Saturday, 11 January 2014

interview: Udo Kier

I had the enormous pleasure of interviewing Udo Kier in May 1999 when he was shooting The New Adventures of Pinocchio in Luxembourg. I only had a short time to talk with him while he was being made up for his role as Madame Flambeau but found him one of the friendliest, most open, honest and unfailingly polite interviewees I have ever dealt with. The part of this interview dealing with End of Days was later published in Fangoria.

You’re playing a man playing a woman in most of this film. Are the audience not supposed to realise that it’s you, who played Lorenzini in the first film?
“I think they will realise it’s me, but it’s me in another role. It’s not like you say, a man playing a woman; when you know the story it’s actually a man who becomes a woman who becomes a man again, the villain, so it kind of goes the other way round. It’s not a transvestite. He doesn’t try to look like RuPaul or some transvestite, it’s just that he is the villain, like a witch. I always wanted to play a witch. I don’t see it as a woman - it’s a witch more or less.

”It’s a female villain, a villainness. So it’s an interesting part. I also play three roles in a new film with Michael Caine, where I also play a woman, and it’s nice because when I put on the dress and all the make-up it’s hard to be a woman but it’s very effectual. I’m an actor and acting comes from that. If you see comedia del arte, the people had a lot of make-up and wigs. It’s coming from that anyway. And of course, a film like Pinocchio II is mainly for grown-up children. So for me it’s a big challenge to play it. I always wanted to play a witch when I saw other actors playing them.”

Having done the first Adventures of Pinocchio film, were you eager to come back to the character of Lorenzini?
“Actually when they offered me the second part, they offered me Lorenzini, they had planned that Madame Flambeau would be played by a woman with a German accent who’s supposed to sound like me. I said to the producer, ‘Why don’t I play Madame Flambeau?’ and he said, ‘Give me two weeks and then I’ll call you back.’ Then they called my management and said, ‘Okay, we agree to that.’ It’s so interesting, and the first one was also a lot of make-up. I like make-up. Make-up helps the actor enormously. So it’s actually Lorenzini, it’s actually the same look on both films”

How do you manage to fit in so many films?
“Now I have six films coming out. One is with Michael Caine and Randy Quaid and Catherine McCormack [The Debtors]. Then I just finished a film yesterday evening with John Malkovich and Willem Dafoe and Catherine McCormack again [Shadow of the Vampire]. I did a film with Bill Pullman and Irene Jacob, History is Made at Night, in Finland, and I just finished the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie [End of Days]. And I did a film with Timothy Hutton and Maria Grazia Cucinotta [Just One Night], who’s the sexiest, most erotic woman. She was in Il Postino; she played my wife. And I’m doing music videos and commercials. In America they’re running a commercial with me and Andre Agassi at the moment for Canon.”

Don’t you ever take a holiday?
“I like to go from film to film, meeting new people and playing new roles. Because actors are like children: they want to play and I like to play. I take time off, but for example, I did these two films here. It was very hard doing Shadow of the Vampire and this film together for the last ten days. I could have said goodbye to this film but I didn’t want to say goodbye because it’s such a great script. It’s a great costume and make-up and everything - you will see me later, in half an hour. Too hard - I will never do that again, two films.”

Was it just a coincidence that both shot at the same time in the same country?
“Exactly, and there were some things they knew that I had to do, but I made it. I finished yesterday. A number of days I worked there in the morning and here in the afternoon. It’s not so much the energy you give it, it’s the roles you play: two totally different roles. I played Albin Grau, the producer, and Malkovich was Murnau. Right now my body and my head is flying everywhere. In Canada they have my body, Henson’s have my body, another company in Germany has my body, everyone has my body! So it’s good. I like special effects.”

About a quarter of your films are fantasy or horror.
“Mainly horror. I did Revenant with Rod Steiger.”

