Hey there, all you cool cats and kittens. Since the captivating Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness was unleashed onto Netflix, it has been almost inevitable that a biopic for one of the story’s central real-life characters, Joe Exotic, would become a reality. With fans of the docu-series suggesting the likes of Danny McBride and David Spade for the role, the casting agents instead decided to choose the actor that everybody secretly wanted, Nicolas Cage.
Netflix’s Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness drops us into the stranger-than-fiction world of big cat owners. Among the eccentrics and cult personalities that inhabit this curious profession, few stand out more than Joe Exotic, a mulleted, gun-toting polygamist and country-western singer who presides over an Oklahoma roadside zoo. Charismatic but misguided, Joe and an unbelievable cast of characters including drug kingpins, conmen, and cult leaders all share a passion for big cats, and the status and attention their dangerous collections garner. But things take a dark turn when Carole Baskin, an animal activist and owner of a big cat sanctuary, threatens to put them out of business, it stokes a rivalry that eventually leads to Joe’s arrest for a murder-for-hire plot and reveals a twisted tale where the only thing more dangerous than a big cat is its owner.
The scripted Tiger King biopic will comprise eight episodes and is being produced by Imagine Television Studios and CBS Television Studios. The series will be based on the Texas Monthly article “Joe Exotic: A Dark Journey Into the World of a Man Gone Wild,” by Leif Reigstad, with American Vandal’s Dan Lagana serving as writer, showrunner, and executive producer.
Over the years, Cage has somehow managed to simultaneously become both the greatest and worst actor of all time, and it is this innate complexity, along with these 8 performances, that proves that Nicolas Cage is the perfect choice to portray Joe Exotic, but really he is the only choice.
Con Air (1997)
Director Simon West’s wonderfully over-the-top thriller Con Air is by far one of Nicolas Cage’s most lovingly remembered action roles. Cage stars as former war hero Cameron Poe, an honorable man who is sentenced to eight years in prison when he accidentally kills a man in a barroom brawl while defending his pregnant wife. With his release imminent, Poe is put aboard a flight transporting ten of the most dangerous men in the American penal system to a new high-security facility.
As the title suggests, the plane is soon overtaken by the convicts, leaving Poe stuck in the middle and forced to fight for his survival in a way that only a delightfully mindless action movie such as this 90s throwback can offer.
It’s impossible not to be won over by the testosterone-fueled nonsense of Con Air, and while the likes of John Malkovich impressively chews the scenery as serial killer mastermind Cyrus “The Virus” Grissom, it is ultimately Cage’s Southern-fried hero that steals your heart. With his stoic, all-American charm and ridiculous Southern drawl, Cage’s performance in Con Air demonstrates his ability to play the kind of all-action man that Joe Exoctic seemingly believes he is. Besides, if nothing else, it proves Cage can pull off a mullet.
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans (2009)
Amongst the pantheon of Nic Cage-Esque performances, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans ranks somewhere near the tippy top. Cage stars as detective Terence McDonagh, a man who has certainly seen better days. He has a nasty painkiller addiction, courtesy of an injury he sustained while rescuing a prisoner during Hurricane Katrina. Plus, there’s his alcoholic father, his boozy wife, and his prostitute girlfriend. If that weren’t already enough for him to navigate, he’s just been saddled with a rookie partner intent on getting in his way. Now, Terence must try to keep himself from teetering over the edge of sanity, as he is tasked with investigating a series of murders that has left the city dangerously unsettled.
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans finds Nic Cage in his element, all flailing movements, and wide-eyed maniacal laughing. In the case of Bad Lieutenant though, this exaggeration is wrapped around a deeply affecting portrayal of a man harboring internal wounds, desperate to do the right thing but not really sure of how to go about it, who has allowed his worst tendencies to consume him so completely.
A lot of Terence McDonagh resides within Joe Exotic, and Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans is ample proof of Nic Cage’s ability to pull off both the internal and external personalities of such an extravagant character.
Nicholas Cage’s performance in 2002’s dizzyingly original Adaptation earned him an Oscar nomination, and even though the movie features not one, but two Nic Cage’s, in many ways it finds the actor at his most restrained.
Blurring the lines between fact and fiction, Adaptation follows a warped version of real-life writer Charlie Kaufman, hot off the success of his first produced script, Being John Malkovich, for which he received an Academy Award nomination for best original screenplay. Despite this achievement, Kaufman is plagued by insecurities in both his personal and professional life. Kaufman is hired to adapt The Orchid Thief, a nonfiction book about a fanatic, eccentric, toothless orchid breeder named John Laroche. Kaufman struggles with how to approach the material, wanting to make a movie about flowers, rather than allowing the story to devolve into something predictable or ordinary.
Cage plays both Charlie Kaufman and his identical twin brother, Donald, who longs to become a screenwriter like his brother. Donald though is more than happy to abandon artistic integrity in the pursuit of prosperity. Cage carries the differences between the Kaufman brothers with subtle elegance, never over-playing either one. He leaves his usual acting tricks to one side and instead creates a character desperate to realize his creative vision in this beautifully unique tale of flowers, writers, truth, and invention.
The explosive action-thriller Face/Off is one of Nic Cage’s most recognized roles, and deservedly so, as it gives the actor the opportunity to display the two extreme sides of his personal acting spectrum.
Face/Off follows no-nonsense FBI Agent Sean Archer, initially played by John Travolta, who is persuaded to undergo an experimental plastic surgery procedure in order to impersonate and get hold of his son’s killer and his arch-enemy, Castor Troy, initially played by Nicolas Cage. Rather predictably, trouble brews when Castor awakens, kills everyone that knows about the mission, and steals Archer’s face in order to impersonate him.
