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Nicolas Cage Defends ‘Operatic’ Film Performances: ‘Naturalism Is a Style’

"You tell me where the top is and I’ll tell you whether or not I’m over it.”



Neon/Claire Timmons

Nicolas Cage has earned a reputation in recent years for big performances in films, but that’s all part of his plan, he recently told Variety.

“It was my aunt Talia Shire who first said to me, ‘Naturalism is a style,’” he said on Variety’s Awards Circuit podcast. “And I was also a big believer in arts synchronicity, and that what you could do with one art form you could do and another meaning. You know, in painting, for example, you can get abstract, you can get photorealistic, you can get impressionistic, why not try that with film performance?”

He pointed to his performances in films like “Face/Off” and “Vampire Kiss” as examples of his experimentation, saying, “I was experimenting with what I would like to call Western Kabuki or more Baroque or operatic style of film performance. Break free from the naturalism, so to speak, and express a larger way of performance.”

As for whether or not his performances ever go over the top, Cage replied, “Well, when they say that to me, I say, ‘You tell me where the top is and I’ll tell you whether or not I’m over it.'”

Cage is currently in the awards consideration conversation thanks to his performance in first-time director Michael Sarnoski’s “Pig,” for which he received some of the best reviews of his career. Cage admitted that his spotty box office track record had hurt him in terms of studio consideration. “I always knew that it would take a young filmmaker who would come back or remember some movies I had made and know that I might be right for his script and rediscover me,” he said. “And that’s why he’s not just Michael, he’s Archangel Michael. This wouldn’t be happening if he didn’t have the open mind to say, ‘Come with me.’”

Cage also added that he’s not a fan of being called an actor, as that implies someone is a great liar. “With the risk of sounding like a pretentious asshole, I like the word ‘thespian,’” he said, “because ‘thespian’ means you’re going into your heart, or you’re going into your imagination, or your memories or your dreams, and you’re bringing something back to communicate with the audience.”

In his review of “Pig,” IndieWire’s Ryan Lattanzio graded the film a B and wrote, “This gentle, soulful drama (spiked with a few thriller elements and a couple of scenes of harrowing violence) is a gust of fresh wind in the long and recent lineup of Nicolas Cage films where the actor pushes himself to the brink of physical and emotional extremes. Instead, this is a patient, tender, and musing philosophical film about an isolated woodsman and his beloved pig.”

“Pig” is currently streaming on Hulu.

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