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Conversing With Cage
Once one of the acting elite, Nicolas Cage’s career has recently been marked by financial scandal and a string of critically lampooned movies. But his passion never wavers. He tells Roe McDermott about being fated to become an actor, how art and inner conflict drive his performances, and reprising his role as the world’s darkest hero in Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.
Roe McDermott, 20 Feb 2012
“Right now you’re going to meet Johnny Blaze after living with the curse for eight years,” Nicolas Cage explains to me, “and the toll that it’s taken on his state of mind. He’s like a cop or a paramedic who’s developed a dark sense of humour because it’s really his only way of coping with all the horrors he has seen. He’s not sure whether he wants to live or not. He’s in a dark place.”
Cage’s role as a cursed stunt motorcyclist in the fantasy action sequel Ghost Rider: Spirit Of Vengeance isn’t new territory for the actor – in fact, fragmented characters seem to be the one constant in an increasingly inconsistent career path. Once hailed as one of Hollywood’s greatest actors, the star of Leaving Las Vegas, Face/Off, Adaptation and Bad Lieutenant: Port Of Call New Orleans has come under increasing scrutiny for his seemingly undiscerning eye for projects. Roles in big-budget mainstream films such as National Treasure and a run of critically lampooned movies like Trespass, Justice and Season Of The Witch have seen peers such as Sean Penn declare Cage “no longer an actor”, while those who know anything about his tax scandals and financial difficulties think he may just be taking anything that offers a pay-cheque.
But though you can take the actor out of art, you can’t take the art out of an actor, and Cage’s passion for his profession hasn’t diminished.
“The root of all my roles is the human, inner conflict. I see these movies as metaphors for the human condition. And when you play a character in the fantasy realm, like Ghost Rider, it’s much easier to get avant garde with the performances. I have certain abstract dreams, and I think, ‘Well, how can I bring the spirit of a Francis Bacon painting to my acting?’ I believe in art synthesis. When I hear of these people who are unhinged because of occult reasons like Ghost Rider — or more natural reasons like drugs in Bad Lieutenant — it gives me a chance to express these stylised aspirations in a context that works within the movie.”