Michael Lee Simpson
THE BEST NICOLAS CAGE ROLES - WITH CAGE, COSTARS AND FILMMAKERS
Along with EW, costars, producers, filmmakers, and Cage himself reflect on a bold, eclectic career.
The origin of his name comes from two sources — first, Luke "Power Man" Cage, a streetfighter with hulking muscles, superhuman strength, and impenetrable skin, who started punching through the pages of Marvel Comics in 1972. The other is experimental composer and music theorist John Cage, a pioneer in post-war avant-garde sounds. So eccentric was John Cage that, for four minutes and thirty-three seconds, his 1952 composition 4′33" consists of nothing but silence.
Both creative figures churned in the mind of a young Nicolas Coppola — nephew of The Godfather director, Francis Ford Coppola — and paved the way for the Nicolas Cage we have come to know today. He has been praised, called over-the-top, hailed as a genius, starred in masterpieces and bad films, won an Academy Award, and everything in between, but his impact on cinema is undeniable. With over 100 movies in his filmography, it's impossible to list every memorable role, so we're highlighting a collection of notable performances.
Filmmakers, co-stars, and Cage himself talk exclusively to EW about several of his key roles, from a ruthless arms dealer to an obsessive-compulsive con artist. Here, in chronological order, is a look at some of the actor's best.
Randy - Valley Girl (1983)
Following his brief appearance in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, "Nicolas Coppola" officially becomes "Nicolas Cage" in Valley Girl. He's Randy, the cool punk from Hollywood. Deborah Foreman is Julie, the dolled-up upper-middle-class girl from San Fernando Valley. Torn between separate worlds — her arrogant jock boyfriend, Tommy (Michael Bowen), and the charming new Randy — an unlikely bond spurs two teens into a Shakespearean romance loosely based on Romeo and Juliet. Directed by Martha Coolidge (Real Genius, Rambling Rose) with Elizabeth Daily, Cameron Dye, Heidi Holicker, and Michelle Meyrink in supporting roles, Valley Girl remains among the most treasured rom-coms of the '80s. In turn, Cage rose to leading man status.
Alfonso "Al" Columbato - Birdy (1984)
As childhood friends and teenagers in 1960s Philadelphia, Birdy (Matthew Modine) and Al tend pigeons in an aviary, feeding Birdy's fascination with flying. They join the Army and serve in Vietnam, both traumatized by combat. Bandages cover Al's disfigured face, while Birdy's turmoil has landed him in a mental institution, delusional and obsessed with being a bird. Told in flashbacks between harrowing visions of war and Al's visits to the institution, Birdy is an age-old tale of loss and friendship that was awarded the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival.
Screenwriters Sandy Kroopf (Lonesome Dove: The Series) and Jack Behr (Homicide: Life on the Street) examine the torture of PTSD, adapting the story from Pulitzer Prize finalist William Wharton's debut novel. Director Alan Parker, known for his wide range of genres and styles, from classic musicals like Pink Floyd: The Wall to true-story dramas Midnight Express and Mississippi Burning and the cult horror fave Angel Heart, sets the stage for both actors to soar as rising stars.
Modine, whose diverse career includes roles like Private/Sergeant J.T. "Joker" Davis in Full Metal Jacket, Sullivan Groff in Weeds, and more recently, Dr. Martin Brenner in Stranger Things, says of Birdy, "[It was] a film that many felt could never be made due to its narrative complexities and the many dreamlike visuals within the book. For the film to succeed, it was absolutely necessary for Nick and me to be closer than brothers and have a deep love for each other."
Charlie Bodell - Peggy Sue Got Married (1986)
By the mid-'80s, John Willis' Screen World listed Nicolas Cage as one of the "12 Promising New Actors of 1984" and, in turn, the actor followed this accolade with notable roles including Ned Hanlan, the late-19th century world champion Canadian sculler, in 1985's The Boy in Blue, and "Crazy Charlie" in Peggy Sue Got Married — his third film with uncle Francis Ford Coppola following Rumble Fish and The Cotton Club.