Face/Off showcases both Cage’s talent for wide-eyed lunacy, and for emotional melodrama, as he switches between the golden-gun toting and ludicrously named Castor Troy to the sullen hero of the story, Sean Archer. Demonstrating how well he can flip between hero and villain, Cage’s performance bodes well for his portrayal of Joe Exotic, a man who at one point seems like the good guy, before suddenly being revealed as a potential bad guy.
Raising Arizona (1987)
The Coen Brothers’ crime comedy Raising Arizona may be one of the directing duos lesser-known movies but is certainly no lesser in quality. Cage stars as H.I. “Hi” McDonnough, a philosophical but somewhat dim career criminal who has been arrested so often that he gets to know “Ed,” short for Edwina, played by Holly Hunter, the officer who takes his mug shots. Over time, Hi takes a shine to Ed, eventually winning her heart, marrying her, and moving to the Arizona desert. Their serenity is shattered when the couple finds out that they are unable to have children, but fate, it seems, decides to step in. Ed sees a news item which reveals that Nathan Arizona, owner of a chain of unpainted furniture stores, has become the father of quintuplets. In a twisted act of kindness, our couple decides to kidnap one of the Arizona children, figuring that this will not only give them a baby but also ease the Arizona’s burden.
Raising Arizona finds Cage playing a charmingly naive idiot, and being utterly endearing doing so. Hi is one of his funniest performances to date, allowing the actor to lean into his more goofy tendencies in order to play this lovable lughead. A lot of Raising Arizona’s H.I. McDonnough transfers effortlessly to the persona of Joe Exotic, and if Cage can channel the same kind of enchanting idiocy into the Tiger King then it’s sure to be a roaring success.
Director David Gordon Green’s independent crime drama Joe went largely unnoticed when it was released back in 2013, but it really is worth checking out. Not only is the movie excellent in its own right, but it also features a quiet, nuanced performance from Nicolas Cage, the likes of which you rarely see anymore.
Joe is a story of friendship and redemption set in the contemporary South. An adaptation of Larry Brown’s novel of the same name, the movie finds Cage going way, way back to his indie roots in the title role. The character, Joe Ransom, is a rough-hewn, hard-living, hot-tempered, ex-con who simply wants to resist his more nefarious instincts. Now the boss of a lumber crew, Joe courts trouble when he steps in to protect his crew’s youngest member, a hapless kid played by Ready Player One’s Tye Sheridan.
The gesture awakens in Joe a fierce, protective nature, but whatever you assume from those words about Cage’s performance is almost guaranteed to be wrong. Joe finds Cage playing someone very internal, a burning rage that in a lesser Cage movie would find the actor once again devouring scenery and over-selling. Instead, Cage remains refined and introspective, keeping things grounded even when the quest for vengeance sneaks into proceedings. Whether the role of Joe Exotic will warrant Cage tapping into this kind of subtlety remains to be seen, but Joe certainly exhibits his potential to craft something much more interesting than just Exotic’s outwardly obvious eccentricities.
Nicolas Cage has made a plethora of movies centered on revenge, particularly in recent years, with each one varying widely in quality. Considering Joe Exotic’s vendetta against one Carole Baskin, Cage’s penchant for revenge will come in very handy. Director Panos Cosmatos’ Mandy from 2018 though is a very different beast.
Taking place in 1983 and set in the Pacific Northwest, Mandy introduces us to outsiders Red Miller and Mandy Bloom as they lead a loving and peaceful existence. When their pine-scented haven is savagely destroyed by a cult led by the sadistic Jeremiah Sand, Red is catapulted into a phantasmagoric journey filled with bloody vengeance and laced with deadly fire. The word ‘phantasmagoric’ should be more than enough to inform that Mandy is far from the usual Cage-fronted revenge thriller fare.
Mandy leans into Cage’s talent for mania for this kaleidoscopic, psychedelic, ultra-violent exploration of one man’s descent into madness as he wreaks bloody vengeance on the people who came crashing into his life with the want to destroy it. Cage’s dedication, along with an array of bewildering, stylish visuals make Mandy one of the most arresting revenge flicks in years.
Leaving Las Vegas (1995)
Director Mike Figgis’ drama Leaving Las Vegas is a grim undertaking. The kind of movie-watching experience that almost makes you feel guilty, as if you should not really be watching the deeply personal experiences of the characters on screen.
Leaving Las Vegas documents a tragic romance between prostitute Sera, in an Oscar-nominated performance from Elisabeth Shue) failed Hollywood screenwriter Ben, in an Oscar-winning performance from Nicolas Cage, and the constant flow of booze which he loves more dearly than life itself. Arriving in Las Vegas with the intention of drinking himself to death, Ben meets Sera, and they form an uneasy friendship. From the outset, Ben warns Sera that no matter what, she can never ask him to quit drinking, a condition to which she grudgingly agrees. As they gradually begin falling for one another, Sera struggles with her promise not to come between Ben and his addiction. Ultimately Leaving Las Vegas is about two people who, within the confines of their beaten-down lives, find a flicker of happiness with each other.
Cage’s hypnotically unhinged performance makes for a fittingly sober watch, as Ben staggers down a fatal path of self-destruction, with no desire to change direction. Similarly, Joe Exotic’s passions and obsessions take him down a path of dark fascination, with his own sense of self-importance rendering him immune to the idea of any other options. At the very least, Cage’s work in Leaving Las Vegas proves he can carry off the endearing repulsiveness necessary to leave audiences in awe of such a maddening, oddly enchanting man as Joe Exotic.