Nicolas Cage gets up close and personal on SXSW stage

By: 

Managing Editor

Known for his eclectic movie roles, outlandish personality and Internet memes, Academy Award-winning actor Nicolas Cage has cemented his place in pop culture history.

Following NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden’s digital conversation from Russia, Cage’s session lightened the mood for Monday’s South by Southwest Interactive festival-goers. Director David Gordon Green moderated the conversation with Cage, who stars “Joe,” which premiered earlier at SXSW.

Filmed locally in the Austin area, “Joe” is based on a novel by author Larry Brown. The movie tells the dark and brooding tale of an ex-convict lumberman, Cage, who tries to rescue a 15-year-old boy named Gary, Tye Sheridan, from his abusive, alcoholic father. “Joe” is set for an April release.

“When I did ‘Joe,’ it let me get naked as a film presence—where I could take my life experiences from the last two or three years and find a script where I didn’t have to act,” Cage said. “I could just be and not think too much about it and hopefully deliver truth in the dialogue.”

As a fan of Cage’s movies, Green said he wrote a “kiss ass” letter and asked him to “pretty please” star in his movie “Joe” months ago.

“The curiosity of his performance is the curiosity of Nic,” Green said. “I was left with a smile watching Nic at the end of the day.”

From a young age, Cage, originally born Nicolas Coppola, knew he wanted to stand out. Cage’s first love is the ocean, and he was planning to be a professional fisherman before he landed his first big-screen role in “Valley Girl” in 1983. Cage credits James Dean as ithe nspiration for fueling his acting career, especially after seeing his powerful role in “East of Eden.”

“I went to a million auditions and always had the door slammed in my face,” Cage said. “I’m proud of my family name (Coppola), but it was a bit of a weight when I went into casting calls. They would talk about my uncle’s (Francis Ford Coppola) accomplishments. It wasn’t until I changed my name to Cage that I felt the weight come off me.”

At the age of 50, Cage said “it sucks to be famous right now” because many personal aspects of celebrities’ lives are splashed across tabloids, often eclipsing their acting accomplishments. More recently, Cage’s likeness has taken on a life of its own via the Internet through various memes and gifs.

“It’s part of the Internet, and I don’t know why (the memes) happened,” Cage said. “People far more famous than me, it doesn’t happen to them, and I don’t know why. I try not to think about it.”

Toward the end of the session, an audience member asked Cage about the legacy he will leave on the film industry. With more than 75 movies under his belt, Cage said he hopes for new and more seasoned performances as he grows older. Cage said he tries not to think about how the public will ultimately classify his acting career into the larger history of film.

“There’s a little bit of ‘Vampire’s Kiss’ in every man and woman, and there’s a little bit of ‘Joe’ in every man or woman,” Cage said. “I open myself up to the Zeitgeist. Maybe that’s why (my memes are) being explored on the Internet. Everyone wants to lose it but we’re not allowed to.”