During the peak of his career, Nicolas Cage became so synonymous with the big budget blockbusters that had rocketed him to the top of the Hollywood A-list that it was easy to forget he initially built his reputation as one of the most dedicated, committed and idiosyncratic actors in the business.
His status as the eccentric darling of independent cinema was cemented by an Academy Award win for Best Actor in 1995 drama Leaving Las Vegas, before his next three movies turned him into the industry’s premiere action hero. Headlining The Rock, Con Air and Face/Off in the space of just twelve months will do that to anybody’s career, with the trio all doing big business at the box office and earning a well-deserved status as a trio of the decade’s finest explosive extravaganzas.
These days, you’re more like to find Cage in either a B-tier genre film or an experimental drama than a $100 million behemoth, and he hasn’t lent his unique talents to a straightforward blockbuster effort for a decade. In a new interview, the 57 year-old admitted that it was a decision entirely by design, revealing that the pressures of working within the studio system stifled his creativity.
“I don’t know if I’d want to go and make another Disney movie. It would be terrifying. It’s a whole different climate. There’s a lot of fear there. When I was making Jerry Bruckheimer movies back-to-back, that was just a high pressure game. There were a lot of fun moments, but at the same time, there was also ’We wrote this line. It has to be said this way’. They’d put a camera on you and photograph you, and order you: ‘Now say the roller skate training wheels line’. I’d say, ‘I’ll do that but I’d also like to try it this way’. On independent movies, you have more freedom to experiment and be fluid. There’s less pressure and there’s more oxygen in the room.”
Nicolas Cage is still signing on to projects where he can maximize his manic charisma to its fullest extent, but he’s also playing the sorts of characters that only he could get away with, whether it be a criminal with a bomb strapped to his nuts in Prisoners of the Ghostland, a reclusive truffle farmer in Pig or a fictionalized version of himself in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent. We could be looking at a renaissance for the walking meme generator, and it’s well overdue.