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American Cinematheque honors Cage

Beverly Hills, Calif., Oct. 27, 2001– An eclectic mix of elite entertainment industry “suits” and creative types turned out to honor one link they have in common: quirky actor Nicolas Cage, who has managed to parlay his off-kilter character portrayals–and colorful personal life–into a blockbuster career.

The offbeat Oscar-winner was feted at the American Cinematheque’s 16th annual Moving Picture Ball, an event held at Beverly Hilton hotel which drew a star-studded collection of Cage’s co-stars and friends, including Jim Carrey, Elisabeth Shue, Jay Leno and Samuel L. Jackson.

A tuxedoed and raven-haired Cage, whose early roles often summoned the spirit of Elvis Presley, arrived at the black-tie gala on the arm of his latest lady love, the King’s own grown-up princess Lisa Marie Presley, decked out in a shimmering micromini dress and platinum blonde locks done up 1940s style.

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The diverse group of guests mingled during a pre-show cocktail hour hosted by Premiere magazine, including Cuba Gooding Jr., directors Michael Bay and John Woo, shock rocker Marilyn Manson, Variety’s recently reinstated editor-in-chief Peter Bart, DreamWorks topkick Jeffrey Katzenberg, Gary Busey, NYPD Blue’s Garcelle Beauvais, comic Jeffrey Ross and actress Dominique Swain (wearing an eye-catching senorita-style black headdress). Afterwards, Cage and Presley took the center table in the hotel’s International Ballroom, joined by patentedly bizarro actor Crispin Glover and an unidentified shagadelic 1960s-styled couple looking like dress extras from the latest Austin Powers movie.

Singer Tom Waits, a longtime friend of Cage’s, kicked off the show with the song “Way Out West.” He then related a story about the actor’s sense of humor, telling about the time Cage drove him to a concert at L.A.’s Wiltern Theater but refused to let him out of the car, slowing at the door but then driving around the block–several times. “He lives like Bond, James Bond,” added Waits. “I like to call him a ‘fabulist.'”

Jackson, who co-starred with Cage in Amos & Andrew and No Way Out, served as host for the event, which will air on TNT later this year. He ticked off many of the actor’s idiosyncrasies, including owning a six-foot lizard, getting an eight-inch-long tattoo of a dragon, decorating his walls with stuffed moths and giant insects in frames and eating a live cockroach for his role in Vampire’s Kiss–twice.

Jackson pointed out that the comic-book-loving Cage (who is attached to Marvel Comics’ planned Ghost Rider film) was once linked to the never-realized Superman movie. “This is going to shock some, but we have footage,” said Jackson before unspooling one of the actor’s first roles: a young Cage is seen playing the Man of Steel in an 8mm home movie shot by his older brother Chris. Jackson also showed clips from a amateur film called The Sniper, which Cage made during his days at Beverly Hills High School.

Jackson also poked fun at how the actor, born Nicolas Coppola, the nephew of director Francis Ford Coppola and actress Talia Shire, decided not to trade on his Hollywood roots. Instead, he adopted the stage name “Cage” after considering a number of variations, including Nicolas Blue, Nicolas Faust and Nicolas Mascalzone (“bad boy” in Italian). The actor was inspired by the 1970s comic book character Luke Cage, Hero for Hire, a blaxploitation-era costumed crusader. “Going the black super hero route, ‘Nic Shaft’ has a nice ring to it–but sounds a little too porno,” said Jackson.

Dennis Hopper, who co-starred with Cage early on in Coppola’s Rumble Fish and later in

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Red Rock West, also recalled the name change, saying that after Nic’s leading man debut in Valley Girl, the young actor received a congratulatory telegram from his famous uncle signed “Francis Cage.”

Shue, Cage’s Leaving Las Vegas leading lady, praised the actor for the courage it took for him to play the role of a drunk that ultimately won him an Academy Award for Best Actor. “You have the courage to fling every molecule of your being into your work and your life.”

Mega-producer Jerry Bruckheimer–whose films The Rock, Con Air and Gone in 60 Seconds are credited with turning Cage into a bona fide action hero–said, “I say he made himself an action star. How many actors can you think of that could go toe-to-toe with Sean Connery and not get vaporized?”

More of Cage’s co-stars also appeared on stage to salute him: Red Rock West’s Lara Flynn Boyle; Christian Slater, of Woo and Cage’s upcoming Windtalkers; and Trapped in Paradise‘s Jon Lovitz.

