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A History Buff Hero
At the heart of NATIONAL TREASURE's adventurous quest is a new breed of treasure hunter: Ben Gates, played with spirited humor by Nicolas Cage as a man driven by a legacy and his own love of American history. A savvy puzzle-solver who relies on his wits, Gates is forced into a moral dilemma when he discovers a hidden treasure map lies on the back of the Declaration of Independence. Now with his rivals threatening to steal the vital document, can he do the unthinkable and steal it first…if that is the only way to keep it safe?

Jerry Bruckheimer went straight to Nicolas Cage for the role of Gates, knowing immediately the actor could embody this sharp, action-oriented, yet complex character. Earlier, Bruckheimer gave Cage his very first action hero role in "The Rock”—and the two subsequently worked together on Bruckheimer's "Con Air” and "Gone in 60 Seconds.” "Nicolas Cage epitomizes the kind of hero I respond to,” comments Bruckheimer. "He's leading man handsome, yet he's also an Everyman. He's wild and weird and funny, yet he's mainstream. He's also smart, inquisitive and passionate—just like Ben Gates.”

Cage, in turn, was pleased to reunite with Bruckheimer. "Jerry has great taste in all aspects of the industry, and is sincere in that taste. He's like an independent producer, in that he doesn't always make the obvious choices in actors, filmmakers or subject matter,” observes Cage. "He always seems to add something unusual or new to his stories, such as NATIONAL TREASURE, and yet he has incredible commercial sensibilities. It's a wonderful combination, so I'm always happy to work with him.”

Another enticement for Cage was a chance to work with director Jon Turteltaub, with whom he also has a very different past association: as teenagers, the two attended Beverly Hills High School together and even took the same drama class. "In fact, Jon beat me out of the lead role in ‘Our Town,'” remembers Cage. "So now, because of the good old days, it seemed like we would each really try to do our best for one another in this film.”

Finally, there was the character of Ben Gates, who gave Cage a lot to think about in terms of performance. "What's interesting to me about Ben is that he has several equally huge motivations to find this treasure: there's his passion for history and restoring things to their right places in the world; there's the fact that the treasure is going to be worth a completely unfathomable amount of money; there's the fact that he's been searching for this treasure his entire life; and there's his relationship with his father, and his drive to return his family's good name—and in the course of the film, he is tested and has to really figure out which of these is most important and what he really wants,” explains Cage.

Jon Turteltaub came to believe there couldn't have been a better choice to portray the playful yet daring hero. "The audacity of this role was perfect for Nic,” he says. "I knew he'd make Ben as irreverent, charming, funny and real as he should be. Over the long years of his quest, Ben has developed a kind of roguish spirit. He's tough and determined but he also has a kind of joy about him, where he doesn't take himself too seriously. To me, Nicolas Cage simply defines this kind of character. You can always count on him to bring a sense of depth and quirkiness to his characters that few other actors can find.”

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