The more time moves us away from the gloriously demented and endlessly bizarre “Vampire’s Kiss,” the more it brings us closer to the conclusion that it perhaps was the root for the Nic Cage we know, love, and are endlessly fascinated by today. In the understatement of the decade, Cage gives his all in the cult classic to embody some contaminated mixture of the most out-there performances you can possibly think of, the kind of turn that makes you wonder how he fared in the immediate aftermath of shooting the 1988 movie. That special brand of craziness we now associate with the actor extended, it turns out, to what he was willing to put himself and others through on-set.
Detailed in a recently published oral history of “Vampire’s Kiss” on The Ringer, it’s clear Cage was as unpredictable when the cameras weren’t rolling as when they were. Case in point: Remember that cockroach-snacking scene, straight out of “Fear Factor” and so gross it couldn’t be real?
Well, think again.
“[Cage said,] ‘The thing I hate most in the world are cockroaches. So let me eat a cockroach.’ He wanted to eat the most frightening thing for him,” the film’s director, Robert Bierman, said.
You can guess what happened next. If not, let Cage himself explain.
“I really (wanted) to do something that would shock the audience, something you would never forget,” he said.
Mission, disgustingly, accomplished! And the antics, according to the article, wouldn’t end there. Putting Jared Leto’s method antics to shame, the article states Cage was “frighteningly devoted to his performance,” even “obsessive about the role.” It got to the point where he would reel in the most unsuspecting people while shooting on-location, even approaching strangers who had no idea about the cameras around them and reeling them into the act.
“Two of them were homeless people, who I think were quite frightened of him and ran away,” Bierman noted, saying Cage would approach them begging them to kill him, per the script. “It was an interesting way of galvanizing his character.”
His fellow actors weren’t spared, especially when it came to Jennifer Beals playing a role Cage tried to snatch for his girlfriend at the time, Patricia Arquette. Chalk it up to a form a protest or bizarre passive-aggressivism against an actress he “eventually warmed up to,” but his outlandish tactics extended to preparing for a love scene with Beals.
“To get turned on, Nic asked to have hot yogurt poured over his toes while he was doing a love scene with Jennifer. If you don’t look at the shot, you don’t see his feet,” said Marcia Shulman, the film’s casting director.
For the special brand of on-screen lunacy Cage birthed on the set of “Vampire’s Kiss” and went on to foster, the article also explains how someone else entirely may have filled the shoes of Peter Loew. If you can imagine the likes of Dennis Quaid, Judd Nelson or even Steve Martin leading the movie…well, stop lying to yourself.
But they were considered, once upon a time in the movie’s production, when Cage was initially hesitant about signing on in the face of “outside pressure from my agent and people representing me.”
Inevitably, though, had joined the movie. His motivation? “I wanted to try something new with my acting.”
Movie history hasn’t been the same.