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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Nicolas Cage: Predisposition For the Darker Side of Living

LOS ANGELES -- Actor Nicolas Cage says his fascination with the morbid began when he was 4 years old and, at 35, it is still going strong.

He has played an alcoholic bent on self-destruction, a private eye investigating the porn industry and a psychotic sex maniac, and now he is starring as an ambulance driver on the verge of a breakdown.

He has also been cast as an angel and an action hero. But Cage, the wild eccentric who keeps dead bats, lizards and an octopus as pets, says he has always been more at ease with the black side of life.

"There is no doubt that I am predisposed to the dark side. As an actor I have to do a little bit of everything. I want to. I like the romantic comedies. But I would be very comfortable doing only dark movies. I would be OK with that," Cage acknowledged in an interview.

"It probably started when I was about 4 years old. I was terrified. I had nightmares. I had a hard time sleeping. I was that kind of a kid. I was a spooked kid. And I think that as I have grown up, rather than shun it, I've made friends with it. And now I make movies about it. I think that was the healthiest approach."

After a four-year flirtation with forgettable thrillers and adventure movies, Cage's next film takes him back to the familiar sort of territory that won him a Best Actor Oscar for playing a suicidal drunk in 1995 film "Leaving Las Vegas."

"Bringing Out the Dead," to be released in the United States on Oct. 22, has Cage teaming up for the first time with director Martin Scorsese in a nightmare journey into the lives of New York paramedics.

A California high school dropout, Cage started acting at 18 under his real name, Nicolas Coppola, in the 1982 film "Fast Times at Ridgemont High." As Nicholas Cage, he got his first break in the 1983 art house movie "Rumble Fish" directed by his uncle, Francis Ford Coppola.

Angry and rebellious, he drew early press clippings with reports of trashed hotel rooms, eating a live cockroach in "Vampire's Kiss" (1989) and smashing up a trailer on the set of "The Cotton Club" (1984) to get into character for his part as a vicious hoodlum.

"I wanted to do something constructive rather than destructive," he said. "But it could have gone either way for a few years."

Cage still takes his research seriously. He spent several nights riding with paramedics in New York and Los Angeles to get under the skin of emergency service workers. "I saw things here that have haunted me since - slashed faces and one little boy who couldn't breathe and who suffered brain damage. It was really horrific," he said.

Cage wearily refutes suggestions that "Bringing Out the Dead" marks a permanent return to serious roles after the lukewarm reception for "Snake Eyes," "8mm" and "Con Air," which had critics lamenting his demise as a dramatic actor.

"People are going to say whatever they want to say. I liked my performance in 'Con Air.' As long as I am doing things that stimulate me, who cares what they [the critics] are going to say? As long as I feel sincere. And I do feel sincere about the action movies," he said.

"I like to race cars. I like to race motorcycles. ... That is a very sincere part of my personality. But it's not the only part. I would never say I'm going to give up that for now and only do this. That would be stupid. I want to do it all."