As the story of Peggy Sue goes, high school sweethearts Peggy Sue Bodell (Kathleen Turner) and Charlie separate after 25 years of marriage. When Peggy faints at the Buchanan High School reunion, she wakes up in 1960. The past floods back through time travel, with long-lost friendships in full swing — for instance, Walter (Jim Carrey), Maddy (Joan Allen), Carol (Catherine Hicks), and Richard (Barry Miller) laughing and walking down the hallways — before Charlie's cheating, Peggy's heartbreak, and the birth of their daughter unravel the proceedings in a Back to the Future meets It's a Wonderful Life sort of way. Peggy Sue Got Married is a dreamy, magical film, bursting and bubbling with nostalgia while pushing Cage further into the Hollywood spotlight.
H.I. "Hi" McDunnough - Raising Arizona (1987)
In this Coen brothers comedy classic, policewoman Ed (Holly Hunter) falls for 7-Eleven robber H.I. "Hi" McDunnough while she's snapping his mugshot at the county jail. Hi serves his time, and the two marry to discover that Ed can't bear children. But when the "Arizona Quints" make headlines—quintuplets born to furniture tycoon Nathan Arizona (Trey Wilson)—Hi decides to steal baby Nathan Jr to complete their family. Bounty hunter Leonard Smalls (Randall "Tex" Cobb) sets out to find him, and a world of mayhem crumbles across the dusty desert landscape.
A clever, Looney Tunes-esque screwball romp with colorful characters, including Gale (John Goodman), Evelle (William Forsythe), and Dot (Frances McDormand), Raising Arizona is a favorite among Cage fans and film aficionados in general. For the Coen brothers, it was a hit sophomore follow-up to their neo-noir debut Blood Simple and led the way to the duo carving out their own patented style of filmmaking.
Ronny Cammareri - Moonstruck (1987)
A full moon looms over Brooklyn, its shine clouding the judgment of a Sicilian-Italian community by the East River. Soon after Loretta's (Cher) engagement to Johnny (Danny Aiello), she unexpectedly catches feelings for his injured brother, Ronny.
The whirlwind romance swept through theaters in December 1987, eventually smashing the box office and winning the hearts of millions. Acclaimed playwright John Patrick Shanley, who won an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for Moonstruck, collaborated with three-time Academy Award-nominated Norman Jewison, director of landmark classics Fiddler on the Roof and In the Heat of the Night.
"When casting Moonstruck, I asked Cher who she thought could play the role of Ronny Cammareri, the tormented soul opposite her," Jewison recalls to EW. "Cher replied immediately, 'Nicolas Cage!' When I met with Nick, I felt he was perfect. He didn't disappoint me at all. When I asked him to do the outrageous scene where he rants about losing his hand and his girl… as over the top as it was, he managed to make it believable. Believability is everything in film."
Peter Loew - Vampire's Kiss (1988)
In this '80s romp, Peter's downward spiral begins after a lover sinks her teeth into his neck.
"Nick was so well-suited to the character of Peter Loew, a New York literary agent who thinks he's turning into a vampire, in this contemporary dark comedy about the thin line between sanity and insanity," Vampire's Kiss producer Barry Shils (Motorama, Wigstock: The Movie) tells EW.
Cage's ability to embrace an eccentric lunatic is on full display, showing glimpses of the offbeat characters that loomed on the horizon.
"He maintained his persona as the quiet madman, even at the craft services table," Shils recalls. "Also, he always insisted on a strong and detailed depiction of 'reality,' along with the 'surreality' of the tale… even insisting that he eat a real cockroach, not a fake one created by our art department. As a matter of fact, we did three takes, and Nick actually ate three live cockroaches for the memorable scene."
Sailor Ripley - Wild at Heart (1990)
Wild at Heart earned writer/director David Lynch his first and, so far, only Palme D'Or at Cannes (he would co-win Best Director for Mullholland Drive at the festival years later).
In the film, after serving time for a self-defense killing, Sailor Ripley is released from prison and reunites with his girlfriend Lula Fortune (Laura Dern), who hands him his snakeskin jacket. Soon, however, the happy reconciliation is cut short and all hell breaks loose from California to Texas as Lula's mother, Marietta (Diane Ladd), hires a crew of bizarre hitmen to hunt Sailor down.
Erotic and unpredictable with dark comedy sensibilities, Wild at Heart — which also stars Willem Dafoe as Sailor's old, grimy-toothed pal with bad intentions Bobby Peru — would precede an interesting career turn for Cage into more lighthearted fare such as Honeymoon in Vegas, Guarding Tess, and It Could Happen to You.
