Photo: RLJE Entertainment

There are three sides to Nicolas Cage. There is Serious Actor Cage, who produces humane, Oscar-winning performances that mask a deep, boiling sea of emotion behind his bleary eyes. There is Left Behind Cage, in which he murmurs for awhile until they give him his check. And there is, well, Cage Cage, where viewers feel as if they’re watching a foaming, ravenous beast discover raw meat for the first time. The question of which Cage you’re going to get remains one of the key appeals of the prolific actor, and a key reason why people keep coming back to his oft-disappointing straight-to DVD procedurals.

With its crackerjack premise, however, his new horror-thriller Mandy seems to promise pure, unadulterated Cage. In it, he plays a woodsman who takes a battle axe to an LSD-fueled cult of “weirdo hippie types” after they kidnap his wife. Our own Ignatiy Vishnevetsky called it a “heavy-metal fantasia” and numerous critics have praised Cage’s performance for living up to his potential for truly transcendent lunacy.

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For his part, Cage isn’t unaware of his reputation, nor his reputation for going “full Cage.” As he reveals in a new Esquire interview, going full Cage isn’t random or automatic, but rather a “trance” state that he “surfs with” in the hours leading up to his performance.

Here’s his full description of the journey:

The process is an interesting one that has kind of been developing over many years now. It’s one that requires a bit of imagination, but in this case possibly more feeling of going internal and prepping by kind of trying to plunge my own internal body, if you will, or whatever worlds I can go towards of memory and life experience. And then I’ll sort of get something, find something that breaks my heart, and I won’t share it with anybody. It’s a secret that only I have. It’s a secret that’s gonna be shared with the audience, and hopefully everyone in the audience will have individual connection to it. It’s not something that I can easily describe.

But it is something that I surf with. I feel it throughout the day, knowing we’re getting to that point. Knowing we’re getting closer to, let’s call it 5:30 PM in Belgium, and I know in about 30 minutes, Panos is gonna call, “Action,” and now I’m 10 minutes into it and now I’m surfing the emotion again and I feel it in my fingertips and I feel it in my throat and then I let it go, because I don’t want to leave it in the locker room. Now we’re 10 minutes out, and then we’re five minutes out, and then I go into a trance, and then it’s very, very quiet and I don’t let anyone get in my face, and I go somewhere in a corner or wherever it is and I start psyching up. Now we’re two minutes out. Now we’re one minute out and we’re going, we’re going, going.

And then it’s time, and it’s, “Action!” And then it’s just like out the gate, here it goes, whatever happens, happens. It’s on. And I’m not thinking about it, it’s just like a feeling, a lightning rod, a rush, and I don’t know where I am and I know that I’m not faking it and I know that it’s embarrassing and I know it’s naked and I know it’s uncomfortable, but it’s coming out. That usually has something to do with some kind of heartbreak somewhere in my past.

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Please don’t leave us, Cage.