Nicolas Cage likes to make people happy.
And judging by his box office draw, he's doing a good job.
Now starring in "Bangkok Dangerous," out nationwide today, Cage says he picks his roles based on the challenge and the entertainment value for both him and his audience. (The film was not screened for critics.)
After being in the business for more than 30 years, he's trying to keep things interesting by "coming in with this new idea to think more globally, more internationally in my life and in my work."
In "Bangkok Dangerous," identical Chinese brothers Danny and Oxide Pang directed Cage, 44, in Thailand.
Sitting down with "Popcorn With Peter Travers" on ABC News Now, Cage noted that his wife, Alice Kim, whom he married in 2004, is Korean and he'd recently done films with Australian and German directors.
"I think it's always fascinating when you see different races and different cultures interacting on film," he said.
In "Bangkok Dangerous," Cage plays a hired assassin who falls for a woman while on the job. It's a character, he said, with a lot of "karmic weight" thanks to his less-than-upstanding career.
Cage said he has seen some of 1999's original "Bangkok Dangerous," which was also shot by the Pang brothers, adding that he wanted the new version to be different, more fresh, more complex.
If he wanted complex, he got it -- on set, anyway.
"I think the Pang brothers really had some inside fun with me because I couldn't tell them apart," he said, with a laugh.
They would switch turns in the director's chair each day, asking "Who am I?," Cage said.
It was his second time working with a pair of brothers; Joel and Ethan Coen directed him in 1987's "Raising Arizona." While the Coens aren't twins, they do share some kind of brotherly telepathy. Cage remembered watching one brother, without saying a word, hand a cigarette behind him just as the other was reaching for it. He dubbed Ethan Coen the "funny" one.
Cage got his start as an actor struggling against his famous last name: Coppola. Nephew of legendary director Francis Ford Coppola, he found that potential directors and producers were turned off by his last name, figuring his place in the movie would amount to nothing more than Hollywood nepotism.
He opted to change his last name to find work on his own merit, picking the last name of a comic book character, Luke Cage. But that was only after a few false starts.
"I was Nicolas Blue, I was Nicolas Faust, whatever that means," he said, laughing.
In the early days, he said, "I was really someone fighting for my survival. I didn't know where I was going to live. I was living out of my car."
After falling ill and landing in the hospital, Cage promised himself that he would go on one last audition, and if that didn't work out, he'd become a fisherman, or something like it.
He got the part.
As a child growing up in Southern California, Cage said he would imagine himself on set, walking to school visualizing crane shots in his head. It was a product of his imagination rather than his family ties.
"I had no idea what my uncle did," he said.
Once he became a working actor, Cage asked Coppola what made a good actor.
"He said, 'Just the sheer personality of the person, of the performer,'" Cage said. "And he's right."