Nicolas Cage in ‘Valley Girl’ and the acting advice that defines him
Forty years ago, Cage was enthralled in his first starring role in Martha Coolidge’s “Valley Girl,” and the guidance he provided reverberated throughout his career.
“Injured, but not victorious.” Filmmaker Martha Coolidge gave her star Nicolas Cage this direction when they shot the breakup scene in the ’80s classic ‘Valley Girl’. In a film interview from 2003 between the two for the film’s twentieth anniversary, Cage told Coolidge that he’s “used that direction” in all his work ever since.
As the iconic 80th anniversary of Romeo and Juliet celebrates its 40th anniversary on April 29th, Cage returns to the big screen with his latest film, Renfield – in which he plays the century-old Prince of Darkness himself, Count Dracula. recovering from the latest attempt on his life with acquaintance Renfield (Nicholas Hoult) in New Orleans – it’s clear that the impact of his words still resonates in the unique actor’s performance.
She was just 17 when she auditioned for the role that would change her life. As ‘Nicolas Coppola’, he had a small role in Amy Heckerling’s ‘Fast Times at Ridgemont High’. After that, he split his time between auditions in his car and at his maternal grandmother’s. Unable to find much work and hoping to be judged on his talent alone, he changed his name to Nicolas Cage.
While promoting the 2022 meta-comedy The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, in which Cage plays a few fictional iterations of himself, – explains the name change, saying he is a combination of “Luke Cage from Marvel Comics” and “John Cage, the avant-garde composer. It speaks volumes for everything I’ve been doing ever since.”
His filmography – which now includes more than a hundred films – the actor brings his unique exploration of the human condition to almost every genre of cinema, from popcorn like “Con Air” or auteur cinema like “Bringing Out the Dead” . offbeat comedies like “Adaptation,” genre-defying films like “Mandy,” and character studies like “Pig.”
Yet her breakthrough role in the film “Valley Girl” was thanks to a twist of Hollywood fate.
Tired of referring to them as “pretty boys” and seeing Cage’s headshot in the scrap heap, Coolidge invited him in for a reading, unaware of his family connections. She felt that she “defined” the character and eventually won the role of Randy, Romeo’s Julie with a punk rock, Deborah Foreman’s Valley Girl Juliet. Unlike Shakespeare’s classic, the young couple is not torn apart by dueling families. Instead, Randy and Julie confront the growing economic gap between Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley, as well as the age-old villain of teen movies: peer pressure.
©Atlantic Releasing Corp/Courtesy Everett Collection
Cage credits the freedom he found on set with Coolidge for giving him “a sense of dignity as an actor” and inspiring his goal to always try to find the “truth” in the hearts of the characters he plays. “Basically you discovered it.” You discovered this surrealist interpretation of myself that is Nicolas Cage,” he told Coolidge in a 2003 conversation.
Since this early discovery of his artistic self, Cage has become a performer who, as Keith Phipps put it in his book “The Age of Cage,” is “instantly recognizable, but also a symbol of unpredictability that no other actor can claim.” Although this unique unpredictability doesn’t fully emerge until later in the ’80s, in the films “Peggy Sue Got Married” and “Raising Arizona,” the kindling of this unique fire is the first is found in the main role.
Despite its unusual appearance, which the The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Steven Rae called “All handsome,” Coolidge introduces Randy as the object of desire for Julie and her friends. We first see him emerge from the Pacific Ocean — his chest hair shaved off in a Superman V, one of Cage’s many creative contributions to the character — as the girls watch him from afar. Julie looks at him without saying a word, her unexpected attraction is immediately apparent to the viewer.
When Hollywood punks Randy and his friend Fred (Cameron Dye) crash a party in the Valley thrown by Julie’s well-to-do friend Suzi (Michelle Meyrink), friction collides with the preppy boys when Julie makes her lust for Randy public. The charming Cage develops intense chemistry with Foreman, and Coolidge stokes the flames with classic close-ups, making Cage an instant movie star.
©Atlantic Releasing Corp/Courtesy Everett Collection
Cage would show the same flare for starring as passionate on-screen partners in traditional romances like “Moonstruck” opposite Cher, “Honeymoon in Vegas” with Sarah Jessica Parker and “It Could Happen to You” with Bridget Fonda, as well as more unusual films. like ‘Raising Arizona’ opposite Holly Hunter, ‘Vampire’s Kiss’ Jennifer Beals, and the sticky, hot and violent relationship he had with Lauren Dern in ‘Wild at Heart’.