Ben Sanderson - Leaving Las Vegas (1995)
The neon lights sparkle, but they're dimmer in an unglamorous Vegas — a tone writer/director Mike Figgis (Internal Affairs, Mr. Jones) captures eloquently in this heart-wrenching tragedy. Ben, an alcoholic screenwriter, comes to town on a suicide bender during his final weeks. There, he encounters a prostitute named Sera (Elisabeth Shue) walking down the Strip in black leather and high heels. He tells her, "If you come to my room for one hour, I will give you $500." And then a romance blooms, as two lonely souls find release from their troubled lives.
In one of his best performances, Cage explores the horrors of alcoholism — the shaking, withdrawals, the frantic pursuit of liquor — and pulls the curtain on a devastating disease in a nonjudgmental light. He would go on to earn an Academy Award for Best Actor, with additional nominations for Shue, Figgis, and for Best Picture. Based on the semi-autobiographical novel by John O'Brien, who died by suicide before production, Leaving Las Vegas vibrates with artistic beauty, told on Figgis' soundtrack of slow jazz, 16mm film, and a $4 million budget.
Stanley Goodspeed - The Rock (1996)
The following year after his Oscar-winning turn, Cage entered another realm in Michael Bay's blockbuster action thriller The Rock. The actor plays FBI biochemist Stanley Goodspeed, who's called upon by the Pentagon to join ex-convict John Patrick Mason (Sean Connery) on the tourist-packed Alcatraz. Their mission: to stop a catastrophic attack. Rockets filled with nerve gas are aimed at San Francisco from the offshore island, a threat led by vengeful Brigadier General Francis Hummel (Ed Harris) and his clan of U.S. Force Recon Marines.
"Day [one] on Alcatraz, [we were] shooting a fight for the end of the film," The Rock associate producer/stunt coordinator/2nd unit director Kenny Bates recalls. "Nick was not happy with the action beats in the fight. He said he felt ridiculous, even asking if it would look okay. I remember asking him to come to dailies. He was very quiet during the dailies, and when they came to an end and the lights went on, he had a blank stare on his face. Then he said with a big smile: 'So that's how this s--t works.' We went on to do Con Air, where I was the stunt coordinator, 2nd unit director, and co-producer for that film. There were bombs, gunfire, falling towers, and s--t flying everywhere."
A suspenseful, enthralling experience rumbling with explosions, green flares, and a booming score by Hans Zimmer, The Rock provides the perfect backdrop for Cage to dive into the action genre.
Cameron Poe - Con Air (1997)
Paroled after an eight-year manslaughter sentence, and eager to return to his wife and daughter, former U.S. Ranger Cameron Poe joins the vilest of criminals onboard: Cyrus "The Virus" Grissom (John Malkovich), John "Johnny 23" Baca (Danny Trejo), Garland "The Marietta Mangler" Greene (Steve Buscemi), Nathan "Diamond Dog" Jones (Ving Rhames), and Joe "Pinball" Parker (Dave Chappelle). As the engines sputter and whine on the prison transport plane Jailbird. a secretive plan to carry out a hijacking unfolds.
"It was inspired by a story in the LA Times about the transfer of prisoners by plane," Con Air executive producer Jim Kouf (also writer of Rush Hour and National Treasure) tells EW. "Donald Deline was the studio exec on the film. Deline wanted me to write the script, but I wasn't available at the time, working on other projects for Disney. We brought in Scott Rosenberg and worked out the story."
Screenwriter Rosenberg (Venom, Gone in 60 Seconds) constructs a turbulent plot, cutting back and forth between the hijacking and support personnel in Carson City. U.S. Marshal Vince Larkin (John Cusack), who's in a conflict with his colleagues that racks up the tension, works with Poe to regain control of Jailbird.
"When the script was ready, the studio had a short list of directors they wanted for the project," Kouf explains. "Tony Scott was at the top of the list. We were told that the studio thought Jerry Bruckheimer because he had a previous relationship with Tony, could deliver him to the project. But, apparently, Jerry couldn't convince Tony Scott to do Con Air. So Jerry got a first-time director… Simon West."
"Con Air was a surreal version of an action movie and Nick Cage is a true surrealist," West notes. "I can't imagine that film without Nick as the lead. It was like having Salvador Dali on set every day… but with a greasy mullet."
