Researching Prisons Got A Little Too Real For Nicolas Cage And The Con Air Crew

Nicolas Cage has never shied away from a challenging role or unusual situation, but while preparing for the 1997 film "Con Air," things got a little out of control. In the film, Cage plays Army Ranger and ex-con Cameron Poe, who is on a prison plane bound for home when the other dangerous convicts onboard take control of the plane. He just wants to get home to his family, but has to play along with the other prisoners in order to survive. To get prepared for the role, Cage, producer Jerry Bruckheimer, director Simon West, writer Scott Rosenberg went to a real federal prison yard, where they were in for some serious surprises. 

Not only did the prisoners not recognize Cage, who had just won an Oscar for his performance in "Leaving Las Vegas," but the cast's safety was also quickly called into question when violence broke out in the yard. Cage is willing to do what it takes for a role, but having to sign a "no-hostage waiver" was certainly a big ask. 

The Con Air cast meet real cons

In a retrospective celebrating the film's 25-year-anniversary on Empire Online, Rosenberg shared an amusing anecdote about the convicts not recognizing the now-unmistakable Cage. Apparently they walked out into the prison yard at Folsom prison (yes, the same one Johnny Cash sang about), where they encountered around 2,000 prisoners going about their business. "Gradually they started to recognize Nic, Rosenberg recalled, "and bigger and bigger groups started to gather around asking questions. And one guy came up to Nic and said, 'Holy cow, it's really you!' Nic said, 'Yeah, it's me.' And the guy said, 'Yeah! It's you! Jerry Seinfeld!'"

While I will never know how someone mixed up Nic Cage and Jerry Seinfeld, unless they were making a joke, it turned out that the no-hostage waiver was a good idea. The waiver released the prison from any liability if something like a riot happened and one of the Hollywood crew got injured or worse. While being called the wrong name is only dangerous to a man's ego, something more deadly was happening across the yard. As more convicts began to crowd Cage, there was a stabbing on the other side of the yard. The filmmakers were escorted quickly out, but the experience was scary enough to make them all plenty nervous. 

Taking a major actor into the middle of a prison yard is pretty gonzo, but it was all a part of making "Con Air" into the buck-wild action classic that it became. Let's just be thankful that things didn't go as bad in the yard as they do in the movie.