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Nicolas Cage's Acting Idols Marlon Brando And Jerry Lewis Had Very Different Responses To His Adoration

Nicolas Cage is almost as entertaining when he talks about acting as he is to watch actually act, the latter being a blast whether he's hamming it up in a turkey like "Outcast" or putting on an acting class with something like "Pig." Cage is an actor who runs on instincts, snubbing classical training to learn on the job — experimenting with method acting one second in a film like "Vampire's Kiss" and turning himself into a one-liner-spewing action hero with a mullet in "Con Air" being a couple of highlights. 

Cage has compared acting to shamanism and said he prefers to think of his work as pulling from imagination, dreams, and memory, even saying in one interview he does not prefer the word actor, and before anyone goes and says that's pretentious, Cage already won that race. 

"I really don't like the word actor because for me it always implies, 'Oh, he's a great actor, therefore he's a great liar, and (great at) lying,' so with the risk of sounding like a pretentious a-hole, I like the word thespian because thespian means you're going into your heart," he said in December 2021 at around 16:10 of his Variety Awards Circuit Podcast appearance.

One has to wonder who the acting inspirations are who helped propel Cage to this shamanistic view of acting. According to Cage, two of his heroes are famous method actor Marlon Brando and legendary comedian Jerry Lewis. Cage was lucky enough to meet both men, earning very different reactions.

Marlon Brando waved off Nicolas Cage's praises

Nicolas Cage never worked with Marlon Brando, but he did have a connection through his uncle Francis Ford Coppola. Coppola directed Brando in two of the actor's most famous performances in "The Godfather" and "Apocalypse Now." Brando was known for his method style and also for his oftentimes disruptive behavior. Coppola and Brando famously clashed on "Apocalypse Now," especially after Brando showed up to set far heavier than his Colonel Kurtz character was supposed to be (per HuffPost). 

Still, Brando was an acting hero of Cage and the then-youthful actor got a chance to meet him twice, once at a screening of his uncle's movie "Apocalypse Now" and on another occasion at a screening of Brando's movie "Burn!" It was during the latter exchange that Cage earned himself a classic Brando response. 

"I met Marlon a million years ago at my uncle's house. He was screening Apocalypse Now for the first time. The house was abuzz. "Marlon Brando's here, Marlon Brando's here." It was like he was our King Arthur. I met him again at a screening of his movie 'Burn!' I said to him 'You've really been my motivation.' He said, 'Oh, Jesus Christ Nick, give me a f***ing break.' That was that," Cage told Empire for their Greatest Actors issue. 

Cage also met Jerry Lewis, who didn't curse at him, but gave an equally unique reply to Cage's praises. 

Jerry Lewis had to share the spotlight of Nicolas Cage's adoration

Jerry Lewis spent a career making audiences laugh through films like the original "Nutty Professor" as well as numerous specials and shows with longtime performance partner Dean Martin. While Cage's career has included more stabs at serious roles than Lewis, there are shades of Lewis in Cage's physical comedy in films like "Raising Arizona." 

The two actually did work together too, sharing a scene in 2016's "The Trust." Cage portrays dirty cop Jim Stone, who is partnered with an officer named David Waters (Elijah Wood). Lewis appears briefly in a scene with Cage as his father. The two share some quiet, engaging moments in the scene and it stands out as the last screen performance from Lewis, as he passed away in 2017 at the age of 91 (via The New York Times).  

Cage told Empire that when he informed Lewis he was an acting hero of his, he also mentioned Brando's name, prompting a playful jab from Lewis. 

"I also had a conversation with Jerry Lewis where I said, 'You and Brando were my favorites.' He went, 'Well, Brando's good also.' [Laughs] Two different approaches to a compliment!" Cage said. Those were very different approaches indeed, and the fact that two seemingly polar opposite artists had such influences on Cage explains why the unique thespian has managed to continue surprising audiences for so many years.