I'm walking up Sunset Boulevard with a fabulous woman whose soul moves to a dark rhythm I've been enjoying. We've just had Thai food and chardonnay and she laughed when I called her "the opposite of a waste of time." It's been a great evening and I'm feeling a warm shock of happiness as she pulls out her iPhone and shows me a You Tube video titled Nicolas Cage Losing His Shit, a humorous collection of rage-filled snippets from Cage's films, essentially showing the actor yelling, screaming and going nuts with no explanation for the behavior. Of course, this video ignores the graceful acting chops Cage, an Academy Award-winner, is capable of delivering, but, for what it is, it's pretty funny.
Now, I'm at the Beverly Hills Four Seasons, looking directly at Nicolas Cage. We're here to discuss his new indie film Joe, a gritty and touching story of a violent, alcoholic ex-con who becomes an unlikely savior to a troubled teen. With Joe, Cage returns to the screen in fine form, giving a strong and nuanced performance as a broken man, struggling to lead an honest life while battling the demons of booze, anger and violent inclinations.
As we prepare to discuss Joe, the You Tube video Nicolas Cage Losing His Shit crosses my mind and I start to imagine Nicolas Cage losing his shit right here, right now, right in front of me. I picture him exploding into loud, ranting madness for no apparent reason, right here in the posh Beverly Hills Four Seasons. It would be great. Security would be called. Nobody would really know how to handle it. I'd talk about it for years, bragging that I was in the same room with him when it happened.
Of course, it doesn't happen.
I shake the crazy thought out of my head and focus on Nicolas Cage as he begins an intelligent, thoughtful and rather calm discussion about his new film.
"I'd been waiting a while to find something where I could realize some of my film performance dreams," Cage says of his decision to get involved with Joe. "I'd experimented with a more abstract, baroque style of film performance, like some of the adventure films that I had done, and I was at this point where I just wanted to find a part where I didn't design the performance. Whatever mistakes I've made in the past, I wanted to put them into a character, a portrayal of understanding, and use the mistakes in a way where I wouldn't have to act so much. When I read the script for Joe, I understood why he was in the situations he found himself in. I understood his need for restraint. I understood the dialogue. So, I thought 'this is what I'm looking for. I can just be. I can just feel this.' Joe is a unique movie. It has its own voice and I've not really seen another movie quite like it."
In the film, Cage's character becomes a father figure to a 15-year old boy. Who were the people who mentored Nicolas Cage in his youth?
"My definition of a father is someone who empowers his children," Cage says. "Sometimes that's not happening at home and there's abuse because the child may have more potential than the father and the father takes it personally and abuses the child. That was not my situation. I had a very strong relationship with my father, so I'm lucky in that way. There were angels in my life who took a liking to me, like my science teacher and my drama teacher in high school and my kung fu teacher when I was 12. These are people who see potential and want to encourage potential, and Joe is really an ode to those people."
Cage's film performances range from naturalistic to surrealistic and over-the-top. How does he determine which path a performance will take?
"It is the material and it's also where I'm at in my life," Cage says. "There has to be a mechanism in the script that would allow me to go into that baroque way, where it still connects with the audience in a contemporary environment. The silent film actors of the 20s or German expressionistic actors could do all that because that was part of the style back then. So, I was trying to figure out how to bring that back into contemporary cinema and the way to do it is to find someone who's going nuts like Peter Loew in Vampire's Kiss or on crack like Terence McDonagh in The Bad Lieutenant. These are fun ways to have it still connect with an audience."
"When I got around to Joe," Cage continues, "I just wanted to infuse the vessel of the character with my memories and my life experience, and not design a performance from the outside in. You can go as big as you want, as long as it has emotional content. I always say, 'if you think it's over the top, then tell me where the top is first, and if you can tell me where the top is, then I'll tell you whether or not I'm over it.'"
What does Nicolas Cage want to achieve as an actor?
"If you look at my filmography, you will see that I want to keep it eclectic," Cage says. "I see myself as a student. I would never call myself a master or a maestro. If you take the path of a student, you have to try a little bit of everything in the hopes that you're going to learn something or strike some kind of new note or new sound or new expression in the process. I'm not going for grades. I'm going for an education, and that means that I'm going to continue experimenting and trying new things to try to evolve and learn."
I leave Nicolas Cage and the Beverly Hills Four Seasons and send a text to the fabulous woman who showed me the Nicolas Cage Losing His Shit video: "Just did the Nicolas Cage thing. He didn't lose his shit."
"How was it?" she texts back.
And then I wonder if she's free tonight?