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Nicolas Cage may have won a priceless Oscar for his turn as a suicidal screenwriter with an alcohol addiction in 1995’s Leaving Las Vegas — but that’s all he got. The actor was never paid the $100,000 he was promised to star in the film.
That surprising detail was revealed in a podcast interview with Mike Figgis, the writer-director of Leaving Las Vegas, who joined The Hollywood Reporter’s It Happened in Hollywood for that show’s third season premiere.
Figgis, too, was never paid the $100,000 budgeted for his directing fee.
“They said the film never went into profit,” Figgis says of Lumiere Pictures, which financed the $4 million film, which Figgis shot using handheld 16mm cameras on the streets of Las Vegas.
The film earned $32 million worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo.
Figgis seems not to mind the shortchanging.
“Whatever,” he says. “I mean, my career then took off again, and the next film I did, I got really well paid. And within a year [Nic] was earning $20 million a film, so that was quite good.”
Leaving Las Vegas reinvigorated both Cage’s and Figgis’ film careers. In the next two years, Cage would star in The Rock, Con Air and Face/Off, a trio of action blockbusters that cemented his status as a bankable Hollywood superstar. And Figgis suddenly found himself an Oscar-nominated director, fielding calls from the likes of Steven Spielberg (who proposed they collaborate) and Stanley Kubrick (who called wanting to know how he achieved several shots).
A tale of love and self-destruction, Las Vegas follows Ben Sanderson (Cage), a screenwriter fired from his job in Los Angeles, who decides to move to Las Vegas and use his severance check to drink himself to death.
There he meets Sera (Elizabeth Shue), a sex worker who falls in love with him. The two agree not to interfere with each other’s self-destructive life choices.
The film, based on a 1990 cult novel by John O’Brien (who died by suicide just weeks after he sold Figgis the adaptation rights), explores dark and difficult subject matter that made it nearly impossible to find backing. Even after it was completed, the film struggled to find distribution until MGM stepped in.
It went on to be nominated for four Academy Awards: best director, best adapted screenplay, best actress for Shue and best actor for Cage, which he won.
If you or anyone you know is having thoughts of suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
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The Silent Twins