I saw that in Portugal.
“I don’t know why it doesn’t get a distributor in the United States. I like the film just for the fact that the director had a dream. He wanted me to be killed in his movie. I said, ‘Who’s killing me?’; he said, ‘Rod Steiger’; I said, ‘Okay.’ I wanted to get killed by Rod Steiger. It was a classical stake through the heart. I’ve played all the roles: I played Dr Jekyll, I played Dracula, Frankenstein, Jack the Ripper. The only thing that’s missing is the Werewolf, but I wouldn’t mind playing that. So now I’m doing this film for the next few weeks.”

What attracts you to a script?
“When I pick one, I look first at my part. If it’s got a beginning and a middle and an end, then I’m interested. There are only two kinds of roles: there is the role where you have a main role like here, or there’s the classic role in America where you have three scenes at the beginning, the middle and the end. Here it’s the main role and it’s quite interesting. I always like to play different characters.”

I read that you love Nosferatu, so Shadow of the Vampire must be a special project.
“It’s a special project because what they did is about the making of Nosferatu. It’s great because you see the recreation of the old scenes. They are recreated again in modern technology - it’s wonderful. And of course having Malkovich playing Murnau was amazing. The only thing is they are all supposed to be German and I was the only German on the set so all the American and English actors have to speak with an accent. And I guess I had the best accent!”

Who plays Max Schreck?
“Max Schreck is Willem Dafoe. He’s wonderful. He looked just like a recreation of the old movie. Willem Dafoe is a wonderful actor. He looked amazing and he also acted amazing.”

Was it shot in black and white or colour?
“It was in colour, but very special colour, very dark. They used special film, 800, which has only been on the market one year. It’s frightening because the camera sees more than your eye. I had a dark suit on with stripes and the camera sees more than you can see with your eye, so there’s very little lighting. They had a lighting man who worked with Kubrick before, and the camera team was all British - Mike Fox was the cameraman - and very good. But of course you can never say in advance; you always hope every film’s going to be good, but you never can say it’s going to be good. I never say a film’s going to be good because you never know.”

I also read that you wanted to work with Schwarzenegger, which you just have done on End of Days. Did you actually shoot scenes with Arnie?
“No, I didn’t. The Devil is played by Gabriel Byrne and I play the assistant to the Devil. They were actually thinking of me for the main role but then they thought two actors with German accents would be a little bit strange. Universal wouldn’t buy that so they gave Gabriel Byrne the part and I play his assistant. So I speak mainly Latin in the movie - I play the high priest. Peter Hyams directed it and it’s the second most expensive film of the year, $160 million. But it was like a small team who were very nice. Peter Hyams does the camera himself also. Look at this make-up. This is how I look as Lorenzini which climbs up to me. I am in transition to be again Lorenzini. It was Penny’s idea and it’s a great idea. We were thinking what could we do.”

As a European living in America, is it nice to come back to Europe to make films?
“Yes. If I have my romantic moods I like to be back in Europe, but if I have my financial moods I prefer to live in America. It’s shadow and light, and the light and the shadows are bigger in America. American films sometimes have no soul and sometimes European films have too much of a soul. But I like to be in American films. Especially because I am, more or less, German, and in the German industry where does a German film go? To some film institute in the jungle or to some festival, and I’m not interested in that. I did it for many years. I worked with Fassbinder many times and in Europe what I like is my favourite director, the genius Lars von Trier. I had prosthetics also when I played the baby of the Devil. You saw that?”

I’ve only seen the first Kingdom.
“The second one is good because I grow like 30 feet as the baby. It was very hard as an actor because in the whole film you never see my body. I’m born as a prosthetic and then they make me bigger and bigger and bigger. It was always the head with a false body. After this film here I’m going to London to do a guest appearance in Steve Norrington’s film. He does a little film with all his friends in it. Steve Norrington directed Blade. For some people who I like I would do that. Then after that I’ll do a film with Lars von Trier, a musical called Dancer in the Dark, written by him and with music by Bjork the singer. Catherine Deneuve is going to be in it.

