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May 26, 2003

Actor Nicholas Cage pays surprise visit to UCSC film classes

By Scott Rappaport

A jolt of electricity shot through the Media Theater classroom on May 20 when Academy Award-winning actor Nicholas Cage stepped onstage for a surprise visit to Assistant Professor David Crane’s Techno-Thrillers film class.

Nicholas Cage chats with theater arts graduate student Megan Mercurio after speaking to a UCSC film class, above.
Below, Cage is with Film and Digital Media Department Chair Chip Lord.
Photos by Scott Rappaport

The star of more than 40 feature films including Raising Arizona, Face/Off, Leaving Las Vegas, Adaptation, Windtalkers, Guarding Tess, Red Rock West, and Moonstruck, Cage appeared on campus with his cousin, Roman Coppola, a film and music video director, and the son of famed Godfather director Francis Ford Coppola.

The visit was arranged by Chip Lord, chair of UCSC’s Film and Digital Media Department, who had met Roman through a mutual friend. After viewing Coppola’s film, CQ, at the San Francisco Film Festival last year, Lord had scheduled a screening and a visit by the young director for the fall quarter. But 10 days before the event, they had to postpone when Coppola received an offer to direct a Nike commercial.

"We decided to reschedule for May and had made all the arrangements," Lord explained. "Three days before the date, Roman called me at home and said, ‘my cousin just invited me to go to Europe, but I don’t want to hang you up.’ Then he put Nick Cage on the phone, and Cage offered to come to UCSC with Roman when they got back from Europe. I said: ‘it sounds like you’re making me an offer I can’t refuse.’"

Impeccably dressed in a fashionable gray suit, Cage displayed the same combination of intensity and sincerity that has made him such a riveting presence on the screen. He fielded questions from Crane’s class of 350 students for well over an hour, covering a wide range of topics from Hollywood relationships to production design:

  • On what it’s like to be a movie star: "I don’t go out unless I know I got up on the right side of the bed in the morning, because I know I’ll be meeting people all day. Jack Nicholson says the average celebrity shakes 100,000 times more hands a year than the average person. So that’s a lot of people you can piss off—but I’m in a good mood today."

  • On the meaning of acting: "Acting has always been a sacred hero for me. I use my acting as a way to turn a negative into a positive, to purge myself."

  • On choosing a role: "It's always more fun to play a villain, but I don’t ever want to be typecast or trapped in any type of role. I want to try different parts and approaches…my methods will change with my roles."

  • On Hollywood blockbusters: "I like big entertaining movies…sometimes I make ’em."

  • On becoming an actor: "I became an actor when I saw James Dean in East of Eden. It was the breakdown scene with his father. It was so emotional and heartbreaking that I knew right then and there what I wanted to do. I wanted to act."

  • On watching his own films: "If a movie of mine comes up late at night on TV, maybe I’ll tune in for 10 minutes because its almost like a walk down memory lane--I’ve been doing this for 20 years or more."

  • On his proudest moment in film: "There are moments that happen where it seems like there’s been a shift in me as an actor. There’s a scene from my film Amos and Andy--I think it was a three-minute monologue—where I’m talking about sea monkeys. I felt like I was finally relaxed in front of the camera talking about sea monkeys. That was a breakthrough moment for me."

  • On Pokey: "He always seemed like he was a little peeved at Gumby."

  • On commitment to the profession: "If you decide to be an actor, you’re going to be dealing with rejection your entire life. And you really have to ask yourself if you want it that bad. That’s almost as important as your talent. How bad do you want it?"

  • On insecurity: "I do worry a lot. I don’t think I’ve ever started a picture where I felt I’ve known what I’m doing."

  • On acting classes: "I think some training is good but ultimately it’s your life that’s going to be your training. It’s a gift that’s given to you—you can enhance it somewhat, but it’s something you can’t really learn—it’s almost a spiritual thing."

  • On relationship difficulties for actors: "Hollywood is a very hard town to have a relationship in. The insecurities can be so great that people no longer trust each other."

  • On actors he would like to work with: "I think that Jack Nicholson and I could really tear it up together—but that hasn’t happened yet."

  • On the future: "I have a few projects at my company, which is called Saturn Films, that I’d like to get done. There’s a comedy called Press Your Luck that hopefully Bill Murray will be doing."

  • On politics and acting: "I’m not a politically active actor, but I do think you can do that in your work. As artists, I think that’s what our job really is. I think you can be very selective and careful in your work. I mean, I learned more about the disaster of nuclear power from the China Syndrome."

  • On getting your foot in the door: "The main thing is that you believe in yourself and don’t let others say you can’t do it because they’re bitter and critical. Just don’t give up."

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