Sunday, March 24

License to act


Monday, June 3, 1996Nicolas Cage has the style, the chops, the
respect and an Oscar.

Now the filmmakers of ‘The Rock’ give him the space to carve
out

an action protagonist of his choosing.

By Dina Gachman

Daily Bruin Staff

or Nicolas Cage, the stereotypical beefy action hero is a thing
of the past.

"I think that people tend to get tired of the same old
stagnating approach to that monosyllabic, stoic, macho
steroid-head," says the actor, "which to me can offer very little
at this point."

So how does Cage deal with his aversion to the testosterone
lover’s icon? He creates a new model ­ the neurotic action
hero.

In "The Rock," his first film release since earning a Best Actor
Oscar at this year’s Academy Awards, Cage plays FBI
chemical/biological weapons expert Stanley Goodspeed, a man who
feels more comfortable handling a test tube than a weapon. When an
angry army general (Ed Harris) takes over Alcatraz with a lethal
chemical called V.X. poison, Goodspeed is needed to detoxify the
weapons, and he becomes the wary protagonist.

Cage, sporting a freshly sprouted beard and a "key lime pie"
colored shirt, sits at the Four Seasons hotel and talks about the
evolution of his character in "The Rock." Goodspeed, explains Cage,
was a static, macho hero in the original screenplay, which did not
mesh with the actor’s ideals.

"I had been contemplating the idea of a sensitive, flawed action
hero for some time," says Cage. "I saw the action format as one of
two that really translates worldwide ­ comedy being the other.
I wanted to get on that stage. I wanted it to be something I could
improve upon."

Fortunately Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer, director and
producer of "The Rock," allowed Cage to add depth and a touch of
human failing to his character. Cage attributes his small
background in writing to his father, who encouraged his son to
write short stories as a child. This early training helped the
actor mold Goodspeed into a multi-dimensional, heroic Everyman.
Cage, not one to accept hollow, meaningless roles, transformed his
character into a down-to-earth savior.

"For me, (Goodspeed) had no dignity," says Cage. "I wanted him
to be into his work ­ a really positive guy who loved
chemistry and was smart, but not macho. Somebody who was a
reluctant hero where the last thing he wanted to do was kill
anybody."

Goodspeed does end up killing a few bad guys with the help of an
ex-con (played by Sean Connery), but he makes up for it by
injecting some humor and pathos into the film. Cage, a
self-proclaimed worrier, easily relates to his character in "The
Rock." As an actor, he says, this identification is a must.

Cage is known for choosing films that defy mainstream
conventions. He’s had roles in films such as David Lynch’s visually
twisted "Wild at Heart," Alan Parker’s "Birdy," the Coen brothers’
sickly hilarious "Raising Arizona," and, most recently, "Leaving
Las Vegas," the movie that jumped from the fringes of the industry
right into the center of popularity, and also earned Cage his first
Oscar. "The Rock" is arguably Cage’s most mainstream film to date,
even though he committed to the project before the Academy Awards.
But that doesn’t mean that he is selling out. Just the opposite
­ Cage hopes that the Oscar will allow him more creative
freedom on movies like "The Rock," while he continues to work on
original, challenging films.

"If anything," Cage says of his Oscar, "I’m hoping it has given
me a chance to have an idea and not just have it stepped on. Some
of my ideas come out of left field, or at least they appear that
way to the people I work with. But then there is a point behind
them and there is a process to them, and I hope that it will just
give them a second or two more to think about them before they just
shut the door on it. That’s what I’m hoping."

Cage’s desire to be understood for who he is, and for what his
ideas mean, seems to have come true. He created an unlikely hero in
"The Rock," and "Leaving Las Vegas," which much of Hollywood
thought was too "dark" to sell, was not only poignant, but popular
worldwide.

Much of Cage’s allure comes from the fact that he is able to
deliver powerful performances in two such completely different
films ­ something that Cage himself recognizes.

"’Leaving Las Vegas’ was a movie that people were ready for," he
says. "It’s the opposite of this movie ("The Rock"). This is the
kind of movie which I consider valid and cogent, and I wouldn’t of
done it if I didn’t think it had value in going to the theater and
getting your mind off your problems. But ‘Leaving Las Vegas’ is a
movie you go to when you want to look at your problems."

Cage is currently at work on the new prison drama "Con Air,"
co-starring John Cusack, and a new action movie called "Face Off"
with John Travolta is in the works. He is happily married to
actress Patricia Arquette, and is enjoying fatherhood (his son,
Weston, is from a previous relationship). Despite all of this, Cage
does not let himself become lax about his future.

"I’m really happy with my life," he admits. "But I also know
that everything is transitory. Life is always full of surprises,
and I’m not just gonna let myself get lazy and say it’s always
gonna be this way. I suspect that things are always gonna
change."

Part of this change comes with dissolving his image as an actor
outside of the mainstream. Cage has now added action hero to his
list of roles, but he is not ready to settle into that image. He
would still do a "Leaving Las Vegas" if the right script came his
way.

"I want to do both," says Cage. "I want to keep mixing it up.
I’m not the pretentious sort that will only do one kind of movie.
I’m just an actor. I just want to try everything ­ I dig
everything."

FILM: "The Rock," directed by Michael Bay. Opens Friday.

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