Nicolas Cage is next as Count Dracula Renfieldwhich flies into theaters from Universal on April 14, isn’t the actor’s first time sinking his teeth into exploring the undead.
Thirty-four years ago, he starred in the indie movie Kiss from the vampire as Peter Loew, a New York literary agent who is convinced that his lover Rachel (Jennifer Beals) has turned him into a vampire. Director Robert Bierman’s feature initially had Dennis Quaid as the lead, until he dropped out to shoot Inner space. The film’s team recalls Cage calling repeatedly to pitch himself.
“We just didn’t see Nicolas in the role,” admits producer Barbara Zitwer THR. In the end, Cage got the gig and continued to surprise with his acting choices, including his insistence that Peter eat a live cockroach instead of a raw egg yolk as the script said. “I had a complete breakdown,” says Zitwer when he learned that Cage wanted to swallow the insect.
As the actor explained THR in 1995: “I told them I wanted to eat a cockroach and they said, ‘Forget it.’ Thankfully, the film’s doctor was confident the star wouldn’t get sick, provided he drank some booze afterwards. Zitwer also says Cage was “extremely unhappy” about being produced with a mechanical bat instead of a live animal , even going so far as to send his assistant “to Central Park one night with a water cooler and a broom to try bats.”
Still, Cage’s commitment was undeniable. “When he wore that suit and tie, even between takes, he was always Peter Loew,” producer Barry Shils recalled. And Beals says of working with Cage, “Every day was great because you didn’t know what was going to happen.”
Hemdale Film Corp. released the movie on June 2, 1989 and THR‘s review praised Cage’s “manic energy”. although Kiss from the vampire flopped, it became a cult favorite through home video and HBO.
Zitwer cherishes a voicemail Cage left her after an early screening: “I will never forget this message – ‘Seeing the film confirmed my decision to become an actor.’ That meant the world to me.”
This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter magazine on April 12. Click here to subscribe.