When Nicolas Cage attended two screenings of "Honeymoon in Vegas," which opened Friday, he heard something he'd never heard when watching any of his previous films. The audience was laughing.
"It was a wonderful sound," the soft-spoken actor said in a telephone conversation recently. "I had made a movie that actually made people laugh. My films are usually so introspective. Except for 'Moonstruck,' I've never had a movie that made people feel good."
Mr. Cage is so exalted by this feeling that he has vowed to make more comedies.
" 'Moonstruck' was a romance that had funny things in it. 'Wild at Heart' and 'Vampire's Kiss' made people laugh, but in a very nervous sort of way. 'Honeymoon in Vegas' is an outright comedy, and I'm surprised at the amount of joy I'm experiencing from that," he says.
In the offbeat comedy, Mr. Cage plays a New York private detective who, at his mother's deathbed, promises her he will never marry. However, he gets engaged and takes his fiancee to Las Vegas, only to lose her in a poker game to a businessman played by James Caan.
"The character is different from any I've played. He's a mama's boy who grew up totally bossed around by her, completely under her control. In all my other films, I've never even had a mother-son relationship. Some of those characters you wouldn't even think would have a mother. The big surprise, though, is that he's such a regular guy. In this movie, I don't have a snakeskin jacket [as in "Wild at Heart"] or have a chopped-off hand [as in "Moonstruck"] or I don't kidnap an infant [as in "Raising Arizona"]. I just wind up giving up my fiancee to another guy for the weekend."
His romantic rival in the film, Mr. Caan, has recently seesawed from a hit ["Misery"] to a highly publicized flop ["From the Boys"]. In an edition of Entertainment Weekly, he was quoted as saying that Bette Midler, his co-star and the driving force behind "For the Boys," was "very stupid." And several reporters who attended a press junket for "Honeymoon in Vegas" found that his rambling answers made him difficult to interview.
Mr. Cage defends his co-star, saying, "He's an unpredictable guy who says things without thinking. Not a lot of thought goes on between the time of his initial emotions and his verbalizing of those emotions. But he's a challenging actor who kept me on my toes. We have two different approaches. I tend to over-prepare. He's always spontaneous."
The 28-year-old Mr. Cage is the nephew of Francis Ford Coppola, a fact that he finds both blessing and burden.
"It's helpful in that I've wound up working with him three times [in "Rumble Fish," "The Cotton Club" and "Peggy Sue Got Married"], and that was a blessing. The hindrance is that every time I do a movie away from him, Francis somehow gets the credit for my performance. But he's my uncle until the day I die. If anything, I'll try to embrace that. I know other young actors have been jealous of the fact that my real family name is Coppola. But it's one thing to have the ball thrown to you and another to be able to run with it."
Working with "Wild at Heart" director David Lynch, also noted for "Twin Peaks," "Blue Velvet" and "The Elephant Man," was "liberating" for the actor.
"I really didn't know what I was going to do each day we shot 'Wild at Heart.' Sometimes he would give me the lines the day of the shooting. I remember one day David just said, 'Sing me some opera. I want you to sing opera in this scene.' That scene didn't stay in the movie.
"But I trusted David. I couldn't have worked that way with a director I didn't trust. And for once I didn't over-analyze. I think I created a natural, spontaneous performance in 'Wild at Heart.'"
Other than "Honeymoon in Vegas," his most accessible film has been "Moonstruck," in which he played an amorous, if unconventional, baker who pursues a practical-minded widow played by the Oscar-winning Cher. He never wanted to do the film and came to like it only recently.
"I was only 21 when I made 'Moonstruck.' I was angry and rebellious. I wanted to make the kind of movies that are essentially punk gestures. I read the screenplay to 'Moonstruck' and thought, 'I would never pay money to see this film!' But my agent insisted I do it, practically forced me to do it. When I saw the finished film, I didn't know what in the world to make of it. That was my era of wanting to make new-wave, alternative films.
"I was thrilled that my next movie after 'Moonstruck' was 'Vampire's Kiss.' But only a few people got 'Vampire's Kiss.' "