guy who wore these wraparound
shades and said, “Listen, hi, I’m making a movie, and I’m just an actor, but is
there anything about jail life that you’d like to see in a movie that you
haven’t seen, anything about movies that deal with prison that really pisses you
off?” He just stared at me and said, “I got nothing to say to you.” I left.
PLAYBOY: Is that type of research really necessary?
CAGE: It’s just what I do. It’s what I look forward to most about being an
actor– the foreign correspondent, or journalist, aspect.
PLAYBOY: Next you’re doing Face Off with John Travolta, directed by John
Woo. Who else would you be interested in working with?
CAGE: Tarantino. He has a great command of humor and an understanding of
cinema all in one. I sat with him at the American Film Institute’s dinner for
Clint Eastwood. He told me it would be really cool if I screamed out fuck at the
Academy Awards ceremony if I lost. I told him what he needed to do to be cool
right then and there. Everybody was at the dinner: Nicholson, Beatty,
Hoffman-everybody. Even Don Rickles. I said, “I know a way for you to be
really cool.” He said, “What?” I said, “If you want to be really cool, stand up
right now and yell that you’re the biggest star in the room. Just do that, and
you’ll be really cool.” He started laughing like, Oh no, don’t make me do that.
But he’s a great director. His movies have a whole new energy. It’s a relentless
kind of energy. It’s like certain kinds of music that I listen
to–uncompromising, angry music. It comes out as sort of an assault.
PLAYBOY: What music in particular?
CAGE: I run the gamut with music. It’s something that’s always affected the
work. The acting. Miles Davis has had a big impact on me. I listened to the Kind
of Blue album the whole time I was doing Leaving Las Vegas. When I was doing
Peggy Sue Got Married I listened to Lou Reed’s Transformer. He would sing a bit
out of tune, and that sucked me into the song even more than if he had been
singing in pristine fashion. I met Miles on The Dick Cavett Show years ago. It
was right after Raising Arizona. I was talking about acting, how it can be like
other art forms–like Picasso drawing a picture of his wife with her mouth
hanging down on the floor, or music. I took a lot of flak for it. People didn’t
get it. Miles Davis came on, looked at me and said, “I hear what you’re saying,
man.” He stayed in my thoughts after that. And I still listen to the records.
From what I understand from my musical friends, jazz is the hardest to master.
Only once you master it can you start to detach and improvise, get abstract,
go for it. That’s also been my understanding of the great painters. Only once
they mastered the laws of light and perspective and all that could they go for
it–only then could Picasso go to cubism, for example. I wanted to go for it
PLAYBOY: How has fatherhood changed your life?
CAGE: I’ve slowed down. I’m a worrywart now. It brings a new kind of
emotion, a depth that wasn’t there before. I’m always aware that what I do could
affect my son. You don’t want to wake up hungover when you have a child. Being a
father has had more of an impact on my life than anything else before or since.
One of the amazing things about children is that they automatically cut out any
debauchery or decadence left over from your youth. As soon as Weston was born I
stopped smoking and started buckling my seat belt.
PLAYBOY: In 1989 PLAYBOY asked you in a 20 Questions about the last time the
moon hit your eye like a big pizza pie. You said, “It hasn’t happened yet and
I’m 24.” Has it since?
CAGE: Definitely. Absolutely. I felt that way with Patricia.
PLAYBOY: Love at first sight?
CAGE: Yup. I met her at Canter’s, a deli, a long time ago–eight years ago.
I said, “I want to marry you.” She said, “You’re crazy,” and she didn’t believe
PLAYBOY: Can you blame her?
CAGE: No, but I was serious. So I asked her to put me on a quest. At the end
of that quest, if I succeeded in bringing her what she asked for, then she would
have to marry me. When she gave me the list, I knew even more that this was the
right person for me, because it was so inventive and creative. She wanted a
black orchid. She wanted J.D. Salinger’s signature-and anybody who reads knows
that he hardly ever signed anything. She wanted a wedding dress from the Lisu
tribe in northern Thailand and one of those Bob’s Big Boy statues. So I set out
on my quest.
PLAYBOY: You took it seriously.
