Pop Culture

Why Nic is nuts: Cage's acting is rooted in his psyche

STAFF WRITERJuly 11, 2010 

Nicolas Cage is one nutty actor.

The man has spent his career being something of an eccentric, unpredictable thespian, peppering his performances with offbeat character quirks, unusual line readings and the occasional, out-of-nowhere manic outburst.

In 1984's "Birdy," Cage had two of his teeth pulled to play a wounded Vietnam vet. As the high-school sweetheart to Kathleen Turner's time-traveling teenybopper in the 1986 film "Peggy Sue Got Married," Cage adopted a nasally voice picked up from Gumby's sidekick Pokey. Studio execs were reportedly so infuriated with his performance that they wanted him fired. Cage's uncle, Francis Ford Coppola, directed the movie, so the kid stayed in the picture.

Any true Cage fan remembers his bugnuts-insane, tour-de-force turn in the 1989 movie "Vampire's Kiss," where he played a Manhattan yuppie who thinks he's been bitten by a seductive vampire (Jennifer Beals). Apart from the usual yelling (in one scene, he screams the alphabet for no reason) and hammy overacting, there is also that stomach-churning moment when he eats a live cockroach.

All these strange, cinematic moments prompt the question: Where did all this come from?

You have to go back toCage's childhood.

Cage was the youngest of three sons, born to mathematician August Coppola and dancer Joy Vogelsang. Mom was so chronically depressed she began seeing things; that led to her being institutionalized when Cage was 6. Cage has said that visiting his mom and meeting other asylum inmates had a huge impact. "If it weren't for her, I don't think I would have been able to act," he told Rolling Stone in 1995. "Since I was 6 I had invented an imaginary world where I could go to and be these other characters. That's probably where I started acting."

It makes sense: Cage adopted an unhinged form of acting because he was around some unhinged people when he was young. And there have been performances where playing unhinged worked in his favor, like his Oscar-winning performance as an out-of-control Hollywood agent hellbent on drinking himself to death in 1995's "Leaving Las Vegas."

What a fan believes

Yet, while where some people see Cage as an actor who seems bonkers, Danny Mears sees him as a dedicated actor. "I look at it, and I see a man who's committed," says the 27-year-old video editor, who lived in Raleigh before moving to Los Angeles a month ago. "He's committed to doing this. No matter how absurd it is, no matter how weird it is, he is committed. He might not always have the best material, or be working with the directors. But he is a man who is committed to the role. Always."

That is why Mears will be spending this month seeing Cage's entire filmography and blogging about it on his "Dissociative and Besotted Imprecision" blog ( besottedimprecision.tumblr.com). Titled "31 Days in a Cage," this little experiment will consist of Mears seeing 59 movies starring Cage. Mears says he's doing for two reasons: boredom and a love of Nicolas Cage.

"I mean, even in a movie that's not watchable - like 'Ghost Rider,' for example, that you can't even fathom having sat through, you can't take your eye off him," says Mears, who cites "Raising Arizona" as his fave Nic Cage movie. "Whatever he's doing, he's doing something that's so weird, almost."

Mears says he will most likely take in "The Sorcerer's Apprentice," the latest, Bruckheimer-produced flick Cage stars in, coming out Wednesday. Call me loco, but I'm looking forward to that movie too.

Because, as any Nic Cage fan will tell you, even if the movie is lousy, that nut will make it worth your while.

craig.lindsey@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4760

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