It was only a matter of time before Joe Exotic got a biopic. The captivating subject of Netflix's immensely-popular docuseries, Tiger King, has sparked a lot of interest in the former wildlife zoo operator's wacky history. The larger-than-life media personality was destined to be the source of a Hollywood production — particularly with a tale filled with drugs, sex, wild animals, violence, bizarre real-life characters, and criminal activity galore, including attempted murder. But who would play this gun-loving, mullet-rocking convicted criminal?
Many big-name actors were suggested. Several others threw their hats into the ring. Now, we have an answer. As it was announced last week, Nicolas Cage will become Joe Exotic in an upcoming mini-series inspired by Exotic's stranger-than-fiction story. It's certainly an inspired choice. The Academy Award-winning actor typically plays kooky, deviant characters, and several performances prove he has what it takes to play this wildly-publicized persona.
The Coen brothers are masters at making crime comedies based on knuckleheads with overly-confident delusions of grandeur. One of the filmmaking duo's earliest, quirkiest triumphs, 1987's Raising Arizona, allowed the acclaimed filmmaking team to work with Nicolas Cage for the first-and-currently-only time, and it produced one of his funniest, liveliest performances as H.I. "Hi" McDunnough, an ex-con in a childless relationship with an ex-cop who kidnap one quintuplet baby from another family, to hilariously disastrous results.
While this criminal concept could've been equally disastrous, the Coens adopt a broadly comedic tone, resulting in one of their silliest, most playful movies. And Cage deserves a great deal of credit. His endearing performance, filled with lughead charm, is immensely appealing, emboldening him to play up his goofier tendencies in a winningly rambunctious way. If his take on Joe Exotic can capture a similarly radiant captivation, it'll be a surefire success.
Revenge flicks can be a dime a dozen for Nicolas Cage. He knows how to play a man who wants to right some wrongs, either real injustices or perceived, but only a few (if many at all) capture the manic, majestic ecstasy of Mandy. This Sundance darling's plot might be the kind of movie you'd expect from Cage's Redbox selection. It follows a socially-isolated, yet quietly peaceful, man who takes bloody revenge on a drug-addled hippie cult who brutally killed his lover. But the results are splashy and sensationally gory, and through its atmospheric presentation, dazzling visuals and mesmerizing score, Mandy captures a radiantly, wondrously style-driven descent into madness, with Cage's dedicated performance driving our vengeful protagonist's emotional journey. What could've been another throwback vigilante flick becomes a moody, memorable acid trip of a movie with an excellent Cage performance. Plus, it has a tiger. Coincidence? I think not.
After all, it's in the name. Yes, before Nicolas Cage agreed to play Joe Exotic, he played another Joe altogether: specifically, the title character in David Gordon Green's overlooked 2013 crime drama, Joe. Centered around a tormented foreman who takes 15-year-old Gary Jones (Tye Sheridan) under his wing and protects him from his abusive father, Joe was a nuanced, compelling return to the understated performances that Cage once left behind.
Joe Ransom is a grounded, introspective character, allowing Cage to become a nicely honed character who showcases his fine dramatic range. Even when crime factors into the tale, Cage's signature rage is intriguingly intuitive, more internalized than bombastic. This intense drama shows how Cage, even when he's seeking vengeance, can allow himself to be more refined and reflective, which might not necessarily factor into his Exotic performance, but it demonstrates the quieter indignation that this show will hopefully explore.
Wild At Heart
David Lynch and Nicolas Cage are a hell of a pair. The auteur and actor are a match made in heaven or hell. If you know which, don't tell me. But they've only made one movie together, 1990's romantic crime-comedy Wild at Heart, which (expectedly) gives us a classic Cage Rage performance. In this film, Cage and Laura Dern play two lovers desperately on the run from both her domineering mother and the dangerous men hired to killed Cage's Sailor Ripley. The road trip movie finds Cage playing a Southern romantic outlaw who fits Cage's brand of passionate, yet dangerous, lovers. Certainly, that fiery mix of zeal and peril makes Sailor an easy comparison to Joe Exotic, who mixed romance and risk into his every waking moment. While Sailor has a softer heart than Exotic, his unwavering recklessness demonstrates that Cage knows how to go... wild.
Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call — New Orleans
Even by Nicolas Cage's standards, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call — New Orleans is next-level madness. Inspired by 1992's Bad Lieutenant, but neither a sequel nor prequel to that film, the Werner Herzog movie follows Cage as a corrupt New Orleans police sergeant in 2005 who indulges in all sorts of unsavory behavior. Whether it's waving his gun at innocent civilians or consuming or snorting so many illegal narcotics that he envisions iguanas and breakdancers inexplicably appearing in his everyday life, Bad Lieutenant sees Cage at full blast, fully committed to playing this gun-waving, down-and-dirty officer of the law who does almost everything short of protecting and serving the public. It's an intensely insane performance, and we would only be so lucky to see even a sliver of this deranged commitment to this character appear in his upcoming portrayal of Joe Exotic.
Leaving Las Vegas
In his Oscar-winning performance, Nicolas Cage plays Ben Sanderson, a suicidal alcoholic screenwriter who heads to Vegas to drink himself to death. His addiction has cost him everything, and we watch Cage as he becomes a completely-broken character who'd rather drink away his life than fix it. As you'd expect, it's a depressing, fittingly sober film, filled with morose reflections of a man unwilling to dig himself out of his rut and seek treatment. What could've been an utterly devastating movie, however, becomes bleakly engrossing through Cage's compellingly unhinged performance. It's somber-yet-invigorated, filled with remorse and tragedy, which shows Cage's unbridled dedication to his morally-unyielded characters. As many binge-friendly viewers know, Joe Exotic's story carries a similarly dark fascination in Tiger King. Especially by its conclusion, you're left in disbelieving awe at this maddeningly engrossing personality. If anyone could capture that balance of repugnant fascination, it's Cage.
Ludicrous though it might be, it's hard not to be won over by Con Air's watchable foolishness. With its silly, cheeky, high-testosterone stylishness that is undeniably a product of the late '90s, this nonsenical action-thriller might not be the smartness or most logical movie you'll ever see, but it's a delightfully dim-witted dude flick that you can easily enjoy with your buddies. Grab a bunch of beers and it'll slap a big, goofy grin onto your face. The whole ensemble does a good job committing to the bit, but it's ultimately Cage's Southern-fried leading man turn that really captures the charm of this buffoonish blockbuster, with this self-aware turn providing no shortage of wacky fun in this Jerry Bruckheimer production. This absurdly nonsenical film seems like a good gateway for Cage's Joe Exotic. Above all else, it certifies one thing: Cage can rock a hell of a mullet.
Bonus: Army Of One
Admittedly, Army of One is a woefully terrible satire with an impressively bad performance from Nicolas Cage. Suffice to say, it doesn't give us confidence in his Tiger King portrayal. But this true story, loosely based on a construction worker who thought God wanted him to single-handedly kill Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, gives Cage one of his wackiest, goofiest performances in recent memory. It's not necessarily good, but it's easy to see how elements of this true-life character might factor into his Joe Exotic. Specifically, Cage's complete willingness to immerse himself into a character — no matter how silly and crass — suggests he'll play Exotic will total reckless abandonment. He won't be afraid to relish the most absurdist aspects of Joe's wild-and-out persona. And Army Of One proves that Cage can confidently walk around with an arsenal of weapons, which will come in handy.
Are you looking forward to seeing Nicolas Cage's take on Joe Exotic? What is your favorite Nic Cage performance? Let us know in the comments!
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Will is an entertainment writer based in Pittsburgh, PA. His writing can also be found in The Playlist, Cut Print Film, We Got This Covered, The Young Folks, Slate and other outlets. He also co-hosts the weekly film/TV podcast Cinemaholics with Jon Negroni and he likes to think he's a professional Garfield enthusiast.