Nicolas Cage Takes Over the Alamo
Watch the mega-acting star perform Edgar Allan Poe
By Richard Whittaker,
8:00AM, Tue. Jan. 31, 2017
Alamo Drafthouse booker Greg MacLennan rarely looks jittery. But this Sunday, he resembled a bag of nerves as, after four years, he got to introduce Nicolas Cage – or, more accurately, "the inexhaustable, unstoppable freight train of excellence, Mr. Nicolas Cage" – to the annual Caged marathon.
For the last three years, MacLennan has booked a five-film mystery marathon on the eve of the Moonstruck and Adaptation star's birthday. It started as a spin-off from the Tough Guy Cinema sub-brand, dedicated to assorted action stars, but has exploded into an annual celebration of the super-expressive actor's diverse catalogue, from crime to comedy to bug-out bizarre.
The hope had been to get Cage there in person. Last year, it was a near miss, with Cage sending an email explaining that he was too busy shooting to make it.
This time, MacLennan got to hand over the curation to Cage himself. In the best kept secret in Austin entertainment circles, Nicolas Kim Coppola had actually made it, with five personally selected prints of his work. "This is," Cage mused after 11 hours of watching his own face, "a very surreal experience."
Fans expecting the big, obvious titles like The Rock and Wild at Heart might have lost a bet. Instead, Cage picked films with a closer personal connection: Bangkok Dangerous, because his girlfriend is from Thailand; Joe because it was shot around Austin (plus, he implied that the hard-living title character is the role he has played that is closest to the real Nic Cage); psychotropic heartwrencher Bringing Out the Dead (arguably Scorsese's last great film); his latest title, the hilarious and weird Army of One; and one of his most overlooked but underrated performances, gun running, pitch-black comedy Lord of War.
He's a man of eclectic influences (Jerry Lewis, Daffy Duck, Marlon Brando, and Elvis Presley), whose career can be summed up as a partial rejection of Konstantin Stanislavski's claim that the worst thing an actor can do is imitate. Explaining why he injected Presley or Bogart into performances, he said, "Me being me, I wanted to break those rules, and start imitating. It's something that you're not supposed to do, and so I want to do it."
Yet he started in inimitable Cage style: with a suitably histrionic and stirring rendition of Edgar Allan Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart" – a story that gave him nightmares as a child and whose emotional impact he has chased ever sense.
Even after the marathon, over a Scotch in a glass with his head on it, Cage answered audience questions on everything from the actors he admires (Ryan Gosling, James Franco, Joaquin Phoenix, Zoe Saldana, Chris Pine, and Chris Pratt), to his child-rearing hints ("Be gentle"), to his most intense fan interaction (a biting, jumping fan in Transylvania), to what is his power spirit animal (a three-fer of California gray whale, monitor lizard, and dog).
However, inevitably the discussion centered on his career. There was the confession that he'd almost gone too far in some performances, and he could readily have been fired from Peggy Sue Got Married and Vampire's Kiss. Then there were the films that went too far for him, such as rejecting an ultraviolent Paul Schrader script which he described as "kind of like what Willem [Dafoe] does in the first five minutes of Dog Eat Dog, my character was doing it through the entire script."
Yet what came out most was how Cage, whose reputation is for what has been dubbed mega-acting, takes his work incredibly seriously. He touched on how little moments of observation of passers-by can inform a character, just as much as lengthy interviews with real-life subjects like Adaptation writer Charlie Kaufman, and wannabe-Bin Laden capturer Gary Faulkner. Yet there's a through line to many of the characters he selects: "I'm drawn to the flawed antihero," he said. "The person that's got a lot of the chips against them, but they overcome it. They may not make it all the way, but they made the effort. I like those guys."