A prolific actor, Nicolas Cage has 77 film acting credits to his name, including three films -- Army of One, Dog Eat Dog and USS Indianapolis: Men of Courage -- released within a week of each other this month. And while he's had some notable hits (National Treasure) in recent years, nothing's quite topped the string of films that helped define the mid-'90s.
After gaining notoriety for Leaving Las Vegas, which earned him an Academy Award for Best Actor, Cage followed the low-budget film with a string of blockbusters -- The Rock, Con Air, Face/Off -- and the romantic drama City of Angels.
While all were hits at the box office, it was The Rock that proved to be one of the most special for Cage. Not only did the actor learn of his first Oscar nomination while on the set of the Jerry Bruckheimer action film, Cage also got to work with his childhood idol, co-star Sean Connery.
In the Michael Bay-directed film, Connery plays John Mason, the only man to ever escape Alcatraz prison, who is recruited by the FBI to help chemical weapons specialist Dr. Stanley Goodspeed (Cage) stop a biochemical attack on San Francisco. The Rock went on to make over $134 million at the U.S. box office.
"He was one of my heroes. When I was a kid, I would go see his movies and think, 'That's what a man should be,'" Cage told ET while on the 1996 set. "So to work with him, it was definitely a dream."
Twenty years later, while promoting his latest string of films, no reverence was lost on Cage, who is still a huge admirer of the retired, legendary actor. "He was a huge influence on my decision to become an actor," Cage says by phone. "Going as far back as Dr. No, which I saw at a drive-in movie theater with my father, I knew I wanted to be like that."
Not one to pass up an opportunity to absorb what he could from Connery, Cage recalls late-night chats about cinema. "We would have a scotch together and just talk about his life," Cage says, revealing he used to call the actor "Maestro" on set.
No doubt it was due to Connery's leadership -- but also his musical flair, which Cage joked about on set two decades prior. "He likes to sing, you know. So, in between shots he'll be singing," Cage said. "It's very cool to see Sean Connery singing a big-band version of Donna Summer's 'Hot Stuff.'" (If only ET had been on set for that!)
--Additional reporting by Darla Murray