“This is a snakeskin jacket! And for me it’s a symbol of my individuality, and my belief… in personal freedom” Wild at Heart, David Lynch
This is memorable line from Wild at Heart could well be the motto for the career of the actor who uttered it: Nicolas Cage. His films, which have reached the hundreds, reflect a passion that comes with exercising indomitable will.
Born Nicholas Kim Coppola in Long Beach, California; his mother was a choreographer and father a literature professor. He cites artists like Edgar Allan Poe, James Dean and Jack Kirby as influences from an early age. In 1976 he moved to San Francisco, where he began his acting career at the American Conservatory Theatre company. He would then move again to Los Angeles.
In 1982 he made his film debut in Amy Heckerling’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which was also a showcase for other great actors such as Sean Penn and Jennifer Jason Leigh. He spent the 1980’s in high quality films such as Birdy, Peggy Sue Got Married, Moonstruck and Raising Arizona, the latter one an early Coen Brothers film. He has starred in many classic scenes in the world of film, proving that he could conquer the most moving of plots and unsettle the sanest of characters, such as a clerk who completely loses his mind in Vampire’s Kiss.
In 1990 he got the lead role in Wild at Heart, a film that won the Palm D’Or at Cannes. Filled with references to U.S. pop culture, this film gave him the perfect vehicle to channel one of his idols, Elvis Presley. The violent contrasts that define the work of David Lynch gelled perfectly with his range as an actor.
In the mid-1990’s, after films like the comedy Honeymoon In Vegas and Red Rock West, Mike Figgis gave him the part that would launch him to stardom and would earn him an Oscar for Best Actor; Ben Sanderson in Leaving Las Vegas. Based on John O’Brien’s haunting semi-autobiographical novel, Leaving Las Vegas is an epic tragedy about an alcoholic screenwriter who decides to drink himself to Death. Cage’s performance is a reminder of his abilities to go from wild outbursts to the most moving of melancholies.
His charisma flooded Hollywood and by the late 1990’s he was starring in action films which capitalized on his boundless energy. After The Rock, Nicolas Cage worked in two fascinating films: Con Air and Face Off. In the former he joins John Malkovich and Dave Chapelle in executing an emergency landing in the center of Las Vegas. The latter has Hong-Kong director John Woo hatching an elegant visual style that is elevated to unseen heights due to the (over)acting duel of Cage and John Travolta.
1998 and 1999 would be important for Nic Cage’s career. Working once more with one of the great masters – Brian DePalma -, his performance in the thriller Snake Eyes kept him relevant as an action star. City of Angels, the U.S. remake of Wings of Desire, left a lasting impression on audiences due to his chemistry with Meg Ryan, lending warmth and life to a love story marked by tragedy.
Added to this success is Family Man, directed by Brett Ratner, a film that has been compared to Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol, as its protagonist, an egocentric Wall Street broker whose only obsession is work and a life of luxury, wakes up one day in an alternate reality where he is a humble tires salesman married to his old girlfriend, whom he had left in favor of his career in the world of finances.
Martin Scorsese picked him to star in Bringin Out the Dead, which described the mental disintegration of an insomniac paramedic in New York City. That same year he made 8 mm, another somber film in which Joel Schumacher examines the black market around snuff films.
In 2002, after the war movie Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Nicolas Cage reached his peak once more in Adaptation. This Spike Jonze film, from a screenplay by Charlie Kaufman, gave him the opportunity to play twin screenwriters. One of them tries very hard to sell his work to the Hollywood machine while the other sweats through a case of writer’s block that keeps him from adapting a book about an orchid thief. This led to another Oscar nomination for Best Actor.
Remaining in action blockbusters, National Treasure reintroduced him to 21st Century audiences in the first successful series that mixes fantasy and adventure. In Lord of War —which has earned a cult following with time— he played an unscrupulous arms dealer.
In Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans he worked with Werner Herzog, playing a cop who does his duty while embracing the lowest form of moral corruption as a lifestyle. Both Herzog and Cage are artists who are willing to take risks to achieve something no one has seen, and this film combines their styles in an explosive mix of surrealism, violence, nihilism, absurdity and humor.
A fan of comic books, Cage has worked in comic book adaptations such as Ghost Rider and Kick Ass. In our current decade, he lent his voice to the successful animated film The Croods and challenged taboos with Mom & Dad. In 2018, Panos Cosmatos weaved his provocative horror film Mandy, a Lovecraftian revenge story that successfully combines gore and comedy in the classic tradition of The Evil Dead, around Nicolas Cage. That same year, he lent his voice to an alternate universe version of the famous Marvel superhero in the acclaimed animated film Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse, the most recent Academy-Award winner for Best Animated Feature.
His acting style has earned praise with descriptions like: “the Jazz player of American acting”, “troubadour” and “poet”. Committed to exploring new possibilities in his craft, Nicolas Cage is aware of the spiritual journeys that acting has achieved from the very beginning.
His style (which he himself has described as “expressionism”, “new Shamanism”, “mega-acting” and “Western Kabuki”) defies conventions and takes on the duty of expressing the collective imagination of creation and representation.
The Guanajuato International Film Festival is honored to pay tribute to Nicolas Cage, an always captivating artist, an unmistakable stronghold on creative freedom who, in his life and his career, has shown a capacity for doing exactly what he wants and not perish trying, which has earned him a place as one of the most interesting actors in the last few decades.