”It will be interesting technically because the dancing numbers will be filmed with 100 digital cameras at the same time. He showed me a test he did with 30 cameras and it was amazing! It was almost three-dimensional. Every detail is organic because you can cut when you want to cut. It’s all one number seen from different views. So I’m doing that and I want to do a film they offered me with Jess Franco who has 35 different names. It’s very interesting: he wants to make a remake of his own film which he did already, Dr Orloff. And he wants me as Dr Orloff. I told him, because I’m getting used to Luxembourg, to shoot it here. So I might be Dr Orloff in another horror film.”

Franco must be one of the few horror directors you haven’t worked with yet. You worked with Argento, didn’t you?
“With Dario, yes, a long time ago in Suspiria. Now I’m going to do a film - they’re coming next week - from the middle of May to the end of September with Paul Morrissey in German. A Dogme film.”

That’s the principal of using natural light and suchlike.
“It’s all the films at the moment getting awards. The first one Lars von Trier had in Cannes with people starting to understand what it is, which was The Idiots. The second was Festen which got the award in Cannes. The third was Mifune which got the award in Berlin. And number four now Paul Morrissey is doing with me. And I direct my first movie by the end of the year, also a Dogme film. I’m going to be a transvestite in a wheelchair who lives on the sex telephone. I play a cripple.”

You’re really having to search for new roles you haven’t played yet!
“That’s why I play more. So I’m going to play it and nobody can tell me. I’ve worked also with directors who were not so good, so why shouldn’t I direct myself? I’m looking forward to it, and I want to do it very, very inexpensively. It’s really a challenge for me to play the role. It’s a black comedy more or less. It’s going to be called The Story of Lola Stein. Lola is living on telephone sex in a dirty apartment with pictures on the wall of Marilyn Monroe, Rita Heyworth and when they call she describes herself as these pictures. You see this transvestite, totally crippled, living in this sad apartment. There will be a lot of flashbacks.”

You’ve worked with great modern sex symbols like Madonna and Pamela Anderson...
“And Anna Nicole Smith. I think furthermore I always liked Pamela Anderson because she is a great erotic person. She really is erotic; a lot of people don’t think so - I tell you she is very erotic. If Pamela Anderson would be an actress like Meryl Streep, with that body, it would be horrible. I worked the first time with her in Barb Wire; I think Barb Wire is a great action film. The question is always why it wasn’t such a successful film: maybe men couldn’t do in the cinema what they could do at home when they see Baywatch. Which is true! I worked with her also in VIP, her own show. And Madonna saw me in My Own Private Idaho. I did the Sex book with her; I was in about 30 pictures in the Sex book and I thought we looked brilliant together. Anna Nicole Smith I wanted to meet too - I like blonde women - and we did a music video together, which I haven’t even seen.”

Has working with these great female icons helped you in playing a woman in this?
“No. You know there is a trick with playing a woman in a movie. Well, it’s not a trick. You don’t play a woman. I won’t play a woman. You will see it later - I don’t play a woman. I play myself in a wig and in make-up and in a dress! But I don’t try to do anything feminine at all because then it would be horrible and it wouldn’t work.”

Is your new film with Paul Morrissey the first time you’ve worked with him since Flesh for Frankenstein and Blood for Dracula?
“He’s a friend of mine. I’m a very lazy person, I never schmooze around and keep in contact. But Paul Morrissey is the only one who I kept in contact with because he was very important to me in my life with Dracula and Frankenstein. We’re making a movie, a comedy about the fashion world. I play the lead. It’s called The House of Klang. It’s very interesting. It’s about 80% sure, it’s not 100% sure.”

Flesh for Frankenstein is notorious in Britain where it was banned for many years.
“I don’t know why. I made my first film in England with Mark Sarne, a short, 40-minute film called Road to San Tropez. I was at school in London - I didn’t want to be an actor - and I learnt English. They cast me, then I got offer by Mr Zanuck himself a seven-year contract, which I didn’t do.”


interview originally posted before November 2004

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