Sunday, 31 August 2008
Nicolas Cage Eats a Cockroach - no, really
One of the things I do is an occasional column for the Independent newspaper here in the UK. It looks at famous movie scenes and tells the variously hair-raising/amusing/ creepy stories behind them. The collected scenes will become a book round about this time next year, published by AC Black, a subsidiary of Bloomsbury Books, who publish the Harry Potters.
Sometimes the pieces get cut down to fill the space. It's a national newspaper. These things happen.
Here's one that was published last Friday, and since I went to some trouble to track down the director of this particular movie, I thought I'd reproduce it here in it's entirety.
Vampire’s Kiss (1989)
What’s the true story behind the early Nic Cage film where he actually eats a live cockroach? Filmmaker Robert Bierman tells me not to bother with all the Internet rumours. Still, it would be good to know.
How many takes did Cage do for the scene? Where did the actual live cockroaches come from? And which famous movie director and comedian refused to believe the scene was real in any way?
These days Bierman is better known for his work on UK television – most recently working at the helm of Waking the Dead. But back in 1989 he was in New York making a feature film about a publishing executive who believes he’s turning into a vampire. On this particular scene, Cage, now increasingly demented, sees a cockroach on the hob of his kitchen cooker, pops it in his mouth, antennae wriggling, and crunches it up.
‘In the script it had been written that he should eat a raw egg,’ Bierman recalls. ‘But a day or so before filming I’d seen a Japanese film Tampopo do the same thing. So I discussed it with Nic, and he said ‘I really want to do my room 101’ which happens to be cockroaches’.
Filming in an apartment block opposite the Gramercy Park Hotel, the props manager went down to the basement and came back with a number of bugs. ‘We had a bug beauty competition,’ says Bierman. ‘And we selected two’. There were two takes. ‘He ate it, chewed it, and after the shot spat what was left out and took a shot of 100% vodka’. Bierman asked him to do it again. ‘In fact the second take wasn’t so good, and the cockroach didn’t move enough, and Nic flicked it with his finger to try and get some life into it’.
Cage later told a journalist ‘I couldn’t really taste it, but psychologically it was murder – I couldn’t eat anything for three days. I had difficulty sleeping. Every muscle in my body didn’t want to do it, but I did it anyway’.
In those days, a year before making Wild at Heart, Cage was fearless in his commitment to acting. ‘He also ate a pigeon later on,’ says Bierman. ‘So I had to drug them so he could catch them. Filming in the late 80’s, there really were no health and safety issues. There was another scene where a bat flies around the room, and Nic had to be stopped from sending his assistant off to Central Park and catching a real one’.
Bierman was careful to shoot the scene in one unbroken shot to make it clear no trickery was involved. Even so, he later received a phone call from Mel Brooks asking him for the address of his ‘brilliant’ props man who had so expertly faked the scene. Bierman had to assure him that Cage had, in fact, eaten a real, live bug from the basement.