West — who later went on to make hits like The Expendables 2, Wild Card, The General's Daughter, and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider — orchestrates one exhilarating ride 36,000 feet in the air. Like The Rock, Con Air was another pillar in every '90s kid's childhood. And Cage, jacked in an undershirt with long hair and a Southern drawl, becomes an action hero for the second time.
Castor Troy - Face/Off (1997)
"SEPIA-TONE FOOTAGE of a pig chasing a lion chasing a dinosaur chasing an elephant. Noah's Ark going round...and round...and round…"
Thus reads the screenplay detailing the prologue of Face/Off , written by Michael Colleary (Professionals) and Mike Werb (The Mask). In the scene, the Griffith Park Carousel spins in slow motion. Homicidal sociopath Castor Troy crouches behind a Remington 700PSS rifle in the grass, drinking from a straw.
"Nick insisted on wearing a mustache in the prologue sniper scene as a tribute to the legendary Chow Yun-Fat, who had a similar 'stache in John Woo's classic The Killer," Colleary tells EW.
Castor looks through the scope and sees FBI agent Sean Archer (John Travolta) and his 5-year-old son, Michael (Myles Jeffrey), in the crosshairs. Aiming at Sean's back, Castor pulls the trigger. A bullet tears through flesh but strikes Michael. Sean survives; his son dies. Six years later, Sean undergoes face transplant surgery to assume the identity of Castor — who's in a coma — to elicit information about a bomb. However, Castor awakens and forces the doctor to perform the same surgery — giving him Sean's face — and a fun, violent cat-and-mouse game begins.
"Nick understood instinctively that Castor Troy was 'the Liberace of crime,' and he wasted no time bringing him roaring to life," co-writer Werb says. "In fact, some of Nick's flourishes were so fun that we found places in the script for John Travolta to reprise them in his scenes as Castor."
John Woo's unhinged revenge tale remains the ultimate showdown between Hollywood A-listers, two great talents flying off the rails, as if bullets from their guns pelted the screens, shells clinking on the floor, rolling under seats and down aisles in cinemas upon its release in the summer of '97.
Seth - City of Angels (1998)
By the late '90s, Cage had landed at number 40 on Empire magazine's "Top 100 Movie Stars of All Time" list. The star's genre portfolio was twisting faster, stopping on a second romantic fantasy after Peggy Sue Got Married with City of Angels, a loose remake of 1987's Berlin-based forbidden love story Wings of Desire. In the film, an angel named Seth wanders around LA in a long black coat with fellow angels. When someone dies, he accompanies their spirit to the afterlife. Seth eventually falls for heart surgeon Dr. Maggie Rice (Meg Ryan) and must choose between immortality or life with her on earth.
"When I set out to adapt Wings of Desire, one of the main themes in that film is that the angels appreciate human life more than humans do," City of Angels co-writer Dana Stevens (The Woman King, Fatherhood) says to EW. "Nick's character, Seth, was able to see the value in being human, in feeling and loving and even hurting, because as an angel, he couldn't."
Regarding Cage's work on the film, Stevens adds, "I was excited with the casting of Nick because he is not a typical guy — he has a kind of other-worldly, outside the box presence, but, surprisingly, he conveys deep empathy and childlike wonder as easily as he does rebellious craziness. Nick is an exciting actor because he's completely spontaneous. He surprised us daily with humorous moments and touching emotion."
Frank Pierce - Bringing Out the Dead (1999)
Riding the wave of his more noir-ish roles in Brian De Palma's Snake Eyes and Joel Schumacher's 8MM, Cage plays a New York City paramedic in Martin Scorsese's Bringing out the Dead.
As Frank, Cage's character works the graveyard shift in a two-man ambulance. His skin is pale, eyes swollen, burned out after five years on the job. While driving with co-workers Larry (John Goodman), Marcus (Ving Rhames), and Tom (Tom Sizemore), he forms a friendship with Mary (Patricia Arquette) while slipping further into delirium, haunted by ghosts lurking in the shadows.
"Film acting is normally defined by restraint and presence," Bringing Out the Dead scribe Paul Schrader tells EW. The legendary screenwriter, who previously worked with Scorsese on Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and The Last Temptation of Christ, says of Cage, "Nick is defined by excess. He redefines the task. He shatters the meter. Very few actors — Klaus Kinski another — can accomplish this."
