Douglas Thmopson - Author and International Journalist

Before you can say ‘lighten-up' Cage is speeding through the scenery in a lemon-yellow Ferrari chasing Connery in one of those Humvee military jeeps that Arnold Schwarzenegger has as his ‘other car'. Connery and Cage make an engaging team and for once the Scot is only allowed misdemeanour scene-stealing when they reach Alcatraz and the real action.

Cage is endearing. And wacky. The success of the film in America now sees him in command of the ABC of Hollywood. He can slip into any role. In a few months he begins work for director John ‘Broken Arrow' Woo who has cast him opposite John Travolta in the super-budget ( Travolta is being paid $20 million) thriller ‘Face Off'. It is another fierce test for the unexpected star of his generation.

‘It's still all a dream. I couldn't have planned what has happened to me. That's what's quirky. Like every other kid I grew up wanting to be James Bond and here I was in the same film as Sean. I keep waiting for the bubble to burst -- first all the attention for “Leaving Las Vegas” and then the Oscar and now the success of this movie. Don't pinch me -- I don't want to wake up. I don't know who's writing my script but as long as they keep up these scenes...'

Given his background, Hollywood would appear to be his natural habitat. But Uncle Francis cast a long shadow -- one that could blind.

As his father moved with his comparative literature course to different universities he moved homes and as a teenager attended Beverly Hills High School where he took the lead in some plays.His father was scholarly -- and eccentric. Once for Christmas dinner he served up crayons and paper plates and had his children draw imaginary feasts. With his brothers, Marc a disc jockey in New York and Christopher a film director in Los Angeles , young Nicolas he would make backyard horror movies.

In the early days he was seen as a hanger-on Brat Packer who got the going easy because of his family connections. When he was sixteen and at Beverly Hills High he tested for a television pilot show and won the role of a weight-lifting surfer who boasts about the girls he picks up. ‘It wasn't very good but I still feel proud about it because it is something that happened on its own accord.

‘Then I did “Fast Times at Ridgemont High' and I was cut out of that. Then something interesting happened. My Uncle Francis asked me to rehearse some actors. So, I wasn't auditioning, I was there reading Mickey Rourke and Matt Dillon. The next day I found out I had a job and it really blew my mind. I started working on “Rumble Fish” and that was really high pressure.Here I was the nephew of the director without any more under my belt to speak of and that made the other actors nervous. I was an easy mark. I felt this pressure to pull it off. When I look back I think it was one of the better things I've ever done.'

More dramatic then was changing his name. He left Nicolas Coppola in San Francisco . He decided the family name was too much baggage. He was going to be Nic Blue after his favourite colour. He thought about Nic Faust but Cage won. It is a mix of admiration for the composer John Cage and, appropriately enough, the comic book action hero ‘Luke Cage -- Power Man'.

Nicolas Cage went to work on ‘Valley Girl'. ‘I had changed my name and that took some of that weigh of judgment off my shoulders. People did admit, whether it be good or bad, that my name being Coppola would colour their perception. I thought that rather bizarre.'

He went on to Alan Parker's ‘Birdy' and to Uncle Francis and Kathleen Turner in ‘Peggy Sue Got Married''. The critics either dismissed him in that or grated his performance like Parmesan.

His view is:' It was an important film to me. It was at a time when I began to re-evaluate the kind of style I wanted to choose as an actor. That was when I began to realise that I could get a little more off kilter and try something less naturalistic and more abstract.That excited me. It sort of refurbished my whole interest in what I was doing.

‘The ‘Eighties for me were really a learning process. I started off when I was 17 and I didn't know what I was doing. I've had to learn publicly about film and it's a trial and error thing. I feel much more in touch in the ‘Nineties with what I want to do.'

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