Udo Kier: “I was so weak from eating only lettuce leaves to play Dracula that I was in a wheelchair” | Film

Have you seen Mark of the Devil from the 1970s, Flesh for Frankenstein from 1973 or Blood for Dracula from 1974 recently? What do you think of how they aged? NatMikeel

No, I don’t watch my old movies. I’m not one of those actors who have friends over and after dinner say, “Oh, let’s put on one of my films.” I made 275 films, many of which I want to forget but also some that I will never forget.

Your appearance in Madonna 1992 video on Deeper and Deeper begins with you praying: “Beware! Our idols and demons will pursue us until we learn to let them go. What demons have pursued you throughout your career? McScootikins

Only one demon: time. Time is the greatest demon in the world. No one can go back, but if you could you would do a lot of things differently. I’ve been working for 55 years, but I never wanted to be an actor. It just happened by chance. I was born in Germany in 1944 at the end of the war. It was a very sad time without money. I lived with my mother. I never met my father because he remarried and didn’t want to admit that he had three children from his previous marriage.

Udo Kier and Corinne Clery in The Story of O. Photo: RONALD GRANT

My mum couldn’t afford to send me to high school, so I decided to work in a factory to earn enough money to move to London to learn English. While studying at St Giles International on Oxford Street I came across [British actor and director] Michael Sarne, who wanted to cast me in the 1966 short film The Road to Saint Tropez. I said, “I don’t know how to act.” He said, “Leave it to us.” I was a very photogenic young man, so when the film came out in London and I was close up on the Cinemascope screen, I was described as ‘the new face of cinema’. I liked the attention, so I decided to become an actor.

I watched Lars by Sort 1994-97 TV series The Kingdom A few years earlier. It’s weird, unsettling, and one of my all-time favorites. What are your memories of being directed by a young Von Trier? GennyLee

I’m happy because I’m the only actor in the world who was born on screen! There is this beautiful, tall naked woman. I’m in his belly, lying on a piece of wood with four wheels. I hear the word “Action!” pushes me between my legs, so I’m just a head, and I’m like, “Waaaaah!” “I worked with Lars for 30 years and loved being in his films.

Thinking about the central place of your costume in Swan Song, how did you go about building your character? Vladlethird

The director sent me the script. I read it twice, called him and said, “I want you to come to Palm Springs to meet with you to see if we can work together.” He came and he was a very nice man. I had certain requests. I wanted to stay in a nursing home, sleep in the bed, look out the window, see the trees and the birds, look in every drawer, and get used to the bedroom being mine. So I lived there for a while, having coffee with the old people, with no filmmakers around. I also said, “I want to shoot in chronological order,” which would only have been possible in a low-budget independent film, and not something I might have demanded in Armageddon or End of Days. The costume is interesting because it is so green… I kept it even after the shooting. Everyone knew me by my character name, Pat, so we would go out at night and the bartender would say, “Chardonnay, Pat? and I was like, “Yes, thank you!”

Flesh for Frankenstein.
Flesh for Frankenstein. Photograph: Photo 12/Alamy

One of your craziest productions has got to be Flesh for Frankenstein – the famous X-rated Andy Warhol / Paul Morrissey film. How did you get involved? wigsparsimon

I was living in Rome, sitting next to this American on the plane to Munich. He said, “What do you do for a living?” and I said, “I’m an actor.” He said, “Interesting,” took out his US passport, and wrote my number on the last page. I said, “Who are you?” and he said, “My name is Paul Morrissey, I’m Andy Warhol’s director.” A few weeks later, I got a call, “Hey, it’s Paul, remember the plane? I do Frankenstein for [Italian producer] Carlo Ponti and I have a small role for you. I said, “Great, who do I play?” “Baron of Frankenstein.”

We shot the film in three weeks for $300,000. On the last day, I was very sad because Warhol said everyone was famous for 15 minutes, and now my 15 minutes were up. I went to the cantina, got a glass of wine and Morrissey came in. They were shooting Flesh for Frankenstein and Blood for Dracula back to back, and he said, “I guess we have a German Count Dracula now. I said, “Who?” and he said, “You, but you have to lose 10 pounds in a week.” I said, “No problem”, and I only ate lettuce leaves and water for a week. On the first day of filming, I was introduced to Vittorio De Sica, this great Italian actor who was also in Dracula. I was so weak from eating only salad leaves and water, I was in a wheelchair because I couldn’t stand up.

