That Time Nicolas Cage Scared His Bullies in Cowboy Boots (and Learned How to Act)

Published September 17, 2019

That Time When is Interview’s weekly trip through the pop cultural space-time continuum, where we return to some of the most overlooked moments from issues past. In this edition, we revisit our August 1994 cover story with Nicolas Cage: the delightfully weird, extraordinarily eccentric actor and (borderline) philosopher.

If you Google “How many movies has Nicolas Cage been in,” even Google is stumped. “At least 96” it presumes, but who really knows? A creative radical and master of artfully tasteful overstatement, Cage has been a regular in films since the early 80s, when he was still being credited as “Nicolas Coppola.” (His uncle is the legendary filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola).  But, before starring alongside an Oscar-winning Cher in Moonstruck, Cage delivered a brilliant performance as a 9-year old bus-ridin,’ bully-bustin’ badass. When young Nicky Cage was being bullied at school, he was sadly left to fend for himself. So he did what only a Hollywood mastermind-in-the-making would do, and manifested a fake-cousin-creation to combat his adversaries. As he told Interview‘s Mark Marvel in his 1994 cover story:

MARK MARVEL: As a kid, did you beat people up, or did you get beaten up?

NICOLAS CAGE: No, I didn’t beat people up. I went to a fairly tough school, and I think the first time I ever really discovered acting was when I had to disguise myself as somebody else in order to scare the bullies away. I never felt like I was a tough guy. I remember I went home and put on my brother’s cowboy boots, put some gum in my mouth, put some sunglasses on, got on the bus, and said, “I’m Nicky’s cousin, and if you mess with him again I’m gonna kick your ass.” They really believed it, and they never touched me again after that.” I think the fact that I was able to convince somebody that I could be tough, even though I wasn’t, made me feel that I could act.

Young Cage unknowingly embodied acting theorist Sanford Meisner’s technique of “living truthfully under imaginary circumstances.” Earlier roles in movies like the Coen Brothers’ Raising Arizona and Coppola’s adaptation of S.E. Hinton’s Rumble Fish barely introduce the bizarro-chic style for which he’d become known. Emerging as one of the foremost favorite memes of the collective internet, Cage devised an approach as far outside the box as possible that might best be summed up as acting to the fullest.  

Despite criticism from some corners of Hollywood—his uncle nearly fired him for insisting on using falsetto in Peggy Sue Got Married; Norman Jewison, the director of Moonstruck, told him to stop playing Ronny with “art house surrealism”—his passion for the craft is undeniable. Cage might be more offbeat than your typical A-list actor, but as we wrote in the intro to the 1994 interview, “we’ve loved every wild gesture, every incredulous stare, and every goofy grin.” More recently, Cage has gotten caught up with stealing the Declaration of Independence and getting married (a total of four times, twice of them drunk—once to Lisa Marie Presley for 108 days, and this year, to the makeup artist Erika Koike, for a Kardashian-trumping total of four days). But Cage’s prolific career is not slowing down any time soon; by December he will have appeared in four films this year alone, bringing his total for the decade to an impressive 42. Whether he’s hurling a battle ax at acid-filled mutant-bikers in an art-house horror film, plotting to kill his children in a dark thriller, or capturing Osama Bin Laden after receiving a prophecy from Russell Brand in the form of god, we can’t get enough of Nic Cage. The next hundred performances are sure to be equally as—shall we say, uncaged.