Early life and family
Cage was born in Long Beach, California, to August Coppola, a professor of literature, and Joy Vogelsang, a dancer and choreographer. He was raised in a Catholic family. His father was of Italian descent and his mother was of German and Polish descent. His paternal grandparents were composer Carmine Coppola and actress Italia Pennino, and his paternal great-grandparents were immigrants from Bernalda, Basilicata. Through his father, he is a nephew of director Francis Ford Coppola and of actress Talia Shire, and the cousin of directors Roman Coppola and Sofia Coppola, film producer Gian-Carlo Coppola, and actors Robert Carmine and Jason Schwartzman.
Cage's two brothers are New York radio personality Marc "The Cope" Coppola and director Christopher Coppola. He attended Beverly Hills High School, which is known for its many alumni who became entertainers. He aspired to act from an early age and also attended UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television. His first non-cinematic acting experience was in a school production of Golden Boy. He cites James Dean as the key inspiration for his career, saying, "I started acting because I wanted to be James Dean. I saw him in Rebel Without a Cause, East of Eden. Nothing affected me—no rock song, no classical music—the way Dean affected me in Eden. It blew my mind. I was like, 'That's what I want to do'."
At fifteen years old he tried to convince his uncle, Francis Ford Coppola, to give him a screen test, telling him "I'll show you acting." His outburst was met with "silence in the car". By this stage of his career, Coppola had already directed Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Gene Hackman and Robert De Niro. To avoid the appearance of nepotism as Coppola's nephew, he changed his name early in his career to Nicolas Cage, inspired in part by the Marvel Comics superhero Luke Cage.