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The Enigma That Is Nicolas Cage

The world would be more dull without Nicolas Cage, or Nicolas Kim Coppola. Born into the equivalent of Hollywood royalty, the actor decided to go with the stage name, Nicolas Cage in favour of coasting on the coattails of his esteemed uncle, Francis Ford Coppola. Ironically, opting to forego the family name long associated with the crime epic, The Godfather, which has firmly rooted itself in pop culture... who would have imagined that the young actor would create his own legacy in the process.

This stage name adoption may be key to unlocking the enigma of Nicolas Cage, whose decision to do it his way and unassisted may have been the schism that would inform his trajectory and decades-long film career. Identified as a promising talent early on in his career, the actor's devil-may-care attitude has found him leaning into the good, the bad and the ugly of Hollywood. No wonder David Lynch wanted him for Wild at Heart. A veritable ambassador and cautionary tale rolled into one, the actor has a viral quality that forces a reaction from those who come into contact with his performance style.

Enigma of Nicolas Cage

Channeling the gung-ho bravado of star-spangled dreams, in some ways Cage is a poster boy for the American dream with a "hell yeah" attitude that seems geared towards chasing down impossible dreams. Maybe it's just because he likes Elvis? A self-reflective pursuit in many ways, modelled on his own unflappable life force and gambler's attitude when it comes to risk and reward, Cage has made himself supremely watchable. Whether playing a version of himself up for laughs or trying to access a more grounded personality from within the jukebox, he's a chameleon of an actor on a ceaseless quest to entertain.

This life-of-the-party desire is what makes him magnetic, one of the most polarising actors working today. Attention-seekers and thrill-seekers will be able to identify with everything Nicolas Cage, who rarely holds back. Giving his all, whether cranking the throttle on an absolute clanger or trying to restrain his Cage factor for more serious and thoughtful roles, he's created a sense of unpredictability and excitement around his performances. Never quite sure what you're going to get but knowing that whatever he's doing will be full tilt, the actor has become a film brand of sorts.

While his choice of roles often leaves much to be desired, the actor's perceived versatility, originality and x-factor has made him a secret weapon... able to bridge a number of genres. Typically a headline act... with the exception of starring opposite himself in Adaptation, his Oscar for Leaving Las Vegas adds mantlepiece clout and a sense of dormant potential, which has been resurrected in numerous critically-acclaimed roles that serve to remind us that he can act when the stars align.

Having starred in a plethora of films over the years, what's quite surprising is that the famed actor has opted for paydays over producer credits. Many actors who have built a name for themselves typically move into producer roles in the latter part of their careers, often splitting payment into short-term and long-term remuneration schemes. This often ensures their best work to maximise the product and its longevity, but can also become more problematic in tracing these earnings in the long run. Travelling lightly, Cage appears to have gone the upfront route, meaning that when he's not working, he's not earning... living between gigs.

When you're operating from this basis as an actor who's simply getting paid from one gig to the next, you are going to run into the problem of quality and quantity... even if you're a former Coppola. In Cage's scenario, living a celebrity lifestyle and trying to maintain the illusion can land you in quicksand if you don't have the necessary margin when it comes to finances. If his risk-taking in his performances is anything like his financial acumen, then chances are that the man who wanted to relocate a castle to the United States may find himself in a tight spot every now and then. To alleviate this, much like John Cleese would attest to after a costly divorce, one has to pick up a few odd jobs beneath one's station to pay the bills.

Enjoying every moment, Nicolas Cage is only beholden to Nicolas Cage, meaning that he's invulnerable to film criticism and not held to the same account as other name stars. Much like Ricky Gervais and Joan Rivers developed a reputation for inappropriate no holds barred comedy, the same license has been afforded to Cage, who plays by his own rules. Able to ham it up with Werner Herzog's Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans one day, he's equally adept enough to channel head-turning nuance in a well-weighted performance as a savant in Pig. It seems that his only rule is that he remain entertaining whatever he's doing, which serves as a welcome fallback, where he's trying to add a sense of wink-wink fun to a martial arts fantasy movie or elevating a more prestigious drama.

While Nicolas Cage can't get away from the idea of a performance with "Nicolas Cage as"... he ensures that a sense of passionate authenticity is always bubbling beneath the surface. If he's having fun, then it makes sense that the audience is picking up on this infectious vibration. This inherent quality enables the actor to salvage some films of questionable merit as well as transcend others by upscaling good moments into great ones. "Amuse thyself" may seem like a self-indulgent and self-serving attribute but in the case of people like JP Sears, Jack Black and Nicolas Cage, it's permission for us to take a load off, not take ourselves so seriously and take a walk on the wild side.

Once you understand the enigma of Nicolas Cage, his wild-eyed charms and full throttle spirit may be less antagonistic, countercultural and detrimental in the grand scheme of things. Cage's full-fledged ego, showmanship and over-the-top tendencies may still make him stick out like a sore thumb but his catalytic presence is almost always welcome in an age where star power is on the decline. Not a conventional film star by any stretch, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent is a living testament to the actor's unmeasurable powers... inspiring a new generation to find the fun, lunacy and passion of life by watching the actor breathe it all in.