“It’s an honor to be invited to such a wonderful event by Haruhisa Handa. I respect him for running so many charitable organizations, which support people who have suffered difficulties throughout the course of their lives. His spirit has a positive impact on the world,” U.S. actor Nicolas Cage said at the December 20th opening of the Tokyo Art Foundation Christmas concert and exhibition.
Cage’s own career needs little explanation. In 1990, he got his big break in David Lynch’s film “Wild at Heart,” which also became a smash hit in Japan. Five years later at the age of 32, he received an Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in “Leaving Las Vegas,” and has remained a permanent fixture in the world of entertainment. Cage has starred in several major works and blockbuster movies, but in recent years his taste in feature films has changed dramatically. Since 2010, he has opted for roles in B-movies over scripts offered to an actor of such standing—a decision that has garnered disapproval from some critics.
Cage, however, doesn’t subscribe to Hollywood values and rejects the idea that box office success and awards are the measures of a performer’s worth. What matters is the belief of the audience, and it’s more important to be able to fully inhabit a character, he says, than to star in a major film.
“When I get a casting offer, I focus on how the role synchs with my imagination, memories of the past or life experiences—whether or not I can find a little bit of common ground. Then I ask if I am really able to play that role at this point in time. In that sense, appearing in mainstream action films during the 90s was a rather reckless challenge,” he explained.
His career has been a series of challenges, which have introduced him to talented performers and helped polish his art. “Working with superstars like Meryl Streep and Sean Connery gave me new motivation. From Jon Voight, I learned that making a movie is about teamwork rather than individual effort. These days, I am picky about who I work with,” he says.
Cage’s philosophy of life was largely shaped by his late father, August Coppola. “My dad was a university professor and very involved with the arts. He was familiar with the culture of every country and was, in fact, particularly interested in Japan. He introduced me to the classic films of Akira Kurosawa at a very young age. Even now, my heroes are [legendary swordsman] Miyamoto Musashi and [actor] Toshiro Mifune,” he recalled.
A professor of comparative literature, a film executive and a lifelong advocate of the arts, August Coppola also had a strong influence on his younger brother, acclaimed director Francis Ford Coppola, who dedicated the coming-of-age drama “Rumble Fish” to his elder brother. August encouraged members of the Coppola family, including Nicolas and Sofia—Francis’s daughter who has become a prominent director in her own right—to embrace other cultures and pursue creative endeavors.
“My father and Haruhisa Handa resemble each other closely, in personality and way of thinking,” Cage said. “Both of them are teachers, knowledgeable about world literature and art, who also love sports. However, there are many people who can’t easily engage with these things. Take, for example, the visually impaired. Both men share deep empathy for people in these circumstances. Based on his desire to connect people through sports, Dr. Handa established the International Blind Golf Association, which now operates in 16 countries. My father August wanted blind people to be able to experience art, so he built a structure [called the Tactile Dome] in California where you use your sense of touch to appreciate the artwork in complete darkness. In my opinion, Dr. Handa’s vision overlaps with my father’s.”
Before designing the Tactile Dome in 1971, which is located inside San Francisco’s Exploratorium museum, Coppola went about daily life wearing a blindfold for three months to better grasp the experience of blindness. “Sympathy alone is not enough to make this kind of social contribution. My dad and Dr. Handa started by trying to understand the lives of people with disabilities. It’s not about just participating in charities and volunteering, but rather focusing on actions. By spending time with one another, we are trying to find the meaning of life together. It’s a relationship of equals. If we as a society could all become aware and accepting of diversity, just think how happy the world would be. This is what I learned from my father and Dr. Handa,” Cage said.
It seems Cage has based his career on the mindset that he inherited from his father. “As society becomes more diverse, the characters we as actors portray are becoming more complex. I want to be able to play those characters, whether they’re good guys or bad guys,” he said.
When asked by Handa about his upcoming project with Sion Sono—a director who has been dubbed “the most subversive filmmaker in Japanese cinema today”—Cage answered enthusiastically: “I’m really excited to work with Mr. Sono.”
About Nicolas Cage
American actor, director and producer Nicolas Cage was born Nicolas Kim Coppola in Long Beach, California, in 1964. Raised among a family of artists and entertainers, he is the nephew of director Francis Ford Coppola and actress Talia Shire, and cousin of directors Roman Coppola and Sofia Coppola. After working with the prestigious American Conservatory Theater, he made his film debut in the 1982 film “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” In 1995, we won the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in “Leaving Las Vegas.” He has appeared in numerous works, such as “The Rock,” “Con Air,” “Gone in 60 Seconds” and “Mandy.”