NICOLAS CAGE: THE PUBLIC PERSONA AND THE PRIVATE DECADENCE

Nicolas Cage is an actor who has a reputation for going off the deep end – whether it be in his performances in both straight dramas and over-the-top action fodder, or in traversing the private difficulties of his personal life. Certainly in recent years, bad publicity has not helped his reputation as a serious actor – but it is unclear how much of an effect, if any, it has had on his acting career as a whole.

The Money

Cage’s latest troubles appear to have started back in 2009, in the lead-up to the release of his and Werner Herzog’s The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call – New Orleans. Reports began appearing that, after having appeared in both Oliver Stone’s decently-well-received 9/11-inspired drama, World Trade Center, and also the critically-trounced box office flop The Wicker Man, a horror remake directed by Neil LaBute (both 2006), Cage owed “more than $6 million in unpaid U.S. taxes dating back to 2007” (Allen). Cage’s former business manager Samuel Levin claimed that Cage shopped “uncontrollably” and needed to earn $30 million a year “just to maintain his lavish lifestyle” (Allen).

This “lavish lifestyle” Levin claims Cage cultivated allegedly included “buying three additional homes for more than $33 million (£19.7 million,) 22 cars including the nine Rolls Royces, along with 47 purchases of ‘artwork and exotic items’ and 12 of ‘expensive jewellery’” (Allen).

Perhaps more bizarrely, Levin claims that Cage made more “Quixotic aquistions” (Allen) including Midford Castle in England and Schloss Neidstein Castle in Bavaria, both of which Levin alleges were “decrepit and needed huge expenditures” (Allen). If these odd purchases weren’t enough on Cage’s plate, he is also reportedly the owner (or past owner?) of: “yachts (yes more than one), a jet, a castle, over 50 cars (he’s taking this Gone in 60 Seconds role too far if you ask me), over $1 million dollars worth of comic books, mansions in New Orleans, two Bahamanian islands, shrunken heads (not sure how much they cost), $500,000 Lamborghini, $276,000 on a dinosaur skull, 2 King Cobras, and a pet octopus” (Hall).

When faced with the kinds of dire financial straits that Cage is, what would any sensible Hollywood actor do? Of course, Cage sued Levin for $20 million, accusing him of “incompetence” and claiming his manager made “made risky investments that led to ‘catastrophic’ losses and took the actor ‘down a path toward financial ruin’” (Allen). Of course the apparent predilection Cage appears to have for what could best be described as eccentric and bizarre buying habits could also have something to do with it…

On the plus side for Cage, it may be the very Hollywood lifestyle that hurt him so much financially that will now help him. In November 2009, Johnny Depp was reported to be “sorting everything out” (Davis) for Cage with regards to his massive debt in back taxes, etc. because Depp was recommended to his agent way back in the early 1980s by none other than Cage, which lead more or less directly to Depp’s breakthrough role in Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). In other words, it would be a multi-million dollar payback for one one-time young actor helping out another one-time young actor at the start of their careers.

The Marriage

One wonders if his seemingly obsessive-compulsive spending habits took any part in Cage’s divorce from actress Patricia Arquette in 2000. Reportedly, Cage met his Bringing Out the Dead (1999) co-star in 1987, and was “so besotted that he was said to have immediately declared, ‘I love you, and I’m going to marry you’” (Kim). They were married in 1995, around the time of Cage’s Oscar win for Leaving Las Vegas (1995). And so it was a seemingly happy time, full of wonder for both these fine and beautiful actors. However, sometimes you never can tell what is going on behind closed doors.

Whatever the reason for their split-up, Cage and Arquette are reported to have made an “amicable” and “mutual decision” to divorce, citing “irreconcilable differences” (Kim). What is odd then is that though the couple was married in 1995 and divorced in 2000, their divorce petition is said to read “the couple separated just nine months after they wed” (Kim) — roughly four years prior to the divorce finalizing! Why the bizarrely lengthy gap between separation and divorce? Cage is said to have told Movieline magazine, “you don’t just throw in the towel when there’s any kind of a problem” (Kim).

Perhaps he felt he’d found his soul mate. When you consider that it was Arquette who proposed, and the method she employed, it might be easy to see the attraction for an eccentric showman like Cage: “showing up at Cage’s house dressed head to toe in black vinyl, carrying a big purple wedding cake.” Indeed, Cage is quoted as saying in a TV interview, “I knew I was with the right woman” (Kim).

The Monarchy

Having appeared in David Lynch’s Wild at Heart (1990) as the violent but somewhat sensitive Sailor Ripley, lover on the run with Lula (Laura Dern), it is possible to see in Cage’s screen persona a certain propensity to play outsiders skirting the edges of “civilized” society, thus not constrained by the typical expectations of men in their 20s and 30s: marriage, family, financial and mental stability, employment.

It is somewhat of a surprise then to discover that Cage received a somewhat belated Christmas present by becoming a father on December 26, 1990 to a young boy named Weston Coppola, the son of then girlfriend Christina Fulton, an actress (Celebrity Babies Archive).

What is perhaps most curious about this is that Cage had gone to the trouble to change his name from Coppola seemingly to stand out on his own and to make a name for himself under his own steam, and yet he did not afford the same luxury to his new son. Although Weston was a baby at the time, and presumably not an actor nor a child with acting ambitions, and despite Cage being essentially just a stage name, it seems odd that Cage wouldn’t want his son to have the same opportunity to make a name for himself under his father’s moniker without the familial connotations. Then again, perhaps he looked at it as giving his son all of the benefits of the Coppola legacy. Who knows?

And so Nicolas Cage has gained quite the public persona – from the bizarre trajectory of his acting career (particularly since winning his Oscar) to the unfortunate personal problems in both the romantic and financial realms. Nevertheless, he is nothing if not great at persevering in a world where actors are taken for granted, where seemingly insurmountable difficulties are lobbed at you like bombs and where you must survive against very nearly impossible odds. However, in order to continue to survive Cage needs to understand his limitations – or like Icarus continue flying too close to the sun.

Note: Written for Sue Brower’s Stardom & Celebrity course at Portland State Winter 2011.

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