For Nicolas Cage, at least, vampire movies and eating bugs go together like KFC and champagne. The former big screen superhero and noted Star Trek fan plays Count Dracula himself in the new horror comedy Renfield, co-starring Nicholas Hoult as the famous vampire's long-suffering servant, R.M. Renfield, who chomps on insects when in need of a vampish power boost.
Thirty-five years ago, Cage was the one who stuffed a bug — a live cockroach no less — into his mouth during the making of the cult 1988 comedy, Vampire's Kiss. It's a Method moment he has no plans of reliving. "I'll never do that again," the actor tells Yahoo Entertainment now. "I'm sorry I did it at all."
Watch our bug free interview with Nicolas Cage and Nicholas Hoult on YouTube
Directed by Robert Bierman, Vampire's Kiss memorably cast a post-Moonstruck Cage as Peter Loew, a Me Decade yuppie who comes to believe he was bewitched and bitten by a gorgeous vampire, played by Flashdance star Jennifer Beals. Assuming he's well on his way to becoming a bloodsucker as well, Peter dives off the deep end, walking around New York with fake fangs and eating roaches for breakfast.
The original Vampire's Kiss script merely had Peter make like Rocky Balboa and swallow a raw egg. But as Cage later explained on a DVD commentary track, he felt that would have been too tame. "I saw it as a business decision because when people see the cockroach go in my mouth... [they] really react," he said. Bierman rewarded his leading man's commitment to entertaining the audience by making him eat another roach... even though Cage suspects he intended to use the first take all along. "I ate [roaches] twice because the director did it as a prank," he says now.
Hoult clearly didn't get a chance to catch up with Vampire's Kiss before playing the Renfield to Cage's Dracula. The Mad Max: Fury Road star reacted with genuine surprise to his co-star's revelation that he'd consumed a live insect on camera not just once, but twice. "The cockroaches I got to eat in this were caramel," Hoult confesses. "I also had crickets that were actually quite yummy; they were salt and vinegar flavored or barbecue smoky flavored."
But Cage insists that his right-hand man is just being modest. "[Nicholas] ate a potato bug, so he took it to another level," the actor says with obvious admiration. "[Potato bugs] are terrifying to me, and so are cockroaches." So how do potato bugs taste? "It wasn't good," Hoult says, chuckling. "It didn't dry out so good, and tasted every bit of bug."
While he may not be a fan of potato bugs or roaches, Cage does have a modest proposal for how the global food problem could be solved if we all got over our distaste for chomping on insects. (For the record, insects like beetles and locusts are already on the menu in many other nations, including Thailand and Zimbabwe.) "If you could get rid of your fear, your phobia of eating insects, you could solve world starvation," the actor says, proceeding to rattle off the list of bug benefits. "High protein, no fat, excellent nutrients, abundance. They're everywhere! But nope — not gonna happen."
Speaking of fears, Renfield makes an effort to make vampires scary (and scary funny) again after the recent trend towards sparkly vampires and emo vampires. "That was very important to our director, Chris McKay, to strike that balance between horror and comedy," Cage says of his portrayal of Dracula. "We were trying to get that flavor of An American Werewolf in London. I found myself making gestures and would say, 'Is this creepy?' And then I'd say, 'Yes, but it's also funny.'"
In a separate interview, McKay confirms that he wanted to include some real horror amidst Renfield's gonzo comedy. "In order for the movie to work, it has to be grounded — you have to ground it as a horror movie," the director explains. "It was important to us that it felt like a real Dracula movie. The action had to be real, and the violence had to be real."
Asked whether he was genuinely scared by anything he saw Cage do while in character, Hoult says that some of his reactions did come from a place of real fear. "The whole dynamic was me being scared of him, and he's a brilliant actor. Renfield has been dealing with Dracula for a hundred years, and he's always on thin ice with him because he's not sure which way things are gonna go. What's brilliant about Nic's performance is that he can be charming and fun and then suddenly take a twist for the worst and you'll be on your back foot again. That's exactly how Renfield should be."
Cage says he tried to up Dracula's fright factor during the movie's most violent moments by channeling cobras, cats and other top predators. "I liked the scenes where Dracula finally lets the teeth and fangs down," he recalls. "It was all very cat-like, and the stunt team really helped us with that." But the award for Best Kill goes to Hoult. "I got to punch a head off," the actor says. "He really can say that he punched a head off in a movie," Cage marvels. "I don't think anyone's done that before."
Renfield is playing in theaters now.