American actor Nicolas Cage says he prefers to be called a thespian - but admits he risked sounding like "a pretentious a-hole".

The Oscar-winner likened his process to "shamanism" by "going into the imagination".

Speaking on Variety's Awards Circuit Podcast, the Face/Off and National Treasure star discussed his career and his reputation for being "over the top" with his performances.

"I really don’t like the word actor because for me it always implies, 'Oh, he’s a great actor, therefore he’s a great liar, and (great at) lying,’" he said.

"So with the risk of sounding like a pretentious a-hole, I like the word thespian because thespian means you’re going into your heart, or you’re going into your imagination, or your memories or your dreams, and you’re bringing something back to communicate with the audience.

Nicolas Cage in National Treasure with Diane Kruger

"I think it’s more like recruiting imagination. Dare I say it, it’s more like a shamanism.

"What early shamans would do is go into flights of imagination to find answers to help their village.

"I like looking at it like that, with the risk of sounding completely absurd and ridiculous.

"I like the idea of it being something a little more organic and less artificial."

Cage also plays a reclusive truffle hunter in Michael Sarnoski’s 2021 film Pig which had its European premiere in Edinburgh earlier in 2021.

Discussing other forms of acting, including a so-called "method" approach, he said: "You’ve got to go towards what is in some ways dangerous or scary but it can’t ever lapse into the realm of hurting yourself or someone else.

"Which is why, for me, it’s about imagination. For me, I don’t need my cat to die to play the scene. I can imagine it and it can break my heart and I can get there and, thank God, I can get back."

On being accused of often being "over the top" with his own acting style, he added: "When they say that to me I say ‘well you tell me where the top is and I’ll tell you whether or not I’m over it."

We need your consent to load this YouTube contentWe use YouTube to manage extra content that can set cookies on your device and collect data about your activity. Please review their details and accept them to load the content.Manage Preferences

Cage, whose real name is Nicolas Coppola, recalled his first acting experience on the school bus when he was very young while he and a friend were being bullied.

"One day I said, ‘I’m gonna have to have some attitude’ and I put on some cowboy boots and a leather jacket and I started chewing gum," he said.

"I said, ‘I’m not Nicky Coppola, I’m Roy Richardson and if you don’t leave my friends alone I’m gonna kick your ass’".

Cage added: "That was a performance and that was the first time I think I could act because they left Nicky alone after that - it worked."