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Nicolas Cage on Turning Down 'Dumb & Dumber,' Winning Another Oscar and the Movie that Made Him Change His Name

Nicolas Cage
Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

While promoting "Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengence," the actor discussed his former friendship with Jim Carrey, and why he hated making "Fast Times At Ridgemont High."

Nicolas Cage may be known for his tough-guy roles in action films like Face/Off, Gone in Sixty Seconds and National Treasure

But, if things had gone differently, he may have been known for a very different role.

While doing press for his upcoming Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengence (opening Feb. 17), the actor discussed a role he almost took: Jim Carrey's sidekick in Dumb & Dumber

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"Well, we talked at length about trying to do a movie together," Cage told the Huffington Post of having been good friends with Carrey, who he now no longer talks to (because they "fell out of conversation")." In fact, he wanted me to be in Dumb & Dumber with him. And then I wanted to do a much smaller movie instead called Leaving Las Vegas."

That film ended up earning Cage his only Oscar, something he says he's not concerned with vying for again. 

"It isn't important to me," he admitted. "In fact, I think that if you go about making movies to win Oscars, you're really going about it the wrong way. I think that it's ... right now, what I'm excited about is trying to create a [pauses] kind of a cultural understanding through my muse that is part of the zeitgeist that isn't motivated by vanity or magazine covers or awards. It's more, not countercultural, but counter-critical. I would like to find a way to embrace what Led Zeppelin did, in filmmaking."

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Which is to say he doesn't want to court the press. Something he also did early in his career when he changed his stage to Cage from Coppola. 

Though, the actor says it was his experience on cult favorite Fast Times at Ridgemont High (which starred a then little-known Sean Penn), that made him abandon his famous last name. 

"I must have auditioned for the Judge Reinhold part 10 or 11 times," he says, calling the film a "terrible experience." "I was underage, so I couldn't get it because I couldn't work as many hours. And I was surrounded by actors, whose names I won't mention, who were not very open to the idea of a young guy named "Coppola" being an actor. So that movie was instrumental in me changing my name because of the kind of unfortunate responses to my last name."

In fact, Cage says he was harassed on set. "The would congregate outside my trailer and say things, like quoting lines from Apocalypse Now, and it made it very hard for me to believe in myself."

But, gaining anonymity through "Cage" solved many of those problems. "It wasn't  until I auditioned for Valley Girl -- where Martha Coolidge did not know who I was. I had already changed my name to Cage and I had this weight come off my body and I went, "Wow, I really can do this." And I felt liberated by that experience. And you can see it in Valley Girl that I'm free. Whereas in Fast Times, or even Rumble Fish, I'm somewhat stuck.