CAGE: I was completely serious. First I had to find out where she lived. She
wouldn’t tell me. She said the street she lived on rhymed with “flower.” I found
out where it was. Then I went to a flower store and asked for a black orchid.
The guy said they don’t exist. So I asked him for a purple one and I went to the
yard store and got a can of black spray paint. I got on my motorcycle with the
orchid in one pocket and the spray paint in the other and drove to her house and
rang the doorbell. She wouldn’t come out, but I could see her peeking down from
the top floor. In my very showy way, I whipped the orchid out of my pocket. Then
I whipped out the paint can and started spray-painting the orchid black. She was
freaked out. I rang the doorbell again and she came down. I just gave it to her
and got back on my motorcycle and left.
PLAYBOY: Were you able to find Salinger’s signature?
CAGE: I called an autograph store and asked if they had anything by J.D.
Salinger–any kind of handwriting or autograph. The guy said that as a matter of
fact he had a letter Salinger had written to a woman who I think had taken care
of him at a boardinghouse or something. Many people don’t believe this story. My
manager, Gerry Harrington, is friends with J.D. Salinger’s son, who says his
father never signed anything. But this was a letter he wrote. So I bought the
letter for $ 2500, put it in a cigar box with one apricot and one cigar and
drove to her house. She was playing hopscotch in the street with her
girlfriends. Hopscotch! I was driving a Peugeot, a silver one, and I pulled up
and left the box on the street and drove off. I got a call from her. She was off
the Richter scale: “OK, all right, just stop. Stop now.”
PLAYBOY: What was next on the list?
CAGE: It was the Bob’s Big Boy statue. I’d already gotten the chain saw. I
was gonna steal one and put it in a truck and leave it on her front lawn. But
she freaked out and said, “No more.” She said, “I don’t know if I can marry you,
but I will go away with you.” Well, my grandfather was conducting his score for
Napoleon in Cuba, and I knew my whole family would be there. I had a plan: I
would get her to go with me to Mexico City, then I would abduct her, take her to
Cuba and marry her while my family was there. But I got derailed at the Mexican
airport because they couldn’t find my tickets. I threw a temper tantrum. That
scared Patricia. She didn’t like how I was yelling at everybody. She went back
to her boyfriend, and that was that.
PLAYBOY: Were you crushed when it didn’t work?
CAGE: Yes. She broke my heart for many years.
PLAYBOY: But you didn’t even know her ! CAGE: I felt right about her. I
don’t know if I knew her, it just felt right.
PLAYBOY: What happened after that?
CAGE: We went on with our lives. I became a dad, she became a mother. I
maintained peripheral contact with her–she’s a good person who is a doting,
nurturing friend–but I never saw her. We spoke six or seven times over eight
PLAYBOY: Until– – CAGE: I’d been thinking a lot about her. I was in therapy
at the time and her face kept coming to me in therapy sessions. But nothing
happened until last year. I went back to Canter’s. It was eight years later and
I ran into her again. This time there was a change. Maybe because we were back
at the place where we had met. Two months later she called me and proposed to
me. I said, “Yes!” I mean, a voice from deep inside just came up and said,
“Yeah, OK, let’s do it.”
PLAYBOY: It’s a great story, but you still got married without really
knowing each other.
CAGE: I’ve always looked at it the way they did in the old days, when the
father would say, “Your daughter and my son are going to get married.” They did;
there was no argument. And somehow those arranged marriages lasted–often longer
than a lot of marriages last today. So here we are on the cusp of our
anniversary, and we’ve lasted a year. The first year is called a paper
anniversary. It’s now no longer air, it’s gone to paper. There’s something
concrete there. Paper. We love each other more than we ever have. We’ve both
been through enough to know that there are certain responsibilities and certain
elements of work that have to go into a relationship. If the romance wears off,
there need to be stability and commitment. Meanwhile I haven’t even begun to
feel any romance slipping away.
PLAYBOY: What does this odyssey tell us about her?
CAGE: I think she’s a romantic. There is a sense of mythology about her. I
think she likes our story. I know I like it.
PLAYBOY: And what does this story tell us about you?
CAGE: If I see something I want, I go for it. I won’t stop. I will not stop.