Nicolas Cage: Not of This World

Few actors have made such a variety of different films as Nicolas Cage, and hardly anyone has portrayed such bizarre characters as he has. The fifty-eight-year-old actor also voluntarily tackles venomous snakes and faces great white sharks and is known for donating a lot of money. Oh, and as a child he thought he was an alien. When you speak to him, the logic of his emotional world seems strangely clear. But, after all, who is normal?

  • Interview
    Rüdiger Sturm
  • Photos
    Simon Emmet/ Trunk Archive
You’ve won an Oscar, for a long time you were one of the biggest movie stars in the world, and you continue to be popular to this day. What does your career mean to you?

To be honest, it’s not that important. I’m the kind of person who needs time for contemplation, but there came a point when I found I couldn’t navigate the life of a so-called movie star, with all the narcissism and vanity that involved, going on talk shows and selling yourself. It did not jive with my interests in a life of contemplation. I got to a point where there was a kind of departure between me and the Hollywood studios. I wanted to go back to smaller, independent-spirited movies. When I look back at my younger self, I don’t like that guy. That guy was an arrogant, irreverent, obnoxious madman.

What was Nicolas Cage before he became a Hollywood star?

An alien.

Oh, come on.

Actually, those are my father’s words. He once told me he felt like he had to introduce himself to me because I was such an alien, whatever that meant. I remember being shocked the day I went to the doctor’s office as a child and I found out that I had normal organs and a normal skeleton just like everyone else because I was certain that I was from another planet. I had difficulties connecting with other people. When I saw David Bowie in The Man Who Fell to Earth, I realized I needed to do something. So I became an actor.

"I’m the kind of person who needs time for contemplation, but there came a point when I found I couldn’t navigate the life of a so-called movie star, with all the narcissism and vanity that involved, going on talk shows and selling yourself."
Nicolas Cage
What were you like as a child?

I was happy in the bubble of my imagination, looking at the world with my rose-colored glasses. My father was a great father. He built me this wooden castle, and I would go in there. I got a lot done there in terms of cultivating my imagination and my ability to play characters. That child is still with me and will always be there. My father also got me started reading. He had this game that we called the “missing chapter”. I would take books like Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange or Herman Melville’s Moby Dick and pretend I was a foreign correspondent who had to interact with all the characters and write a new chapter.

Can you recall some of these chapters?

It’s so long ago. My father had them all, but he is no longer with us on this material plane. The best one was Siddhartha, where I follow Siddhartha on the road and report back as a foreign correspondent.

Could you imagine living withdrawn like a Buddhist monk and devoting your life to silent meditation?

I couldn’t lock myself off into a cloister or monastery. I would approach it more like those spiritual leaders who are actively involved in society and are tempted and challenged to overcome those temptations.

There was a time when you were alienated from your father. How was it to reconnect with him eventually?

We were very close in the last five years before his death in 2005. I thought I was going to have more time with him, so I was quite shocked when he had the heart attack. But I was very thankful for these five years. Both of us were able to give back a lot to each other.

The relationship with your mother was more problematic. She was plagued with mental illness for most of your childhood . . .

I admit I had to go through a lot because of her. But she was a great mother and she also gave me a lot.

What would have happened to you if you hadn’t become an actor?

Without the proper outlets, I might have made a lot of mistakes that would have been irreversible. Because of the amount of energy and passion and anger that I had within me. Though maybe I would have found a different life. I did have my interests in reading and writing. Maybe I could have become a fisherman.

"I was happy in the bubble of my imagination, looking at the world with my rose-colored glasses. My father was a great father."
Nicolas Cage
Nicolas Cage as a fisherman? That’s hard to imagine.

I was sixteen years old, and that really was one of the plans in case things didn’t work out with acting. When I’m by the sea, I feel this incredible calm come over me. Every cell in my body relaxes, and I feel right at home. I love the rhythm, the ebb and flow of the tide, which reflects the whole cycle of life. And I saw by looking at some friends how you could earn a living with fishing. Maybe I would have joined the merchant marines. I would have been happy there, too.

What has helped you personally in your life?

I’ve tried to explore all the elements. I wanted to explore earth, so I took up spelunking. I was interested in water, so I got my scuba diving license. I even got into a cage underwater and looked a great white shark in the eye.

What was that like?

Confronting that shark was one of my most primal fears, but it was a remarkably calm, gorgeous experience. I remember thinking it was a female shark. I didn’t know for sure, of course, but then they told me that it was. I felt this strange connection with this awesome animal in the ocean.

"When I’m by the sea, I feel this incredible calm come over me. Every cell in my body relaxes, and I feel right at home. I love the rhythm, the ebb and flow of the tide, which reflects the whole cycle of life."
Nicolas Cage
What about the other elements?

Fire was interesting. When I was doing Ghost Rider, I got very close to fire. There was also a plan for a firefighting film that would have been shot in the middle of a real forest fire. And then air – I never got quite that far, but hang gliding was interesting to me. I was getting ready to do that, but it didn’t happen. As an actor, you’re insured, and the insurance company vetoed that.

You’re not exploring the elements anymore?

No. I have other ways of exploring life and my inner self.

Have you ever tried drugs?

I don’t do drugs, I don’t even smoke weed. Though I do like to drink from time to time. My body is like an instrument, and it needs to feel all these things. Alcohol can shut that instrument off.

What about other people?

My family is very important to me. Just watching a child grow up is a new discovery every day in the way it observes the world. I find it fascinating to watch and (…)

→ Read the whole interview with Nicolas Cage in rampstyle #27 "By the Way".

Rüdiger Sturm

Rüdiger Sturm

Freelance Author
Rüdiger Sturm is a film critic living in Munich. As a film journalist, he researches the industry at home and abroad - and talks to Hollywood stars as well as all other interesting personalities.
rampstyle #27 By the Way

rampstyle #27 By the Way

Mal ganz nebenbei bemerkt: Rund 30 bis 50 Prozent aller Entdeckungen lassen sich auf Zufälle zurückführen. Ob Klettverschluss, Viagra oder Röntgenstrahlen – man findet etwas, was man so überhaupt nicht gesucht hatte, doch dafür wird man mit anderem belohnt.

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