You make so many films every year. Do you have a sense that theres only so much time in which you can cram all these films in?
I remember hearing a friend of mine mention that Dustin Hoffman once said that he wished he had made more movies. He was very selective but, in retrospect, he would have liked to have made more films.
And I often think about that. If I ever meet him, I’ll ask him about it. It seems to me that making as many movies as you can makes sense if you can do it in a way that doesn’t blow out the audience and overexpose yourself.
If you’re genuinely exploring new characters and different directions and have some reason for having a more prolific body of work, then why not do it? I was asking myself, ‘Would I rather be HG Wells or Franz Kafka?’ Would I rather have this mountainous, voluminous body of writing that Wells had or have just a few great novels like Kafka did? It’s a good question.
You dont just make a lot of films, though; your work is so varied...
That’s what keeps it interesting for me: to constantly make different types of movies. I think if I wasn’t doing that, I might get a bit bored with it.
Not many Oscar-winning actors go straight into action movies...
That was a first, I think, and it was a definite choice on my part to do something unexpected, to take a left turn that no one would really agree with. For me, that was the reason to do it – it was the wrong thing to do and, therefore, it was the right thing to do. I never like to stay too comfortable in anything I’m doing.
If I’m comfortable then that means I’m resting and I don’t want to rest, I want to be challenging myself and, hopefully, challenging the audience as well. To be fair, I was already shooting The Rock when Leaving Las Vegas went to the Academy Awards, so I didn’t know Vegas was gonna be critically acclaimed.
But I had already made the conscious decision that I wanted to make many different kinds of movies and not be trapped in one genre. Now, consequently, that pissed a lot of my fellow actors off for some reason – I don’t know why.
Didnt Sean Penn make a crack about you: Nic Cage is no longer an actor?
Yeah. That was his opinion and, you know, we’ve since left it all behind us. But I think any time an actor does something unusual it’s going to be met with a certain amount of criticism. I’ve actively searched for that.
When I did Peggy Sue Got Married I wanted to play the character with this ridiculous voice and look, and I knew that it would be criticised, but I thought that it’s much more interesting to take the bad critical hits and know that you’ve really done something.
What’s the point in just getting good reviews? At the end of the day, I want people to go, ‘Well, what the hell was that?’ What’s that line in Tootsie ? Bill Murray leaves the movie theatre saying, “I don’t want people going, ‘Hey, that’s great!’ I want people to go, 15 years from now, ‘What the fuck was that?’”
If you screened Raising Arizona and Face/Off for some people, they probably wouldnt believe it was the same man...
Yeah, that’s really what I want to achieve. I want people to be concerned they’re not seeing the same person. That would be great and yet, on another level, I still want to project a style, a charisma, if you will, that’s coming from me.
Do you ever regret changing your name from Coppola to Cage?
No, I needed to recreate myself, reinvent myself. Nicolas Coppola had a hard time believing he could do it.
Every time I would go into a casting office or talk about acting with a casting agent, I was talking about my uncle’s illustrious body of work and it was getting in the way of the movies. It was making me feel like I was a victim of nepotism and no one would really take me seriously.
You dropped out of high school to act, didnt you?
Yeah, I started out very young. I was basically a child actor at 17. Anyway, I was getting a lot of pressure from other actors who basically thought I only wanted to be an actor because my uncle was Francis.
It was always a bit uncomfortable for me. When I changed my name and went into an audition and got the part, it was this incredible weight off my head because Amy Heckerling [ director of Fast Times At Ridgemont High] didn’t know I was related. It felt like I’d been given this opportunity because of what I did, not because of what he did.