Sunday, May 28

Udo Kier: ‘I was so weak from eating only salad leaves to play Dracula I was in a wheelchair’ | movies

have you seen 1970’s Mark of the Devil, 1973’s Flesh for Frankenstein or 1974’s Blood for Dracula recently? What are your thoughts on how they have aged? NatMikeel

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

Your appearance in Madonna’s 1992 video to Deeper and Deeper kicks off with you orating: “Beware! Our idols and demons will pursue us until we learn to let them go.” What demons have you pursued during your career? McScootikins

Only one demon: time. Time is the biggest demon in the world. Nobody can put time 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 came just by luck. I was born in Germany in 1944 at the end of the war. It was a very sad time with no money. I lived with my mother. I never met my father because he remarried and did not want to admit that he had three children from his previous marriage.

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

My mother 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 bumped into [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 that to us.” I was a very photogenic young man, so when the film came out in London and I was close up on the screen in Cinemascope, I was described as “the new face of cinema”. I liked the attention, so I decided to become an actor.

i watched lars von Trier’s 1994-97 TV series The Kingdom some years ago. It’s strange, unsettling and one of my all-time favourites. 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 has been born on screen! There is this beautiful, big naked woman. I’m in her stomach, lying on a piece of wood with four wheels. I hear the word “Action!”, Push myself between her legs, so I’m just a head, and go: “Waaaaah!” I’ve worked with Lars for 30 years and have loved being in his movies of him.

Thinking about how central your costume is in Swan Song, how did you go about constructing your character? Vladthethird

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

Flesh for Frankenstein.
Flesh for Frankenstein. Photograph: Photo12/Alamy

One of your wildest productions has to be Flesh for Frankenstein – the notorious X-rated Andy Warhol/Paul Morrissey movie. How did you get involved? wigsbysimon

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

We shot the movie in three weeks for $300,000. On my last day, I was very sad because Warhol had said that everyone is famous for 15 minutes, and now my 15 minutes had gone away. I went to the cantina, had a glass of wine, and Morrissey walked in. They were filming 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 one week.” I said: “No problem,” and ate only salad leaves and water for a week. On the first day of shooting, I was introduced to Vittorio De Sica – this great Italian actor who was also in Dracula. I was so weak from only eating salad leaves and water, I was in a wheelchair because I couldn’t stand up.

The lamp dance scene in 1991‘s My Own Private Idaho is an iconic moment in your career. How did that scene come about? jeroenspeculaas

I went to a film festival in Berlin and a young director came up and said: “My name is Gus Van Sant, I have a little film here, [1985’s] Mala Noche, which I made for $20,000, but my next film is going to be with Keanu Reeves and River Phoenix, and I’d like you to be in it.” I thought he was all talk, but he got me my permit to work in America, and 30 years later, I’m still here.

When I went to Portland to shoot the film, 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 flash lamp, so – as I was miming – I used that instead. He said: “I want you to sing to the two boys with this big lamp.” I said: “No, it’s too big,” but it worked, even though I can’t sing.

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

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

What was it like working with Wesley Snipes in Blade, and Arnie in End of Days? WoodWorker2008 / Koolds67

At the audition for Blade, I said to the director, Stephen Norrington: “My idea is to play the vampire like a stockbroker, so very calculating.” I say to Stephen Dorff: “You’re not even a pure blood. I have lived like this for thousands of years.” Wesley Snipes was wunder bar. And with End of Days, I was excited, finally meeting Arnold Schwarzenegger. We went to Germany together for the premiere. I like actors. A lot of times, good actors are the nicest people in the world.

When I started 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 both said: “I don’t look like you.”

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

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

I made a film, 2017’s Downsizing, with Matt Damon and Christoph Waltz, who was so wonderful in 2009’s Inglourious Basterds, because he had such fun playing an evil guy. It’s fun to play evil, because the devil was an angel who didn’t want to be an angel any more. So you get to play the devil, which is a lot of fun. But if you are really evil, you cannot play an evil character.

Out of all your films, which do you think is the best? badchampions

I cannot answer that. As an actor, you can only choose the films that changed your life, for example 1973’s Flesh for Frankenstein and 1974’s Blood of Dracula, I was suddenly with Andy Warhol in Vogue and Rolling Stone. When I did 1975’s Story of Owhich was so erotic it was banned in England, people went by train to Paris just to see the movie.

Meeting Walerian Borowczyk was very important because I met him when I was living in Paris, after Story of O, and he asked me to be in 1980’s Lulu, playing Jack the Ripper, which we shot in Berlin. Then he asked me to play Dr Jekyll in Docteur Jekyll et Les Femmes. But I met all these directors by chance and not by thinking: “Terrence Malick is in town. I need to find out which restaurant he’s eating at…”

I’m a very lucky man. With Swan Song, I’ve got critics saying: “Finally, after 50 years, Udo Kier becomes the leading man.” I worked with some of the best directors in the world, but I have never said to a director: “I would like to work with you.” Imagine if I was having dinner with David Lynch and Isabella Rossellini and I said to David: “I would like to work with you.” He would answer: “Who doesn’t?”

Swan Song is in UK cinemas from 10 June

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