Leaving Las Vegas director Mike Figgis reveals that Nicolas Cage was never paid for his role in the film. Based on John O’Brien’s semi-autobiographical novel, Cage starred in the film as Ben Sanderson, a man whose life is crumbling around him as he loses his job, family and friends. With nothing else to live for, Ben heads to Las Vegas with the plan to drink himself to death, only for his relationship with Elisabeth Shue’s Sera, a sex worker employed by an abusive pimp, to put everything in a new perspective for him.
Released in 1996, Leaving Las Vegas netted Cage is sole Oscar win for Best Actor in a Leading Role, having lost his follow-up nomination for his performance in Adaptation to Adrien Brody for The Pianist. The critically acclaimed drama marked a unique point in Cage’s career as he shifted away from a variety of such light comedic fare as Guarding Tess and Honeymoon in Vegas towards the more dramatic realm, establishing him as a serious actor in the industry. Though his time in the blockbuster genre with the likes of Ghost Rider and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice led to very divisive reviews, they at least proved to be more fruitful in comparison to one of his most acclaimed roles.
While appearing on The Hollywood Reporter‘s It Happened in Hollywood podcast, Leaving Las Vegas director Michael Figgis revealed that both he and Nicolas Cage were never paid for their work in the film. Cage and Figgis were both promised $100,000 for their work in the film, only for financier, Lumiere Pictures, to not come through on their promise to pay them both under the guise that the film “never went into profit.” See what Figgis says about his lack of pay below:
“Whatever. I mean, my career then took off again, and the next film I did, I got really well paid. And within a year [Nic] was earning $20 million a film, so that was quite good.”
Nicolas Cage Succeeded Financially After Leaving Las Vegas
Figgis’ account represents a classic tale for filmmakers and stars like Cage that get their start in independent film. Leaving Las Vegas was made on only a $4 million budget, which was considered small for film even back in 1995. Such microbudget films often have few returns even with their small budgets, as they often faced challenges with distribution, thus a problem with profit returns. For filmmakers, independent films do not often make filmmakers and actors a lot of money, thus for the studio to rescind their promises for the Leaving Las Vegas crew and cast members is disappointing to learn, though Figgis holding his head high doesn’t make the story entirely disappointing.
As Figgis alludes to, both his and Cage’s career did not suffer from the financial loss of Leaving Las Vegas, namely as Cage went on to win his sole Oscar for his performance in the movie. Though he has made some rough films in the past two decades, Cage has gone on to find success in the indie genre with the likes of Mandy, Color Out of Space and Pig, as well as the meta action-comedy The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent. Audiences can revisit Cage’s Oscar-winning work with Leaving Las Vegas available to stream on Prime Video and Paramount+.