Before he became a huge Hollywood star, Nicolas Cage was almost as eccentric, and could be a headache for producers and other crew members on a film set. For evidence, we’ll head straight to Vampire’s Kiss (1988), the darkly comedic vampire pic Cage starred in with Jennifer Beals.
In case you’re not familiar, the underrated Vampire’s Kiss kicks into gear with Cage’s character (New York literary agent Peter Loew) at home entertaining a woman he picked up at a downtown club. As they begin having sex on the couch, the woman notices a bat flying around the room.
A comically perturbed Loew (Cage) tries to shoo the bat away in a bizarre encounter as the woman flees the apartment. From there, things get stranger by the frame as Cage’s character descends into madness.
As Cage recalled in the 2002 Vampire’s Kiss DVD commentary, he really pushed to have a live bat on the set (rather than the mechanical one the director used). Eventually, he relented on the bat but did insist on eating live cockroaches on film. And Cage won that battle.
Nicolas Cage really wanted a live bat for ‘Vampire’s Kiss’
Every film project involves compromises, and Cage had to deal with his share during the production of Vampire’s Kiss. Reminiscing with Cage in the DVD commentary, director Robert Bierman said he had the production’s mechanical bat built by the designer who worked on Star Wars.
In brief, he had a high quality bat set to go for Vampire’s Kiss. But Cage wanted the real thing. “I suppose we should talk about how we got into an altercation one day because it was very important to me that the bat was a real bat,” Cage said, as Bierman laughed.
Looking back, Cage acknowledged that he might not have had a convincing argument to make on behalf of the bat. “I kind of went off my rocker a little bit,” he said. “I guess at this time I was still very much a Method actor, and I would like to live my parts. So I wasn’t the most pleasant person to be around while shooting this film.”
In this case, Cage’s methods included grappling with a real bat on film. He thought that if the bat didn’t look absolutely real then he couldn’t portray his character’s madness in the most convincing way possible. At one point, Cage tried to take matters into his own hands.
“I remember you sent your assistant out to Central Park to find a bat one night,” Bierman noted (somehow, without laughing). “Yeah, I was pretty nuts about getting a real bat,” Cage acknowledged. “I managed to persuade you by saying that if you got bit by a bat, you’d die,” Bierman said.
Cage did get his wish to eat live cockroaches on film
While Cage had to give in on the bat — due to the inability to control a bat, along with the risk of death — he held firm on his wish to eat a cockroach in Vampire’s Kiss. “I was going to eat raw eggs or something [at first] and I thought, ‘No, we should make it a cockroach,'” he said in the DVD commentary.
Fifteen years removed from the shoot, Cage reflected on what he was thinking with the famous scene, which arrives about halfway through Vampire’s Kiss. “I really want to shock the audience, [give people] something they would never forget,” he said.
“I saw it as a business decision,” he continued. “I’ve seen this movie in the theater, and when people see the cockroach go in my mouth it’s like the bus blowing up in Speed. People really react, and it’s worth like $2 million in special effects. But all I do is eat a bug.”
Since it all happens live on film, there was no faking this one. But Cage said he didn’t need the second take — and thus second cockroach — Bierman had him do. “You made me eat two bugs, but you used the first take.” “I always believe in making sure we’ve really got it,” Bierman replied. “But there was a payback for the day before [involved].” “You got me!” Cage said.