Nicolas Cage, who was born Nicolas Kim Coppola, may have one of the most prestigious family names in the film industry, but this did not make his start as an actor any easier. In fact, he sold popcorn and tore movie tickets at the Fairfax Theater after most of his bit parts in the 1982 movie Fast Times at Ridgemont High were cut and before he got the punk-rocker role in the 1983 movie Valley Girl, which ultimately launched his career.
Cage also got a part in his uncle Francis Ford Coppola’s film, Rumble Fish, while he was working as a reader for its auditions. The movie was released right after Valley Girl and helped bring on more roles for the actor. During this time in his career though, he decided to change his last name after his favorite Marvel superhero Luke Cage, also known as Power Man, to veer away from the Coppola name and the idea of nepotism that it may bring.
After Valley Girl and Rumble Fish, the Academy Award-winning actor proceeded to earn for himself leading roles in various films, which ranged from drama and romantic comedies to action and science fiction. Early on in his career, he starred in such other films as Racing with the Moon and Birdy, both of which came out in 1984, the 1986 Peggy Sue Got Married, which was followed the next year by Raising Arizona, Vampire’s Kiss in 1989, Wild at Heart in 1990, the 1992 Honeymoon in Vegas and Red Rock West, which was released a year after.
However, it was not until 1996 when he began starring in mainstream films that Cage got the attention of a broader audience. These movies include The Rock, which was released in 1996, Face/Off and Con Air, both of which came out in 1997, City of Angels, which he starred opposite Meg Ryan in 1998 and National Treasure, a movie franchise which had its first release in 2004.
All of these movies though came in the wake of his first Academy Award nomination and win for his portrayal of a drunkard Hollywood writer in the 1995 film Leaving Las Vegas. His performance in the movie also earned him a Screen Actors Guild Award as well as a Golden Globe. In 2002, Cage got his second Academy Award nomination for playing both Charlie and Donald Kaufman in Adaptation.
Despite critical acclaim for such movies as The Weather Man and Lord of War, both of which came out in 2005, The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans in 2009 and Kick-Ass in 2010 and hits at the box office like the 2007 Ghost Rider and the 2009 film Knowing, Cage still got himself some strong criticisms in the most recent years of his career because of his role choices. However, he did get nods of approval for his performances in The Frozen Ground, Joe and The Croods.
Aside from acting, Cage has also ventured into the world of directing and producing movies. In the same year that he was nominated for his second Academy Award, he was also named a nominee for the Deauville Film Festival Grand Special Prize for directing the film Sonny. The actor also owns Saturn Films, a production company known for backing such films as the 2000 Shadow of the Vampire and The Life of David, which was released in 2003.
Cage may have gotten himself a last name that does not sound anywhere near his original surname, but his talent and passion for acting could not erase the fact that he is indeed a Coppola.
Born to dancer/choreographer Joy Vogelsang and literature professor August Floyd Coppola, whose own parents were composer Carmine Coppola and actress Italia Pennino, it could not be denied that he’s got artistic blood flowing in his veins. As if these people were not enough to give him a background akin to royalty in the entertainment industry, Cage also has director Francis Ford Coppola for an uncle and actress Talia Shire for an aunt.
The actor is also cousins with directors Sofia Coppola and Roman Coppola, film producer Gian-Carlo Coppola and actors Jason Schwartzman and Robert Carmine. His two brothers, director Christopher Coppola and New York radio personality Marc “The Cope” Coppola did not fall far from the tree as well.
Considering his family tree and his being born in Long Beach, California, it was sort of expected for Cage to attend Beverly Hills High School, which is known for producing a great number of alumni working in the entertainment industry. And, as it was really his dream to act, even at a young age, he also studied at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television. His first acting experience was in a school production entitled Golden Boy.
The quirky actor said it was James Dean who inspired him to pursue a career in acting.
“I started acting because I wanted to be James Dean. I saw him in Rebel Without a Cause and East of Eden. Nothing affected me – no rock song, no classical music – the way Dean affected me in Eden. It blew my mind. I was like, ‘That’s what I want to do’.”
As one of the most unconventional actors of all time who has even developed his own acting method he calls “Noveau Shamanic”, Cage is known for accepting a wide of roles. However, because of this he earned the praise of film critic Roger Ebert, who named him as one of the great living movie stars along with Robert de Niro, Jack Nicholson and Al Pacino. The critic lauded the actor’s fearlessness in choosing roles and his earnestness in staying true to the characters he is tasked to portray.
Cage’s qualities are probably among the very reasons he has been cast in a wide variety of both offbeat and mainstream films. And, although Lord of War co-star Ethan Hawke stated that the actor had done some damage to his career by taking on too many poor projects, he only had high praises for his acting style.
“He’s the only actor since Marlon Brando that’s actually done anything new with the art of acting; he’s successfully taken us away from an obsession with naturalism into a kind of presentation style of acting that I imagine was popular with the old troubadours,” Hawke said.
Cage’s most memorable performances in the cinematic industry include his starring role in the 1987 rom-com flick Moonstruck, which also starred Cher, the lead role in Martin Scorsese’s Bringing Out the Dead, a New York City paramedic drama that came out in 1999 and his portrayal of an obsessive compulsive, mysophobic and agoraphobic con artist who has a tic disorder in Matchstick Men, a 2003 drama movie directed by Ridley Scott.
Despite the “sometimes” extreme method acting practices Cage observes to achieve the emotions of a certain character or maybe because of this, the actor has already been nominated twice for an Academy Award. His first nomination for his role in Leaving Las Vegas where he portrayed a suicidal alcoholic got him the golden statuette. His second nomination was for his performance in Adaptation where he played Charlie Kaufman, a real-life screenwriter and his fictional twin brother Donald.
Cage’s low profile films, where he displayed his serious acting prowess, did not exactly translate to box office successes compared to his mainstream roles in adventure and action movies though. Even if he learned how to play the mandolin for his lead role in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin in 2001 and got good reviews for his performances in The Weather Man and Lord of War, they were still unable to gain a significant number of viewers despite their universal release. On the other hand, Marvel’s Ghost Rider, which got much criticism, came out as the top earner of all his films during its opening weekend when it earned more than $45 million. In fact, it raked in more than $208 million worldwide throughout the weekend of its opening.
Most of the actor’s mainstream action/adventure films were the ones that brought in high ratings at the box office and these include National Treasure, his second-highest grossing movie to date where he played a historian who went on a danger-ridden adventure to find the treasure hidden by the founding fathers of US, The Rock, which was set in Alcatraz Island and where he played an FBI expert on chemical weapons, John Woo’s Face/Off where he played both the protagonist and antagonist and Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center, which centered on the September 11, 2001 incident.
Cage’s most recent films include Bangkok Dangerous, which came out in 2008 and where he played a contract killer who underwent a change of heart, the 2010 period film Season of the Witch, where he appeared as a 14th century knight and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, wherein he performed the role of the sorcerer.
In 2012, he reprised his role in Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance. The actor also voiced Grug Crood in the animated movie The Croods, which came out in 2013, received critical acclaim and earned $585 million at the box office against its $135 million budget.
During the Bahamas International Film Festival held in the early part of December in 2006, he announced his plans to decrease his acting projects, so he can pursue other interests.
As a direct result of this announcement, Cage came out with his directorial debut in 2012 with Sonny, a low-budget dramatic film, which starred James Franco, who portrayed a male prostitute whose own mother, played by Brenda Blethyn, served as his pimp. The movie was met with poor reviews though and was only shown for a short time in a limited number of cinemas.
Aside from directing, the actor also ventured into producing. His first project was Shadow of the Vampire under Saturn Films, which he also owns. Cage was also noted as the executive producer of Sci-Fi Channel’s The Dresden Files.
Just like with most of celebrities, Cage’s public life has also been thrust into the public eye. A father of two sons, he has tied the knot three times. However, he did not get married to actress Christina Fulton, whom he started dating in 1988 and bore him his first son, Weston Coppola Cage in December 26, 1990.
The actor’s first marriage was in April 1995 with actress Patricia Arquette. Their divorce was made final in 2001. More than a year later in August 2002, he tied the knot with Elvis Presley’s daughter Lisa Marie Presley, whom he used as the base for his portrayal of his role in the movie Wild at Heart. They filed for divorce in November of the same year. The proceedings for the divorce lasted longer than their marriage.
Cage’s present wife Alice Kim was a former waitress at the Kabuki restaurant in Los Angeles and whom he met at Le Privé, a Korean nightclub based in the same city. They have a son, Kal-El, named after the birth name of Superman, who was born on October 3, 2005.
Despite his seemingly fleeting relationships with women, Cage is known to have one of the most generous souls in Hollywood. Aside from having donated a million dollars to the Hurricane Katrina victims, he also gave two million dollars to Amnesty International meant for rehabilitation shelters as well as medical, psychological and reintegration services to some of the 300,000 children, who are forced to take part in conflicts all across the globe.
As an appointed UN Ambassador for Global Justice and for his works as a philantropist, Cage was honored with the United Nations Humanitarian award. He was the first artist to give his support to ArtWorks, an artist engagement program intended to increase awareness of fundamental labor rights, including child labor and freedom from slavery.
The actor also helped raised awareness on International Arms Control, extended his support to Heal the Bay, the Royal Hospital’s Forever Friends Appeal to put up intensive care units for babies and efforts for the United Negro College Fund.
As one of the highest paid actors in Hollywood, having earned $40 million in 2009 alone according to Forbes, it can be said that Cage can afford to be generous as much as he can afford all his expensive properties. And, while he might be having problems concerning lawsuits and tax payments, nothing could ever take away the fact that Nicolas Cage has made a name for himself as an actor to be reckoned with and as a benefactor with a heart of gold.