After Randy convinces Julie and her friend Stacey (Heidi Holicker) to go with them over the hill to a fancy Hollywood bar, we see the birth of more Cage-isms. Arriving in Hollywood in a top-down convertible, Cage confidently greets his friends on the street. For the first time, he utters his signature high-pitched screeching laugh, a quirk that would soon define the quintessential Cage performance and become a fan favorite of the Cage films decades later.
In “Renfield,” he uses this laugh almost self-referentially after his mad Dracula declares himself a god. Seamlessly combining his trademark intensity and unpredictably goofy expressions with the old-world charm that Béla Lugosi developed for the character in Universal’s original 1931 horror classic, his on-screen magnetism and allure flows through his iteration of Dracula’s convincing, hypnotic dehumanization. all your offers.
Although the romantic parts of “Valley Girl” helped Cage develop that charm and camaraderie on screen, it’s not until the aforementioned breakup scene that we begin to see Cage at his most creative. In the same 2003 interview, Coolidge recalls the stress of the night. They had limited time and limited film to capture this important scene.
Yet the moment they started shooting, he knew Cage had found the character, found the emotion and the truth. In the Cage scene says one of the most iconic lines of the film: “Fuck me by all means. Like totally.” It was a Cage-esque ad lib inspired by Coolidge’s life-changing direction, reflecting that Randy’s anger is not directed at Julie, but rather at the culture in which he’s trapped.
In the next scene, Randy experiences every emotion in the book. He gets drunk, hangs out at the club he took Julie to on the first night, fights with dangerous men, and finds himself alone in the sewer. While there is a clear line from James Dean’s performance in the opening sequence of “Rebel Without a Cause” to Cage’s acting, there are also the seeds of what most of his roles are. As revered as he is derided, his total physical commitment to his characters is part of what makes Cage so unique and captivating on screen.
Often referred to as an operatic, Cage has learned over the years how to fine-tune his persona to the tone of each film project. Sometimes he plays up this physicality to an almost cartoonish level, and other times he keeps it all tight as if he’s about to explode. In Leaving Las Vegas, for which Cage won the Academy Award for Best Actor, he played a suicidal alcoholic who finds love at the end of his life with a sex worker named Sera (Elisabeth Shue). Like “Valley Girl,” the film was shot on a tight schedule, but it also allowed Cage the freedom to develop his craft as an actor.
Due to a small budget and the occasional lack of permits, director Mike Figgis shot the film on 16mm in just 28 days. In interview with Roger Ebert, Cage attributed this short shooting schedule to his ability to “stay on the grill” and get into the headspace of Ben Sanderson, an alcoholic screenwriter with a deathly bent. Ben’s arc in the film is to take a man from being “damaged but not defeated” to someone who has accepted total defeat. Underneath all of this, Cage’s charm and empathy remain, forcing the viewer to understand this character as he does and accept his fate as it is.
Along with Ben’s complex interior design, Cage also transformed Cage’s body into that of an obviously dying man, finding a way to show his dance with death even in the way he holds his body in the most mundane of situations. It’s an exciting performance worthy of all the accolades it’s brought her. Although it marked the pinnacle of his career, the performance isn’t that far removed from Cage’s other, lesser material dedicated turns. In almost all of his films, Cage brings the same amount of himself to the role, even in otherworldly situations he finds a beating heart.
Despite spending three hours a day in “Renfield’s” make-up chair, Cage brings this dedication, physicality and intentionality to his Dracula. He leans heavily into his operatic tendencies and menaces the stricken Renfield and other mortals who cross his path with balletic grace.
Revealed by his acquaintance, who spends most of the film trying to regain control of his life, Cage’s Dracula center is also rooted in the direction of “injuring, not defeating.” Even as the film’s tone leans heavily toward comedy throughout, Cage anchors his performance in search of emotional truth.
In a 2003 conversation with Coolidge, Cage shared the saying that “honesty in life is honesty on the screen.” If Cage’s ability to explore these emotional truths in the widest range of characters suggests he may be the most honest actor working in the business today.
Universal Pictures opens “Renfield” in theaters on Friday, April 14.
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