A Decade As Nicolas Cage’s Stand-In
Marco Kyris has no shortage of tales about the 20 films he made with the famous Hollywood actor.
Marco Kyris raises his hand, compresses his fingers together and plucks an invisible mask from his face. He’s imitating the flamboyant and now-iconic gesture from the 1997 thriller Face/Off starring Nicolas Cage and John Travolta.
It’s a movement the 57-year-old knows well — and it’s not because he’s a fan of the film. Though you won’t recognize his name or his face, Kyris was actually in Face/Off...as Nicolas Cage’s stand-in.
From 1994 to 2004, Kyris worked as Nicolas Cage’s stand-in during what is arguably considered the peak of the actor’s career. From Con Air to Leaving Las Vegas, 8MM to National Treasure, Adaptation to Snake Eyes, Kyris worked alongside the megastar, appearing in 20 films with him, as well as a few commercials.
“I felt like I was working for Hollywood royalty,” Kyris told the Greek newspaper, Neos Kosmos.
“He had an aura about him that was noticed by everyone on set, so I was treated with a certain amount of respect, too. Most stand-ins in Hollywood were not as fortunate as I, and were not treated as such.”
Different from body doubles, extras, and background actors, stand-ins are people who substitute for actors usually before filming begins to aid with technical setup, such as lighting and camera placement. For most, it’s a rather unsexy and thankless job, with a reported daily income of $160.
But luckily for Kyris, that wasn’t his experience.
After trying and failing to make it as an actor in Los Angeles in the late 1980s, he returned home to Toronto and spent the next few years working in restaurants and living in a basement apartment. On a whim in 1994, Kyris decided to give his acting dream one last shot and auditioned to be a stand-in for Nicolas Cage in a new crime-comedy called Trapped in Paradise that was being shot around Ontario. He was hired on-the-spot.
“I was really good at standing under a light,” Kyris joked in a recent Reddit Ask Me Anything.
But that was only part of it; being a stand-in is no easy job.
“The job is right in the name. Stand-ins just stand there for long periods of time while crews set up shots that can sometimes take up to three hours to get right. It could be snowing, raining, freezing, boiling — you just stand in [sic] there,” he said.
And it wasn’t just the conditions under which Kyris worked that were challenging. As Nicolas Cage’s stand-in, Kyris — who is the same height (6-feet) as the actor and only two and a half years older — had to physically resemble the actor as well.
With each film came a new wardrobe and hairstyle for Cage and his stand-in, and it was up to Kyris to make sure he copied his boss to the T. For Gone in 60 Seconds, he grew his hair out and bleached it blonde to match Cage’s look as the car-stealing Randall "Memphis" Raines, and in Adaptation, he donned a fat suit and a curly wig to resemble Charlie Kaufman, the self-loathing screenwriter.
It was an all-encompassing job that saw Kyris morphing more and more into the man for whom he worked with each year. As a left-handed stand-in for a right-handed actor, Kyris even learned how to be ambidextrous for the job.
“I could not go to the beach to tan if he wasn’t. I could not grow my hair or dye it black again while working. I had to lose or gain some weight for films,” Kyris said. “I paid attention to everything he did.”
The longer he worked with Cage, the better Kyris got at imitating him, not just in how he looked, but in his mannerisms, too. In a way, it was a chance for Kyris to flex his own acting chops, and it also helped the crew get a good idea of how to set up a shot.
“I paid attention to everything he did. He is amazing and I was mesmerized to see how he would change from character to character, film to film.”
Eventually he became so skilled at mirroring Cage that some of his test-shoot scenes started making it onto the final films. In Gone in 60 Seconds, Kyris’ leg kicks Christopher Eccleston over the railing to his death. In Matchstick Men, the shots of Cage’s feet tapping on the carpet in the house and in several driving scenes are his, as well. Kyris appears in the background of a Face/Off scene as a blurry, out-of-focus prison guard. It’s his hand that writes down the secret codes from the back of the Declaration of Independence in National Treasure. And the final scene in The Rock, when Cage drops to his knees and holds up the flares? That’s Kyris, too.
