Nicolas Cage Was Not Paid For One of His Biggest Hits

Throughout his busy and bonkers career, Nicolas Cage has only earned one Oscar — for his performance in Leaving Las Vegas. As the tortured, alcoholic writer, Cage captivated the audiences of 1995.

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But apparently, he wasn’t paid for the role. This is according to writer-director Mike Figgis, who also says he wasn’t compensated.

‘Leaving Las Vegas’

Leaving Las Vegas is based on the 1990 novel by John O’Brien, who was a struggling Hollywood screenwriter. Nicolas Cage plays protagonist Ben, a writer who leaves Los Angeles for Las Vegas — to drink himself to death. There, he crosses paths Sera, an abused prostitute played by Elisabeth Shue. As the narrative expands to include Sera’s perspective, they love in love.

At the movie’s end — spoiler alert —Ben dies of his addiction. And just after selling the film rights to his book in 1994, O’Brien died too, of suicide. He never saw the critical success of Leaving Las Vegas.

Following his death, director Mike Figgis adapted the author’s work for the screen and remained deeply attached to the source material. Figgis worked with handheld, 16-mm cameras, a cheap option lent the seedy story its low-fi, art-film look. The Leaving Las Vegas budget was small, and recently Figgis revealed that he forewent a salary. Speaking on the Hollywood Reporter podcast It Happened in Hollywood, Figgis said he made a total of $0 for the film… even as it went on to earn four Academy Award nominations: Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Director, Best Actress, and Best Actor.

Only Cage won.

Figgis’ revelation is especially surprising, considering Leaving Las Vegas was distributed by United Artists and made about $50 million at the box office. Despite that, Figgis said, “[Lumiere Pictures] said the film never went into profit,” referring to the company that financed the film’s $4 million budget. And that’s not all — Figgis says that Cage was also stiffed. He alleges that they were owed $100,000 each. Figgis, as his directing fee, and Cage, for acting.

But Figgis insists there’s no bad blood. “Whatever. I mean, my career then took off again, and the next film I did, I got really well paid,” He said. “And within a year [Cage] was earning $20 million a film, so that was quite good.”

He’s not wrong. Leaving Las Vegas was a turning point for Cage who was in the midst of a career slump since 1989’s flop Vampire’s Kiss. Although those years contain some cult Cage favorites, including Honeymoon in Vegas, Red Rock West, and Guarding Tess, it was not a profitable era for the working actor. Following Leaving Las Vegas, Cage became a bankable action star, finishing out the ’90s with Con Air and Face/Off.

In 2002, Cage earned his second Oscar nomination, for Adaptation. Yet Leaving Las Vegas remains his only win.

Nicolas Cage’s Spending Habits

Considering that Nicolas Cage is notoriously bad with his money, it might come as no surprise that he let himself get shorted for Leaving Las Vegas.

In 2014, it came out that Cage had blown his entire $150-million fortune on items like collector’s edition comic books, shrunken pygmy heads, and even an octopus. He owed the IRS millions in property taxes. He began taking almost any role offered to him to pay off the debts: a pattern which has complicated Cage’s prolific acting legacy. Cage pokes fun at that reputation directly in the recent meta-blockbuster, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent.

‘The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent’

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