Nicolas Cage was terrified when filming Face/Off – ‘I think I actually left my body’

Face/Off: Trailer for 1997 action movie starring Nicolas Cage

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When Nicolas Cage and John Travolta shot 1997’s Face/Off, the studio was not convinced they had a sure-fire hit on their hands. The plot depicted Cage’s terrorist Castor Troy literally swapping faces with Travolta’s FBI agent Sean Archer and leaving those involved in production worried that the concept was a little too crazy. Even screenwriter Mike Werb dropped out of purchasing a new property, concerned a box office bomb would destroy his career.

According to The Telegraph, co-screenwriter Michael Colleary admitted that even though shooting Face/Off was joyous, the lack of studio interference was because “people recognised they couldn’t rewrite this script without potentially really f***ing it up.”

Director John Woo also realised that there were concerns from the suits over Cage’s performance, resulting in some phone calls.

The cult actor was clearly committed to what he calls his “nouveau shamanic” acting method, which he developed himself.

He drew his inspiration for the name from Brian Bates’ book The Way of the Actor, in which a parallel between ancient shamans and thespians is set forth.

Cage has even described his extreme method acting using terms like Western kabuki and German Expressionism.

Luke Buckmaster of The Guardian once put it: “In Cage’s hands, cartoonish moments are imbued with real emotion and real emotions become cartoons. Everything – from individual scenes down to single lines of dialogue – feel like they have been embraced as opportunities for creation. Cage is usually interesting even when his films are not. He is erratic and unpredictable; he is captivating and he is capricious. He is a performer. He is a troubadour. He is a jazz musician.”

So when it came to the $80 million gamble that was Face/Off, the star didn’t hold back on both the comedy and drama.

Cage said of working on the movie: “There was the scene in the jail cell where Sean Archer is pretending he’s Castor Troy and so it was so… cubist. And I remember I was like, ‘I’m Castor Troy!’ And it went on and on, almost like a riot…God, it’s such a trippy movie.”

Despite this, Woo was loving his star’s bold approach, with one scene seeing him ad-lib, “I’d like to take his face…off” around 18-20 times “to a point of utter hysteria.”

Nevertheless, at one point, the challenge of portraying a man portraying Travolta’s character really got to him.

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Speaking with Variety, Cage said: “There was a moment in there where I think I actually left my body, where I just got scared Am I acting or is this real? And I can see it when I look at the movie, that one moment, it’s in my eyes.”

The studio shouldn’t have worried though, as Face/Off was a box office hit making over $245 million worldwide.

Speaking at the SXSW premiere of his latest movie in which he plays himself, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent, Cage commented on rewatching Face/Off in preparation.

He said: I was really wowed by [the movie]… I think it’s aged beautifully. He has never changed his views; shortly after its 1997 release, he said in an interview that “without wishing to blow my own horn, I think it’s a masterpiece.”



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