“Laurence Olivier said, ‘What is acting but lying, and what is good lying but convincing lying?’ I don’t want to look at acting that way. Why not experiment?” – Nicolas Cage
Academy Award-winning actor Nicolas Cage doesn’t often grant interviews, but when he does — such as the one he recently did for New York Times Magazine — he has a tendency to be remarkably candid about his career and his patented style of performing. In a lengthy interview, Cage touches upon many facets of his acting — influences from his pets, his drive to adhere to a director’s vision, and his “nouveau shamanic” acting style and how other actors could develop it.
When Cage, a noted animal lover, is asked if his numerous pets have ever influenced his performances, he responded, “The cobras, definitely. They would try to hypnotize you by going side to side, and when I did Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, that’s something my character does before he attacks. Animals are fun places to get inspiration. Actually, I thought Heath Ledger was doing some reptilian stuff as the Joker, with the tongue darting out all the time.”
Though Cage has developed his own style and persona as an actor, he points out that it isn’t always about what he wants to project. He explains, “As a film actor, my job is to facilitate the director’s vision. If there’s something I’m doing that they don’t agree with, I drop it.”
In the past, Cage has referred to his performance style as “nouveau shamanic.” When asked if he still thinks of his acting in terms of this, Cage says, “Laurence Olivier said, ‘What is acting but lying, and what is good lying but convincing lying?’ I don’t want to look at acting that way. Why not experiment?… Nouveau shamanic is nothing other than trying to augment your imagination to get to the performance without feeling like you’re faking it.”
However, Cage later remarked that “Nouvau shamanic” is not something that can be taught, but can be discovered. He elaborates, “You either have the proclivity to open up your imagination or you don’t. If you have that propensity and are on camera about to do a scene, what would make you believe in what you’re about to do? Say you’re playing a demon biker with an ancient spirit. What power objects could you find that might trick your imagination? Would you find an antique from an ancient pyramid? Maybe a little sarcophagus that’s a greenish color and looks like King Tut? Would you sew that into your jacket and know that it’s right next to you when the director says ‘action?’ Could you open yourself to that power?”
In case you can’t make it to the pyramids, Cage offers another, more manageable way to tap into his acting style. He says, “There are other ways. What is a poem that you like? You could take that poem and write it out by hand on paper, then fold it up and put it in your pocket. The trigger doesn’t have to be something that’s extraordinarily expensive.”