Dennis Franz (City of Angels) recalled sharing a scene on a girder with Cage 40 stories in the air at 2 a.m. Prior to shooting the scene Cage reassured the NYPD Blue star, saying “If you ever get too scared or too nervous, just looked into my eyes.” As the scene commenced, Franz did indeed turn to Cage for reassurance, only to be surprised by what he saw: “I looked into two pools of the most absolute sheer terror that I’ve ever seen,” Franz said. “As it turns out, it was comforting that this guy was as scared as I was.”

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More of the actor’s former castmates made appearances in videotaped love letters, including Angelina Jolie (Gone In 60 Seconds) who earned laughs with the line “I think he’s normal;” Meryl Streep; Ving Rhames (Con Air); James Gandolfini (8mm); John Goodman (Raising Arizona), directors Coppola, Martin Scorcese (Bringing Out the Dead), Mike Figgis (Leaving Las Vegas) and Spike Jonze, who’s married to Cage’s cousin Sofia Coppola and appeared (perhaps for Halloween?) made up as a fat old man; and Cher, who revealed she threatened to pull out of her Oscar-winning role in Moonstruck if Cage wasn’t given the part of her love interest. “Without you, the film wouldn’t be any good,” she said.

In other video tributes, Johnny Depp told an amusing story of how, during some hard pre-fame times, Cage let him stay at his Hollywood apartment. Depp confessed he frequently found himself raiding Nic’s treasured stash of Mexican coins and bills and exchanging them for money for beer and steaks at Johnny’s Steakhouse or Musso & Frank’s. “So if you ever need a steak or some Mexican money, I’m prepared to give it back,” Depp said.

Face/Off‘s John Travolta also appeared on tape, doing a pitch-perfect imitation of Cage naming his foremost role model: “John Travolta was my primary inspiration for getting into movie acting,” Travolta-as-Cage intoned before dropping the act. “Every time I get bored, I have to become you,” Travolta conceded. “It’s causing me a credit problem. I just bought seven cars.”

The line was a nod to Cage’s ceaseless obsession with high-octane automobiles, and another notoriously car-crazy celeb, Tonight Show host Jay Leno, appeared live to aknowledge their shared passion. Leno said the most impressive thing about Cage


wasn’t his talent or accomplishments, “it was the fact that he had a car in his living room! He had a Jag in the living room and a Ducati motorcycle in the hallway.” Leno presented Cage with a giant framed Snap-On wrench, which he said was only for “guys who have big nuts.”

Finally, Cage’s longtime friend Jim Carrey, smartly dressed in a long black topcoat, took the stage to present the Lifetime Achievement Award, teasing Cage about his much-noted daring and unpredictability. “I like to call him ‘Risky Riskerton,'” said Carrey. “But the biggest risk you could take was to have me present your award tonight.”

The comic recalled meeting his buddy during script read-throughs for Coppola’s film Peggy Sue Got Married, marveling how the young Cage broke the actors’ early tension by reading his part with the voice of Pokey, the bendable green horse from The Adventures of Gumby and Pokey. “Until page 90, when we realized that this was Nic’s actual character choice.” Carrey also invoked the Cage-Pokey parallel when he brought his friend to the stage: “He’s an avid collector of cars, rare insects, classic comic books and he’s hung like a pony.”

Receiving his honor onstage, Cage thanked Carrey and Jackson. “My friendship with Jim Carrey just stuck,” he said, “and Sam, you are the coolest of the cool, and the fact that you did this makes me feel cooler than I’ll ever be.” He also gave thanks to Lisa Marie, several professional associates and, true to form, “Mr. Rogers, for calming me down when I was five.”

“I’m really very confused about who I am,” the honoree continued, relating his discovery at a young age that his birthday, January 7,1964, was in the Chinese calendar’s Year of the Dragon. That knowledge fueled his obsession with the powerful, mythic beasts, right down to his tattoo, dragon-themed home decor and full-on dragon-mouth fireplace. His fire-breathing mania continued unabated, “until about a year ago, until someone pointed out that the Chinese calendar starts in February, not in January.

“So I was born in the Year of the Bunny,” he admitted.

And even though the actor has genuinely earned a Lifetime Achievement nod by making more than 40 movies by age 37, there’s no end in immediate sight, he promised. “I’m not gonna stop ’til I make 126 movies.”

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