Klaus Kinski and Nicolas Cage: The Greatest Insane Actors of All Time
There’s something a little different about two of my favorite actors. In their worst performances (of which there are MANY) they are easily dismissed as hacks. But they have both starred in some of the best movies ever, not to mention some of the most re-watchable and outrageous cult classics ever filmed.
Before his death in 1991, Klaus Kinski acted in over 135 films. His complete filmography is famously approximate, because he simply didn’t care about most of the movies he was in. To me, there’s something refreshingly utilitarian about the idea of being a celebrity that treats a role like any old job. But I don’t think there was anything particularly humble about him in reality (all you have to do to get your mind thoroughly blown is read his “autobiography,” Kinski Uncut, a masterpiece of lunatic hubris).
Kinski is most famous for his starring roles in Aguerre: The Wrath of God, Nosferatu, Fitzcarraldo, and some lesser known movies made in the 70’s and 80’s with director Werner Herzog. Herzog made a fantastic documentary about Kinski in 1999 called My Best Fiend, chronicling their work together over the years. Anyone who’s ever tried to collaborate with eccentrics (*ahem*) can sympathize with how hard it must have been to get even one film made with Kinski. Here they are on the set of Fitzcarraldo, in the Amazon, surrounded by indigenous nonactors, watching the shit hit the fan:
If you’ve never seen a Herzog/Kinski film, I would suggest starting with Aguerre. It’s the gold standard for Kinski’s other performances as a deranged megalomaniac, and Herzog captures some of the most gorgeous, ominous man-vs-nature footage you’ll ever see. Also, while on set, Kinski tried to stab another actor in the head with a sword, but the dude was wearing a metal helmet, so he survived.
All this brings me to my next subject, the widely reviled and misunderstood Nicolas Cage. At age 48, Cage has already appeared in 64 films. Do the math (I tried…) and you’ll see that at this rate, Cage could almost match Kinski’s average films per year if he lives to be 65. I won’t make you wait any longer for this gem, “Nicolas Cage Losing His Shit.”
Like Kinski, Cage can be both handsome and decrepit, smooth and out of control. But it doesn’t seem like he quite has a handle on when those things will happen. Some of my favorite movies of his are Wild at Heart, Moonstruck and Con Air, a random handful of genres if there ever was one. Lately, he’s fallen prey to some weird hair and face disasters, but I have faith that those will only serve his career in unexpected ways, as long as he keeps lucking out on really good scripts like Bad Lieutenant (directed by Werner Herzog! We have come full circle) sandwiched between unrepentant crap like Season of the Witch (Ron Perelman’s actual dialogue while they’re locked up in a medieval dungeon: “let’s get out of here, man.”) to pay the bills on his sweet pyramid tomb in New Orleans. Yep.