Charlie and Donald Kaufman - Adaptation (2002)
After more mainstream roles — a car thief in Gone in 60 Seconds, a dad in The Family Man, and a marine in Windtalkers — Cage embodies the spirit of Charlie Kaufman, inspired by Adaptation's own writer. The real Charlie Kaufman penned screenplays for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Being John Malkovich, the latter directed by Spike Jonze, who also helmed Her and Where the Wild Things Are. The two gifted minds tackle this enchanting invention about a depressed screenwriter with writer's block.
Charlie is hired to adapt Susan Orlean's 1998 nonfiction book The Orchid Thief into a movie. Lost because "the book has no story," he writes himself into the screenplay. His twin brother, Donald (also Cage) — a polar opposite personality — pursues a screenwriting career, and his clichéd The 3 script sells for six figures. The story, in a way, is about writing the movie we're watching, intertwined with twists and paradoxes.
"In terms of technical difficulty and challenge, playing twins in Adaptation was unparalleled," Cage himself reveals to EW. "I had twice the amount of dialogue and two diametrically opposed characters to play with nothing but a tennis ball and a hearing aid feeding me dialogue I had recorded as the previous character."
Adaptation overflows with limitless imagination, with creative energy spilling from Kaufman's brain, down to the keyboard, to Jonze's eyes behind the camera, to all the performances including Meryl Streep as Orlean, Chris Cooper as John Laroche, the protagonist of her book, secret lover and passionate horticulturist, and Brian Cox as screenwriting lecturer Robert McKee, whose seminar Charlie reluctantly attends after his brother's success.
Recalling his experience on the film, Cooper, who won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for playing Laroche, tells EW, "I was absolutely blown away by Charlie Kaufman's incredible script for Adaptation, so I auditioned for Spike Jonze and gave him a bunch of different takes. Laroche was such a fascinating character. I was both terrified and over the moon to work with Meryl, and getting to improvise with her was amazing. Have never laughed so much on a shoot. Only got two days with Nicolas Cage for what became the last scene. Spent the month before I left to film sitting around the house wearing my toothless prosthetic and scaring my wife."
Roy Waller - Matchstick Men (2003)
Obsessive-compulsive con artist Roy and his partner, Frank (Sam Rockwell), swindle money from the innocent. When Roy's long-lost daughter, Angela (Alison Lohman), shows up, she wants to learn tricks of the trade.
"Roy suffers from a nervous tick that gets progressively worse during the story," Matchstick Men co-producer Charles J.D. Schlissel (Insomnia, Flightplan, Body of Lies, The Prestige) explains. "Movies are not shot in sequence, so Nick had to go through the script and map out exactly what stage the disorder was at so he would know what he had to do for each scene."
As with alcoholism in Leaving Las Vegas, Cage explores the debilitating realities of OCD. He dives into a torturous mindspace, locking and unlocking doors, incessant cleaning, panic attacks, and agoraphobia.
Matchstick Men producer Jack Rapke (Flight, Cast Away, Welcome to Marwen) says of Cage, "As an artist, it was my pleasure and privilege to see him create a very difficult, complex character with nuance, compassion, and truth."
Directed by Ridley Scott, with a brilliant screenplay by Ted Griffin (Ocean's Eleven, Ravenous), adapted from Eric Garcia's novel, Matchstick Men is hands down one of Cage's best films.
Yuri Orlov - Lord of War (2005)
He sells AK-47s to the world's greatest warlords, living by his own words, "There are over 550 million firearms in worldwide circulation. That's one firearm for every twelve people on the planet. The only question is: How do we arm the other 11?"
Cage walks away from stealing the Declaration of Independence in National Treasure and suits up as Yuri Orlov, a character based primarily on real-life Soviet military translator-turned- international arms dealer Viktor Bout (who was actually recently released back to Russia in a prisoner swap for WNBA star Brittney Griner). Yuri and his brother, Vitaly (Jared Leto), enter the arms trade, soon facing Colombian drug lords while being pursued by Interpol Agent Jack Valentine (Ethan Hawke) across multiple continents.
With Lord of War, writer/director Andrew Niccol (Gattaca, The Truman Show) presents an aggressive blend of wicked dark comedy and brutality. Describing his experience working with Cage, Niccol says to EW, "... I came to understand how Nick has complete command of the instrument that is Nicolas Cage. At dinner one night on location near Namibia, Ethan Hawke, and Jared Leto were by now comfortable enough working with Nick that, for a laugh, they each did an impersonation of Nick in front of him. Nick took it in good humor and then did something remarkable that I've never seen anyone else do. He did an impersonation of himself. A perfectly nuanced, subtly heightened version of Nick. After we all picked our jaws off the floor, no one tried that again."
