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National Treasure - I need to stay uncomfortable, I need to stay challenged and to keep interested

Feature by: Jack Foley

NICOLAS Cage is, by his own admission, an actor that has 'taken chances that have been uncomfortable' for both himself and for audiences. Yet he makes no apologies for it.

From the career highs of his Oscar winner, Leaving Las Vegas, and action-adventures Face/Off, The Rock and Con Air, there have been lows, such as the soft porn sex flick, Zandalee, or the oddball comedy, Vampire's Kiss.

What has remained important to the star, however, is 'staying stimulated'.

"I never want to get too comfortable in anything I’m doing," he explained, at a recent press conference for his latest film, National Treasure.

"I see myself as very much a student of acting, and I always see the chance to grow in some way. I’ve taken chances that have been uncomfortable for me, and I think at times for audiences, and I think that’s a good thing."

Indeed, his decision to try out the action genre was a big one at the time, given that he had previously established himself as a strong character actor, in performance-driven pieces such as Leaving Las Vegas, Red Rock West and Wild At Heart.

"It was uncomfortable in the beginning, but it’s something that’s kept me on my toes, and so long as I stay fresh with it, if I can stay interested – and I have – then I think I can keep audiences interested as well."

National Treasure marks Cage's sixth proper action film and his fourth collaboration with producer, Jerry Bruckheimer, following successful turns in The Rock, Con Air and Gone In 60 Seconds.

In it, he stars as modern-day treasure hunter, Benjamin Franklin Gates, the latest in a family of treasure hunters, who believes that the nation's Founding Fathers discovered the legendary treasure of the Knights Templar and subsequently hid the clues to its location all over the world.

One such clue is hidden on the back of the Declaration of Independence and it is up to Gates to steal it before it falls into the hands of his rival, Sean Bean.

For Cage, the allure of the movie lay in its old-fashioned roots, as well as the opportunity to appear in a tuxedo.

He laughs as he recalls: "At the time the script came to me, there was another project I was considering. In one, the character was working in a gas station wearing overalls, and the other character was wearing a tuxedo. So I thought I’d rather wear the tuxedo and steal The Declaration of Independence!

"It kind of helped me understand the tone of the movie, because I did think of pictures like To Catch A Thief and Charade, and the stars back then who had this lighter touch with these incredible caper movies. They’d be dressed very elegantly, and they’d be very playful and comedic.

"That’s when everything came into focus for me, because I met with director, Jon Turteltaub, in Jerry’s office and I said I was a little apprehensive about it; I wasn’t sure if it was too far fetched.

"But they said the very thing I was worried about was what would make it exciting, because he’s audacious, he’s bold and he gets to wear a tuxedo.

"It all came into focus at that point - you give yourself over to the ride, to the fun of the movie and try not to take it too literally. Just get caught up in the adventure of it."

Certainly, the movie has captured the imagination of US cinema-goers, where it remained at the top spot for three weeks, and furthered the box office endurance of the Cage-Bruckheimer partnership.

Yet Cage is equally candid about the reasons why he feels drawn to Bruckheimer so often, especially when it comes to working in the action genre.

"There’s no one who makes them better than Jerry... the four times I’ve worked with him, I've been very comfortable, because he gets the best people in the business to write and sculpt the material.

"He also has very independently-spirited taste with actors, and he encourages actors to explore their characters and allows you, as a partner, to bring ideas to the table.

"So when you take someone who has an organic and honest vision, which happens to also appeal to many people, and you combine that with actors who have unpredictable and unusual tastes, you get a pretty unique spark."

Looking ahead, it is clear that Cage is keeping himself busy and interested as an actor.

He has recently completed the Gore Verbinski drama, The Weather Man, alongside Michael Caine and Hope Davis, and will be appearing in another action-thriller, Lord of War, alongside Ethan Hawke and Ian Holm, next Summer.

He also shed light on the status of two more projects he has consistently been linked with.

"I had a very successful conversation recently with Neil LaBute, who is the writer and director of The Wicker Man. It’s something that I think may happen very quickly.

"And Ghost Rider is a project that I’ve been linked to for about four years now, it seems. I love the character, I think he’s a fascinating character, complex.

"As far as superhero films go, cinematically he’s going to be the most interesting character ever in a movie. He’s cinematically the most natural fit. But it’s still something we’re talking about."

Beyond that, who knows, but one thing's for certain, Cage will continue to entertain and, to a certain degree, frustrate audiences for some time to come.

As he openly admits: "I don’t have an identity, I think my identity is that I don’t have one, and I don’t want to be put in a box – I need to stay uncomfortable, I need to stay challenged and to keep interested."

Long may that continue.

National Treasure opens on Boxing Day.

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