As Nicolas Cage’s stand-in, Kyris also became close to the famous actor — or as close to him as was possible. He was on-set when Cage celebrated his 33rd birthday and still has a photo he took of the star blowing out the candles on his cake.
But even though Kyris would have welcomed it, their relationship never blossomed into anything more than a working friendship. Sure, he may have looked a lot like Cage, but at the end of the day, it was clear who the real star was — and that Kyris was just another extra.
For instance, when they were filming Con Air on the border of Utah and Nevada “in a small desert shit-town,” Cage would get flown home to Los Angeles in a studio plane every night after filming, while the rest of the crew, including Kyris, “resided in a Motel 6 with toothless employees.”
“He was my boss, as he was to the rest of our entourage. So we all understood our place in the working aspect of it,” he said.
Though Kyris never asked Cage any personal questions, he did pick up a few things about the megastar through his years of imitating and observing the man.
“He always came on set 100-percent prepared, knew his lines, his marks, his camera angles. He was easily a one-take kinda guy,” Kyris wrote on Reddit. “He nailed it each and every time, first take, [and] he could easily switch from character to real person once the director called cut.
Despite the actor’s notoriety for playing exuberant, substance-abusing characters, Kyris wrote that in his 10 years working with him, he never once saw him “do any drugs at all. Ever.”
Cage is someone who is “never frazzled, always razzled,” and, as Kyris observed, is also a selective and infrequent eater.
“He wasn’t a muncher,” he wrote. “He had a personal chef who cooked for him; very finicky about what he ingested.”
Still, although they weren’t what you’d consider homies, Kyris and Cage had a better working relationship than most other stand-ins in Hollywood have with their actors.
“It is not common for stand-ins to interact or get close with the main actor. Nic was a rare exception who wanted someone that was professional, likeable, and prompt on-set representing him,” Kyris wrote. “He taught me discipline, on-set manners, and how to be committed to a job no matter what it was with respect. That, to me, was a blessing.”
Occasionally, in between shooting Cage films, Kyris took on jobs as a stand-in for other actors, including Pierce Brosnan in Mars Attacks. Through his work, he also got to meet — or, at the very least, be in close proximity to — a number of stars, like Sean Connery, Meryl Streep, Steve Buscemi, and John Travolta.
When shooting Gone in 60 Seconds, he nabbed a photo with Angelina Jolie, her hair blonde and in dreadlocks, their arms wrapped around each other. And he met Ed Harris on the set of The Rock, describing him on Reddit as “not intense” and “truly a fun, fine gentleman.”
The last two films Kyris did as a stand-in for Cage were two of the most taxing and intense. For The Weather Man, he spent hours standing outdoors during the wintertime in Chicago without a coat on, holding a bow and arrow. His fingers grew numb from the cold and he ended up with pneumonia. And to film Lord of War, they traveled seemingly non-stop for three months across three different continents.
When Kyris decided to leave his contract as Nicolas Cage’s stand-in in 2004, it was a mutual understanding and they parted on good terms.
“It was time for me to move on. I was exhausted,” Kyris wrote of his decision to retire. “I needed more me time.”
The pair haven’t seen or spoken in 15 years, but the Nicolas Cage chapter in Kyris’ life is far from over. This year, he released Uncaged: A Stand-In Story, a short documentary film about his time working with the actor. It’s currently making being shown on the festival circuit and will eventually be followed by a book Kyris is writing about his experiences from those years.
Lately, Kyris has also capitalized on his Cage connection, proudly flaunting photos of his past work across multiple social media platforms to the delight of Cage acolytes eager to sop up lore about their favorite actor. Kyris’ go-to profile picture is one of him with Cage, both of them dressed in World War II military uniforms, taken on the set of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin in 2001. In his Instagram bio, Kyris wrote that he shares “fun fluffy fotos of my #NicolasCage wage years,” and he’s referred to his former boss online as “Nicky” and even “Nicky Baby.”
As far as Kyris knows, his old boss has not yet seen his short film about the years he spent working under him. But he hopes that he will, if only to experience a brief trip down memory lane.
“Would I do it again if I was starting over? Absolutely not,” Kyris wrote. “[But] I think I had a very unique working relationship with Nicolas Cage, probably better than most any other stand-ins would with their actors.”