The lamp dance scene in 1991My Own Private Idaho is an iconic moment in your career. How did this scene happen? jeroenspeculaas

I went to a film festival in Berlin and a young director came and said to me, “My name is Gus Van Sant, I have a little film here, [1985’s] Mala Noche, which I did for $20,000, but my next movie will be with Keanu Reeves and River Phoenix, and I want you to be there. I thought he was talking, but he got me my license to work in America, and 30 years later, I’m still here.

When I went to Portland to shoot the movie, I told him a story that when I was performing as a singer in Moscow, the people at the stadium forgot to give me a microphone but I had a flashlight, so – while miming – I used that instead. He said, “I want you to sing for the two boys with this big lamp.” I said, “No, it’s too big,” but it worked, even though I can’t sing.

Nobody ever asked me to sing in a role. They are very polite. I never wanted to be an actor. I never studied theatre. My philosophy is that talent is something that cannot be learned. You have it, or you don’t. You can learn a technique. So if you want to play Shakespeare, you have to go to acting school, but not for the movies.

I know more about modern art than about cinema. Just to give you an idea [gestures at paintings on the wall]: David Hockney, whom I have known since 1975. Salvador Dalí, Keith Haring, Robert Longo – who directed Johnny Mnemonic in 1995… When I sit down in the morning, have a coffee and see on the wall: “For Udo, with love , Andy Warhol”, it gives me energy for the day.

What was that is it like working with Wesley Snipes in Blade and Arnie in End of Days? Woodworker2008 / Koolds67

When auditioning for Blade, I told the director, Stephen Norrington, “My idea is to play the vampire as a stockbroker, so very calculating.” I said to Stephen Dorff, “You’re not even a thoroughbred. I lived like this for thousands of years. Wesley Snipes was wonder bar. And with End of Days, I was excited to finally meet Arnold Schwarzenegger. We went to Germany together for the premiere. I like actors. Often, good actors are the nicest people in the world.

When I started out as a young actor, I was always compared to Terence Stamp. So when we finally made a movie together in London [2001’s Revelation], I said, “Let’s go to the mirror.” And we looked in the mirror and we were both like, “I don’t look like you.”

How do you make a character truly scary, rather than a pantomime villain doing a parody of evil? MMANinjaAssociation

When you’re German and you come to America, you act like a Nazi because of the accent. I have a tv show coming out soon [season two of Hunters] with Al Pacino, where I play Adolf Hitler. So there are two ways to play a villain. The first is: I have a gun and I’m shooting you. Click. The second: I point the gun at you, clean my nails and say, “When I’m done, I’m going to kill you”, look at my nails and – bang.

I did a movie, Downsizing in 2017, with Matt Damon and Christoph Waltz, which was so wonderful in Inglourious Basterds in 2009, because he was having so much fun playing a bad guy. It’s fun to play evil, because the devil was an angel who didn’t want to be an angel anymore. So you’re playing the devil, which is a lot of fun. But if you’re really bad, you can’t play an evil character.

Of all your films, which do you think is the best? bad champions

I can’t answer that. As an actor, you can only choose films that changed your life, for example Flesh for Frankenstein from 1973 and Blood of Dracula from 1974, I was suddenly with Andy Warhol in Vogue and Rolling Stone. When I made Story of O in 1975, which was so erotic it was banned in England, people would go by train to Paris just to see the film.

Meeting Walerian Borowczyk was very important because I met him when I was living in Paris, after Story of O, and he offered me to be in 80s Lulu, playing Jack the Ripper, which we shot in Berlin . Then he asked me to play Dr Jekyll in Doctor Jekyll and The Women. But I met all these directors by chance and not by thinking: “Terrence Malick is in town. I need to know which restaurant he eats at…”

I am a very lucky man. With Swan Song, I have critics who say, “Finally, after 50 years, Udo Kier becomes the main man.” I’ve worked with some of the best directors in the world, but I’ve never said to a director, “I’d like to work with you. Imagine if I had dinner with David Lynch and Isabella Rossellini and said to David, “I would like to work with you.” He replied, “Who doesn’t?

Swan Song is in UK cinemas from June 10

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