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Nicolas Cage journeys deeper into sci-fi

 Nicolas Cage poses for a portrait while promoting the film
Nicolas Cage poses for a portrait while promoting the film 'Knowing' in New York March 8, 2009. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
— image credit: Reuters

By Christine Kearney

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Nicolas Cage has battled terrorists, drug dealers, prisoners and even himself in a varied acting career, but in "Knowing," he may have met his toughest adversary yet -- Mother Nature.

"Knowing" debuts in theaters across the United States on Friday and once again has the Oscar-winning actor saving humankind, this time in a role that straddles science fiction and fantasy.

For Cage it marks a further step away from straightforward action in films like "National Treasure" that have become his best box office bets.

Cage, 45, gained fame playing mostly romantic oddballs in low-budget films such as the suicidal alcoholic in 1995's "Leaving Las Vegas," which won him the Oscar for best actor.

He then reshaped himself as an action hero in "Face/Off," "Con Air" and others.

"Most people in Hollywood at that time saw me as a kind of eccentric and not necessarily a 'manly eccentric'," he said in an interview when talking about his shifting image.

Now he is again spanning genres with films that delve into fantasy and science fiction but continue to play on his image as an action hero with his trademark streak of eccentricity.

Other upcoming film roles include a comic book hero in "Kick-Ass", a sorcerer in "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" and a 14th-century knight in "Season of the Witch."

In "Knowing" he plays a single father and astrophysics professor, John Koestler, who decodes a message that foretells disasters. It is up Koestler to warn the entire planet.

The message is given to Koestler by his son, who goes on this journey with him. Koestler also clashes with his own father, a Christian preacher, as the movie explores themes of fatherhood, spirituality and destiny.

FAMILY & DESTINY

Cage, who has two sons and been married three times, including to actress Patricia Arquette and Lisa Marie Presley, said the movie's themes struck personal chords with him.

"I don't believe there are accidents. I think everything does happen and leads to something else," he said. "I do think there is cause and effect."

His belief in predestination might make it seem that the nephew of "Godfather" director Francis Ford Coppola believes his family ties made him a sure bet to pursue a career in the arts. But Cage said that isn't true.

"I think it is all predestined, but I also think if I was me and I didn't come from the family I came from, I would still have gone into some sort of life of expression," he said.

In fact, he changed his famous last name early in his career to avoid people saying he won acting roles only because of his uncle.

Despite his best efforts to reshape his image by working in various movie genres, his reputation as an eccentric -- cemented by roles in films such as 1988's "Vampire's Kiss" in which his character devours a live cockroach -- remains intact.

Cage said he has learned to live with that image and does not make it a big part of his life.

"It is a blessing and a curse. I am kind of born with it, and I don't really know if I can do anything about it," he said.

(Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Xavier Briand)

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