Writer-director Mike Figgis told The Hollywood Reporter’s “It Happened in Hollywood” podcast during its most recent episode that he and Cage didn’t get any money for their work on 1995’s “Leaving Las Vegas.“
“Nicolas and I never got paid,” Figgis said, while discussing the film that won Cage an Academy Award for Best Actor, his only Oscar to date. (Listen to Figgis’ remarks below, starting at about 31:57.)
“They said the film never went into profit,” Figgis said of Lumiere Pictures, which financed “Leaving” for about $4 million, according to the director.
The film earned $32 million worldwide, according to Box Office Mojo.
Figgis shot the film on handheld 16 mm cameras on the streets of Las Vegas, and said in his interview that “no one” wanted to finance the anti-Hollywood picture.
“Leaving Las Vegas,” which Figgis adapted from the 1990 John O’Brien novel of the same name, follows Ben Sanderson (Cage), a disillusioned Los Angeles screenwriter who moves to Las Vegas to engage in extremely self-destructive behavior. Figgis said Cage was supposed to make $100,000 for his role in the film.
Although Figgis said he and Cage made a whopping $0 for the film, he didn’t express any kind of resentment.
“Whatever,” Figgis told THR. “My career then took off again, and the next film I did, I got really well paid ... And within a year [Cage] was earning 20 million a film, so that was quite good.”
“Leaving Las Vegas” was a turning point in Cage’s career. He followed up his Oscar-winning role in huge projects like “The Rock,” “Con Air” and “Face/Off.”
Cage soon became one of the highest-paid actors in Hollywood, but by 2009 he’d seemingly squandered his fortune on expensive and infamously eccentric purchases — which reportedly included three castles, two islands in the Bahamas, two yachts, a Gulfstream jet, 50 cars, various shrunken heads, a pet octopus and a $276,000 dinosaur skull that he outbid Leonardo DiCaprio to obtain. He eventually owed the IRS about $14 million, and millions more to other creditors, according to a March profile in GQ.
In the years that followed, Cage starred in 46 movies, an experience he described to GQ as “a conveyor belt.”
Although this was a low point for the actor, his career has taken an upswing in recent years with roles in 2018’s “Mandy” and 2021’s “Pig.” In this year’s “The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent,” the actor poked fun at his own financial troubles by playing a fictionalized version of himself who accepts a $1 million offer to attend a wealthy fan’s birthday party.