Nicolas Cage: Shamanic acting

A 15 year old boy asks his uncle the great Francis Ford Copola to give him a chance: “Give me a screen test, and I’ll show you acting.” In return, the boy was met with silence.

The boy didn’t give up. He grew up and changed his name from Nicolas Copola to Nicolas Cage – to distance himself away from claims of nepotism. He wanted to succeed on his own merit. Which he did. And became one of the stars of Hollywood.

Presence of a leading man, eccentricities of a character actor.”

Nicolas Cage doesn’t have the movie star looks. Long face. Thinning hair. Big eyes. Which allows him to play the role of the psychopath with as much ease as that of a romantic lead. He can very often be over the top. But even when the movie is bad, Cage is often very very good.

How does he do it? Cage calls his acting style shamanic nouveau. 

“The tribal shamans were really actors. They would act out whatever issues the villagers were facing… go in a trance and try to pull back something that would connect with the group.”

The idea is to immerse into imagination, to feel something without thinking too much about it. How do you do that? You take the aid of power objects. Maybe a poem, maybe a place.

For eg: to play the role of a war veteran and to feel his physical pain, Cage pulled two of his teeth out without anaesthesia. To play a drunk father, he binge drank for 2 weeks straight and shot video of how he walked while drunk – to act it out while sober. Before shooting the Ghost Rider, he went to Romania and stayed in Dracula’s castle – to channel the spooky energy.

The power of Power Objects

Soon Cage started collecting Power Objects. Things that allowed him to channel his imagination. He bought a 67 million year old dinosaur skull. An albino cobra. An octopus. The most haunted house in America. A castle in Germany. An island in the Bahamas.

He chased the extraordinary and the extravagant in order to get into that imaginative trance and create deeper authentic performances. 

The pitfall of Power Objects

In one year, Cage earned a massive 40 million dollars! In the next, he found himself deeply in debt. 

He spent and he spent and he spent. And he told himself that he is buying assets. Real estate and dinosaur skulls would all increase in value wouldn’t it?

But the weight was unbearable. At one point, Cage owned 15 massive residences. And paintings and art worth millions. Maintenance of his assets needed millions. He had taken loans which he could not repay on time. He failed to pay taxes. Soon the IRS was after him. And the banks were filing lawsuits.

Nicolas Cage had allowed the trance of things to carry him away.

“You can’t afford something unless you can buy it twice.” – Jay Z

Cage had to sell all of his assets. Unfortunately for him, it was after 2008-2009. When the markets had crashed. But Cage immersed himself into the role of someone who gets out of debt.

It took him 6 years. And selling of absolutely everything he owned. And acting in loads of very ok movies. But he didn’t file for bankruptcy. He paid everyone back.

Action Summary:

  • Learn from the shamans. Immerse yourself to arouse your intuition. Pull out that feeling that lets you connect with people around you.
  • You are what you have. Having is a powerful source of your own identity. So be conscious about what you acquire.
  • Learn from Jay Z. Don’t overspend. Everything requires maintenance, so make sure you can afford the product beyond its sales price.