David Spritz - The Weather Man (2005)
Chicago weatherman David Spritz leaves the station to have fast food thrown at him from passing cars. Chocolate shakes melt and drip down his coat in the freezing cold. He's a miserable, bitter person in the throes of a midlife crisis, estranged from his ex-wire, Noreen (Hope Davis), and overshadowed by his Pulitzer Prize-winning father, Robert (Michael Caine). At the same time, his kids, Shelly (Gemmenne de la Peña) and Mike (Nicholas Hoult) struggle through their adolescent years.
He hates Noreen's boyfriend, Russ (Michael Rispoli), slaps him in the face with a glove, beats up his son's counselor, and pretends not to be weatherman David Spritz when approached in public. Hoping to find happiness, he takes up archery and pursues a high-paying anchor position on a national talk show called Hello America.
The Weather Man is a triumph for Pirates of the Caribbean director Gore Verbinski and The Pursuit of Happyness screenwriter Steven Conrad along with Cage himself, as he displays a mastery of the art of misery throughout.
Terence McDonagh - Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009)
Once the winds of Hurricane Katrina subside, Bourbon Street is left with Lieutenant McDonagh to cast another reign of destruction. His Vicodin addiction is spiraling out of control due to a spinal injury. He snorts cocaine with his prostitute girlfriend, Frankie (Eva Mendes), smokes crack with gang members, gambles compulsively, convinces Officer Heidi (Fairuza Balk) to smuggle drugs from the evidence room, and has a strange fascination with iguanas.
More sleazy locals crawl around the potholes of rainy Crescent City; McDonagh's alcoholic stepmother (Jennifer Coolidge), his estranged father (Tom Bower), bookie (Brad Dourif), and Donald "Big Fate" Godshaw (Xzibit), a gang leader at the core of heinous crimes. Five Senegalese immigrants are murdered in a crime-ridden neighborhood, and McDonagh gets assigned to the investigation alongside Detective Stevie Pruit (Val Kilmer), mingling with men like himself but on opposite sides of the law.
As Port of Call New Orleans director Werner Herzog himself has said, this film is neither a remake of nor sequel to Abel Ferrara's 1992 New York City-based Bad Lieutenant starring Harvey Keitel. Instead, he and screenwriter William M. Finkelstein (Law & Order, L.A. Law) tread even darker waters in a swamp of corruption and chaos.
Red Miller - Mandy (2018)
In 1983, Red lives a quiet life with his girlfriend, Mandy (Andrea Riseborough), tucked away near the Shadow Mountains of the Mojave Desert. Red is a logger; Mandy is an artist and author. The peace fades when Children of the New Dawn, a religious cult led by Jeremiah Sand (Linus Roache), and a cannibalistic biker gang called the Black Skulls, invade their cabin, restrain the couple with barbed wire and burn Mandy alive. As the fire roars, so does the rage inside Red, who embarks on a blood-splattering revenge spree using axes and crossbows. Cage's self-invented Nouveau Shamanic acting method comes alive, coursing through his veins in a furious yet moving performance.
Writer/director Panos Cosmatos (Beyond the Black Rainbow) is effortlessly and poetically in command of his technique — casting red-tinted back lights behind long winding roads and lens flares among hyper-stylized hallucinations — trapping audiences inside a merciless puppet show on the Panavision anamorphic format. The score by the late Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson rings ears with a nightmarish chill, cutting through the pine trees and echoing beyond the forest.
After a parade of second-rate films throughout the 2000s-2020s—The Wicker Man, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, Outcast, Left Behind, 211, Between Worlds, Jiu Jitsu, Willy's Wonderland among them —Mandy rises from the fire and marks an artistic rebirth for Cage, which continued through other well-received films such as Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, and Color Out of Space.
Sasha Yelaun, producer of The Old Way, Cage's upcoming Western to be released in January, comments on the actor's latest wave of work: "From what I've learned, he chooses independent films over the studio ones to give himself more freedom to express himself, so I see him as an A-lister that is and was always there. I don't think those films have changed his career other than reminding everyone of that by popping back up to the surface with those projects."
Robin Feld - Pig (2021)
Three years after Mandy comes the astounding and mysterious Pig. The film was marketed as John Wick with a pig, but defies expectations and instead unravels like a brutal poem about grief and loss.
Robin's shack sits nestled in the Oregon wilderness. He's a long-bearded woodsman in tattered clothes, almost a ghostly figure trudging through the brush, earning his living as a truffle hunter in the company of his best friend, his pig. The two scour the earth, searching for truffles, which Robin sells to Amir (Alex Wolff), an ingredient supplier to high-end restaurants.
Suddenly one night, assailants barge in to his humble abode and Robin's one true bond is dragged away, squealing into the darkness. Heartbroken by the kidnapping, he travels to his hometown of Portland in search of his pig, during which time the story of his past life as an acclaimed chef unfolds in captivating fashion. In the process, Cage serves up a brooding, subdued, and brilliant performance.
"The character of Robin Feld seemed to come so naturally and fully formed from Nick," Pig director Michael Sarnoski tells EW. "He was able to beautifully channel his artistry into how Rob interacted with cooking, making Rob feel — dare I say— like the Nicolas Cage of chefs. In the best of ways, it didn't feel like there was any acting going on."
Nick Cage - The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (2022)
The end of Con Air flickers on TV — the scene with Cameron Poe, his wife and young daughter outside the casino as Trisha Yearwood's "How Do I Live" swells on the soundtrack. We hear the words:
"Nicolas Cage is incredible,"
"This guy's a ing f---ing legend."
After years of widely varying roles, the pendulum swings in an unexpected direction and Nicolas Cage finally plays Nick Cage.
"By far the greatest challenge in doing this for 45 years was trying to play some version of a character that had my actual name in Massive Talent," Cage tells EW. "That one was like a high wire act that could very well have led to a massive fall and creative death if it didn't work."
In Massive Talent, Cage's career is on the downslope as he nears 60. He's no longer the wavy-haired rebel in a snakeskin jacket from Wild at Heart. A younger, CGI de-aged Nicky Cage reminds him of this—that he's "Nick f---ing Cage," a star who needs another great role to show the world he hasn't gone anywhere. He owes the Sunset Tower $600,000, his relationship with daughter Addy (Lily Mo Sheen) and ex-wife Olivia (Sharon Horgan) is on the rocks, and he fails to land a role in Halloween and Joe director David Gordon Green's new movie. Strapped for money, he takes a $1 million offer to attend a birthday party hosted by billionaire and die-hard fan Javi (Pedro Pascal) in the exotic Majorca. "We were shooting the movie in the midst of the pandemic, pre-vaccines, and effective treatments, in two countries," Massive Talent executive producer Samson Mucke (Happy Death Day 2U, Miss Bala, Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones) says. "All Nick required was work out equipment, a fridge full of Red Bulls and one roast chicken a day to keep him going."
The action launches into a storyline straight out of National Treasure involving two CIA agents, Vivian (Tiffany Haddish) and Martin (Ike Barinholtz), and a kidnapping gone awry. Throwbacks streak by like the '67 Ford Mustang from Gone in 60 Seconds, racing through references of everything from Leaving Las Vegas and Moonstruck to Captain Corelli's Mandolin and Vampire's Kiss as Cage channels his trademark roles to save the day, leaving no stone unturned in his colossal filmography. Super-fandom peaks with Javi's shrine of prop memorabilia encased in glass—the stuffed bunny from Con Air, a chainsaw seen in Mandy, green pearls of poisonous gas from The Rock, and a Castor Troy wax dummy aiming two gold-plated pistols.
"There is only one Nicolas Cage, and he's really one of the only actors whose body of work would be able to lend itself to a film and story like this," Massive Talent producer Kristin Burr (Cruella, Dora and the Lost City of Gold, Batgirl) proclaims. "Not a lot of actors would agree to do an extremely heightened, tabloid version of their life. He completely embraced it and totally went for it."
After a 40-plus-year career filled with ebbs and flows and amassing a vast, incomparable filmography in the process, Cage still maintains a profound love of acting, as noted in his parting thoughts: "I continue to make movies because cinema is my greatest passion and within cinema, specifically film performance," he says. "Nothing communicates to me more than watching a great cinematic performance. I am in step with the character; learn from the character; am appalled by the character; in love with the character. Whether I am watching or performing a character, I feel with that character and become less alone."