Actor Nicolas Cage has always strived to make a name for himself based on his work, rather than on his lineage. As the nephew of filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola, Cage altered his last name to avoid accusations of nepotism. (He chose "Cage" both out of admiration for avant-garde musician John Cage and en homage to comic book hero Luke Cage). Even if he had retained the family name, it isn't likely that anyone would consider Cage holding fast to his uncle's coattails. Time and again, Cage travels to great lengths to add verisimilitude to his roles.
Born January 7, 1964, in Long Beach, CA, to a literature professor father and dancer/choreographer mother, Cage first caught the acting bug while a student at Beverly Hills High School. After graduation, he debuted on film with a small part in Amy Heckerling's 1982 classic Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Following a lead role in Martha Coolidge's cult comedy Valley Girl (1983), Cage spent the remainder of the decade playing endearingly bizarre and disreputable men, most notably as Crazy Charlie the Appliance King in Peggy Sue Got Married (1986), Hi McDonough in Raising Arizona (1987), and Ronny Cammareri in the same year's Moonstruck, the last of which won him a Golden Globe nomination and a legion of female fans, ecstatic over the actor's unconventional romantic appeal.
The '90s saw Cage assume a series of diverse roles, ranging from a violent ex-con in David Lynch's Wild at Heart (1990) to a sweet-natured private eye in the romantic comedy Honeymoon in Vegas (1992) to a dying alcoholic in Mike Figgis' astonishing Leaving Las Vegas (1995). For this last role, Cage won a Best Actor Oscar for his quietly devastating portrayal, and, respectability in hand, gained an official entrance into Hollywood's higher ranks. After winning his Oscar, along with a score of other honors for his performance, Cage switched gears again, choosing to star in a series of big-budget action films. 1996 saw him take the lead in the Alcatraz thriller The Rock, and the following year he made Con Air and John Woo's Face/Off, the latter of which attained overwhelming critical as well as commercial success.
1998 marked Cage's return to sentimental romance with his performance as a love-struck angel in City of Angels, a remake of Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire. Rejecting the possibility of continuity, Cage next made the crime thriller 8MM (1999), in which he played a surveillance expert investigating the suspicious death of an actress in the underground porn industry. The same year, he starred as a burnt-out paramedic in Martin Scorsese's Bringing Out the Dead, sharing the screen with such notables as then-real-life wife Patricia Arquette, John Goodman, and Ving Rhames.
After a turn as a man who comes to question his values and work ethic in the lightly dramatic romantic comedy The Family Man in 2000, Cage moved back into action with Gone in 60 Seconds before expanding his career in the newfound role of producer to such films as Shadow of the Vampire (2000), Sonny (2002) (which he also directed) and, The Life of David Gale (2003). That same year also found Cage in the role of romantic lead opposite Penelope Cruz in the eagerly anticipated Captain Corelli's Mandolin. Long considered a mainstream actor of decidedly quirky sensibilities, Cage cemented this perception in teaming with Being John Malkovich director Spike Jonze for a duel role in the complex comedy Adaptation (2002). With Cage appearing as both screenwriter Charlie Kaufman as well as his fictional brother Donald, Adaptation followed Charlie's attempt to adapt author Susan Orlean's seemingly unfilmable novel The Orchid Thief as a feature film, and Donald's parallel efforts to write his own hacky yet lucrative script by following the guidance of a caustic, Syd Field-like screenwriting instructor (Brian Cox). A weighty role that demanded an actor capable of portraying characters that couldn't differ more emotionally despite their outward appearance, Adaptation brought Cage his second Oscar nomination.
Cage continued to please critics in 2003 with his well-received performance in the comedy Matchstick Men, as a flim-flam man suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder. Lucky for fans of Cage's popcorn flicks, in 2004 he proved he hadn't completely abandoned buttered popcorn movies. That year saw the release of the megahit adventure film National Treasure. Directed by Jon Turteltaub, the picture cast Cage as an archaeologist convinced there's a treasure map on the back of the U.S. Declaration of Independence.
In 2005, Cage portrayed the lead in Gore Verbinski's The Weather Man, a tragi-comedy that received mixed reviews. He made the ill-advised decision to star in Neil LaBute's reworking of the Robin Hardy/Anthony Shaffer collaboration The Wicker Man (2006), with Cage inheriting the role of the sacrificial victim from Edward Woodward and Ellen Burstyn assuming a variant on the vile Christopher Lee role as Lady Summerisle; unfortunately, that film bombed. Cage fared better with the lead in Oliver Stone's thriller World Trade Center, released mere weeks prior, where he played one of the Port Authority police officers trapped beneath the trade center with one of his partners.
2007 found Cage gravitating magnetically to action roles in elephantine, Hollywood blockbusters that recalled his work in The Rock and Face/Off ten years earlier. He began the year by portraying the title character -- a motorcycle-driving stuntman who sells his soul to Mephistopheles -- in Mark Steven Johnson's live-action comic book adaptation Ghost Rider. Upon premiering in the States, the film became a big success. In the same year's sci-fi thriller Next, directed by Lee Tamahori, Cage plays Cris Johnson, a man who attains the ability to see into the future and must suddenly decide between saving himself and saving the world; the film failed to ignite the way Ghost Rider did just a couple months before it.
Cage then made an effort to recapture the success of National Treasure with a sequel, National Treasure: Book of Secrets, that finds Benjamin Franklin Gates (Cage) attempting to deduce the "secrets" of Abe Lincoln's assassination by tracking down the missing pages from John Wilkes Booth's diary. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi