Guest of honour at last November’s Night Visions festival in Helsinki was the legendary Udo Kier, presenting Flesh For Frankenstein, Blood For Dracula, House On Straw Hill and Doctor Jekyll & The Women. Springing forth with Dictaphone in hand, Empire grabbed several fascinating, wide-ranging chats that covered the directors and actors Kier has worked with, as well as the roles he’s played. It’s an entirely random sampling of his life and work, from conversations and Q&As that took place across the entire weekend. And the first rogue in the gallery, appropriately enough, is Udo himself...
"I tried all my life to be a normal person. Stars are in the sky. I like cooking and gardening. I like to smell the earth. I don’t wear gardening gloves, even though my hands bleed. I have a lot of palm trees, because they say to me holidays and ocean. I grew up very poor and I had an aunt who would go on holiday and send me postcards of palm trees and I would pin them to the wall, so I’ve gone from that fantasy to reality.
I rescue dogs. I have a beautiful ranch in Los Angeles, but I have no time for horses, so I bought plastic horses in life size. My favourite horse is called Max, after Max von Sydow. He’s an old horse but a good horse. He’s brown and gold and makes twice a day a sound: "'Houyhnhnm!' At midday he goes 'houyhnhnm!', so I know it’s time for lunch, and at 8pm he goes 'houyhnhnm!', so I know it’s time for the news. That’s how I live, with plastic horses on a ranch. I have my own well, so my own water supply, and I’m very green: I have solar and everything. I don’t mind taking the bus or the Metro. People ask me what I’m doing there. I say, 'Am I not allowed to take the Metro? It’s faster!'
When I was young I wanted to play Arthur Rimbaud, but now Leonardo DiCaprio has played him. So I don’t know who I want play now. Ernest Hemingway? It changes. I’m sure somebody will offer me something.
When I'm depressed and the weather is bad I look up my page on IMDb and I have my coffee and feel better. There are even films on there I don’t know about! I phone up my friends and say, 'Fuck you! I made 200 movies!' 100 are bad, 50 you could watch, and 50 are good. I think as an actor if you can say you made 50 good films, amen."
Blood For Dracula
"It’s beautiful to see a film, not like today where they become wolves and they fly and whatever. I hadn’t seen this for more than 20 years. I think it’s very funny. There’s a lot of sex and blood, but it was all improvised. The whole film cost $300,000. When I did the Madonna video [Deeper And Deeper - see below] it cost more than that for four minutes.
Paul Morrissey was the director. He found me in an airplane on a flight from Rome to Munich and I told him I was an actor. He wrote my phone number on the last page of his passport, so I thought I must be important to him! A couple of months later I got a call from him. He said, 'I’m doing Frankenstein and I have a little role for you.' I said, 'Oh great, what’s the role?'. He said, 'Frankenstein'. I had no contract to be Dracula, but then on the last day of Frankenstein I was having a glass of wine, and Paul Morrissey came in and told me I was Dracula, but I had to lose 10lb in a week. So I didn’t eat any more: just salad leaves and water. That’s why I’m in a wheelchair in that film: because I’m so weak!
All the members of the family have different accents. There’s no logic to it, but I like that. The blood was very sweet sticky stuff, just ketchup and water. I had to drink as much as I could to make me vomit on screen. I had glasses full of blood that I had to hide from the camera as I drank them. In America it would have been a little tube with five people pumping it. We didn’t have that. I just had to drink from a glass and go 'bluuuurggh!'. The end was very violent, but it’s a comedy. It’s nice to die in films. Nobody had ever cut my arms and legs off before, and I’m still talking!"
"He was just an American boy discovered in the streets, like I was discovered on an airplane. He was Andy Warhol’s superstar. He did Trash and Flesh before this film, and he was just what you see: a natural person. It fit very well that he played the gardener in Dracula (above). He was a very nice man, who’s still alive. A lot of the people in these films are dead. He had a beautiful face and a beautiful body. He was the first man who ever had an erection on screen, in Trash, and because it was Andy Warhol nobody censored it. He moved to Italy with Stefania Casini after Dracula. I guess he liked having sex with her in the movie so he continued to do it in a private way. I hate when my leading ladies are having real affairs with other people on a set. I get jealous!"
"I never worked with Kinski: he was Herzog’s and I was Fassbinder’s. But I saw him on stage when I was 13. Before films he used to go and stand in the theatre and talk – 'Ich bin so wild, nach deinem erbeermund!' - and people would throw eggs and tomatoes at him. People didn’t get it. That’s when I saw him first. I never met him. I think he was amazing. I did work with his daughter, Nastassja (on Red Letters). I had a terrible line in that film. I had to say to her, 'I put my gun in your pussy and blow your brains out.' I said, 'That’s not a good line for Ms. Kinski!' I got really worked up about having to say it, but because I was so worked up it actually came out pretty well."
It’s an American film. It’s not as good as Blood For Dracula. I like the old films where they didn’t have the technology we have today. I like Bela Lugosi, and Nosferatu. In America they make films just like washing machines and refrigerators. They have to cost a lot of money and make much more money. Independent films are more creative.
In LA I’m surrounded by vampires. My lawyer is a vampire; my accountant is a vampire. They take all my money. I liked the script of Blade. My favourite scene in the movie was when the blood comes out of the things in the ceiling and everybody is dancing under the blood in the disco. I think it was a good film. I didn’t like Blade 2 or Blade 3 because I wasn’t in them. When you do a commercial film you always have to be careful that you don’t die.
Shadow of the Vampire
"I did not like that film because I wasn’t the vampire. Willem Dafoe and I are friends but I was very jealous of him. He did an amazing performance and was nominated for an Oscar, and I had to play the producer. Willem was happy to kill me. He said he always wanted to kill me since he saw Blood For Dracula. Actually I do like the film. It’s just [that] sometimes as an actor you put in a performance that you think might be nominated, and it’s a flop. And then you make films you don’t believe in, like Shadow Of The Vampire, and it gets nominated for the Oscar. You just never know."
"She had seen My Own Private Idaho. I was in New York and I was told that this photographer, Steven Meisel, was doing this book with Madonna. So I went and met Madonna, and she said, 'Do you want to do a sex book with me?' She wanted me to play her decadent husband. We shot in a nightclub with naked men, riding on naked men. Then I went home to LA, and I got another call from Madonna in New York, asking if I would be ready to do hardcore. I said, 'Of course!' So I went to New York again and said, 'How far can I go?' She told me to do whatever I wanted. And you don’t say that to me. Immediately I went around and there were these high heeled, provocation shoes, and I asked if I could put champagne in one so it looks like piss and hang in a sling and drink piss out of the shoe. She told me to go ahead. We had a good time!
At one point I had to lie down while she stood over me, wearing a short skirt, and of course she wore no underwear. A journalist in Zurich asked me many years later, how it looked under the skirt. I said, 'Very organised.'
I wouldn’t have done it with anybody else in the world. A lot of people asked me why I did it, but I just said, 'Do you know how many people would be jealous, when they see that book?' That’s why I did it. Then we did the video where I’m her guru, Deeper And Deeper, and then that was it. I haven’t seen her for many years. As an actor you never keep in contact with people if they’re more important than yourself. They’ll think you want something. And I don’t need anything."
"Timo [Vuorensola, director] offered it to me, and it was something I’d never done. I’d never played a Nazi on the moon. Now we’re going back to the moon! I told Timo for the next one we need more blonde women with big breasts. I made sure I didn’t die in the first one. I made sure I was breathing at the end. If you die you can’t come back. I don’t mind playing Nazis, but I’ll only play them in comedies. I wouldn’t play a serious Nazi."
Lars Von Trier
"I met him at Mannheim at the film festival. I had watched The Element Of Crime and afterwards I just couldn’t get out of my seat: I saw so much similarity to Tarkovsky and Fassbinder. I expected a guy all dressed in black, like Kubrick or Fassbinder, scratching himself and being in a bad mood, and here comes a young student-looking man which was Lars. Our first film together was Medea for television. I had to not shave or wash my hair to get the part, so I looked wild enough.
Everyone gets the same money and the same sized trailer on his films. I like that. Most of the time he does the camera himself. I would do any film with Lars. One of my favourite films with Lars was The Kingdom, where I play a baby and I was born. They built this amazing lower part of a woman, with big legs, and I was actually in the stomach of this woman, and I had a piece of wood with four wheels, and just before I went in they put some blood and slime on my head. It was interesting because I couldn’t imagine it: I couldn’t prepare or rehearse. Then I heard, 'Action!' and I tried to get out but it didn’t work! I thought, 'I have to get out of here even if I break the whole thing,' so I just had to force my way out, going 'yeaaaargh!'. That was the day I was born. What I also liked in that film is I play the son of the Devil and the Devil himself. Only Lars could get me to play a baby.
I understand the problem Bjork had with him on Dancer In The Dark. I think he went too close to her, not physically but mentally and intellectually. All the other actors that say they don’t like him: they all want to work with him! Lars is not difficult at all. He hates acting. That means he doesn’t like actors that he can feel acting. I learned from him never to ask any director anything. The only advice I ever got from him in 25 years was on Medea. He said, 'don’t act'.
I can’t tell you what I did in Nymphomaniac, but I hope you saw the orgasm poster (above). I guess we were all only pretending to have orgasms. Maybe somebody had one; I don’t know. The film premiered at Christmas in Copenhagen. It’s a wonderful Christmas movie! It’s very erotic but it’s not porno. They’re releasing it censored and uncensored. It’s expensive to go to the movies: who will pay money to see a censored movie?"
"If he called me tomorrow and said he wanted me in his next film, I wouldn’t care what it was. He’s one of my favourite directors. I saw Lost Highway, and I saw that scene where the little guy says to Bill Pullman, “I’m at your house…” I thought, oh my god, why didn’t I get that role?"
"Robert Longo made that movie, and he wasn’t a director: he’s a famous painter. He’s married to Barbara Sukowa, who is a friend of mine. She played the main part in Lars von Trier’s Europa. I introduced her to Lars, and we made movies together with [Rainer Werner] Fassbinder, a long time ago. What I remember about Johnny Mnemonic... My dream has always been to see myself. I’ve never seen myself. You have never seen yourself: only a reflection in a mirror. In that film they had to make a whole model of me because a Japanese person comes and slices me up like a piece of meat. It was very annoying to have to pose for the model and have all foam in my face and all that.
Then I came back two weeks later and the people took me to the studio to show me the model. Look, my hair is standing up just thinking about this. I saw myself standing there, in the costume, under the lights, and I went slowly up to myself and I touched my face. I didn’t like it. I wanted to look better than that! But what can you do. So I saw myself for the first time on that film.
It was nice to work with Keanu Reeves again. I worked with him in my first American film, My Own Private Idaho, with River Phoenix and Gus van Sant. It’s always good if you worked with the actors already before. I like that film, but I think it didn’t work very well. I think the chemistry between Keanu and Dina Meyer wasn’t very strong."
House On Straw Hill
"I don’t like this film. It’s the only film where I didn’t get paid! It’s not my voice: it’s very strange to see yourself when it’s not your voice. Maybe there were some technical problems but they thought I would never come back to redo my voice unless they paid me, so they got somebody else. It’s ridiculous. I don’t even know who the director was.
The people who made this film wanted to put a lot of people together to make a lot of money. I had just done the most erotic French film, The Story Of O, and I was in Cannes and some people came to me and asked if I would like to shoot this in London for three weeks and drive a beautiful Rolls-Royce. I said great! Fiona Richmond was very well known in England because she was on the radio, and men with sexual problems could call her and she gave advice. Her boyfriend at the time, Paul Raymond, was one of the richest men in England, with strip clubs and real estate. She had very artificial, mountainous breasts. When she lay down they didn’t change. She was very sure of herself and her body... and I was an innocent little actor just following the rules. What was she like? Definitely not an actress. The other girl, Linda Hayden, she was a real actress. Fiona Richmond was just a famous person trying to be naked in a movie.
These scenes only become vulgar in the movie. When you read the script it’s [does smooth voice] 'They make love'. It should just say, 'They have brutal sex with rocky breasts and rubber gloves!'"
"Well, I wasn’t involved in Dune, unfortunately, because it never happened! I went to Cannes for the festival and met Jodorowsky in the lobby of the hotel. We came down the stairs at the same moment, wearing the same clothes: white pants and a blue-striped shirt. He said to me, 'You’ve got the role!' He believes in magic like that. He showed me all the miniatures and models and sets and costumes, and he had a great, great cast. He had Salvador Dali playing the Emperor, Orson Welles playing my uncle, and I really was very excited. But the problem was that he spent so much money preparing the film that the backers took the film away from him and gave it to David Lynch. My role was the role that Sting played [Feyd-Rautha].
After that Jodorowsky gave me another script, Santa Sangre, while he was looking for the money. In that one, my mother was going to be played by Bette Davis. For a young actor, having Bette Davis playing my mother... that was my dream! In that film there is a circus family and Bette Davis’s husband was going to cut her arms off, and my character promises to give her his hands for the rest of her life. Just the idea of being behind Bette Davis and giving her my arms and taking the teacup and putting it to her mouth... But it didn’t happen. He made the film with his son in the lead role.
Two years ago he came to me again with a gangster film with Jeff Bridges, Marilyn Manson and Asia Argento, but that fell through again. David Lynch was the producer, and I had a contract to do it, but when it fell through they gave me Werner Herzog’s My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done? instead.
I didn’t know he’d talked about me in the Dune documentary. That gives me a reason to write him a note when I get home. I’d love to work with him. El Topo, The Holy Mountain... he’s just the craziest, most fantastic director there is."
"I met him when he wanted to direct Gilles De Rais, about the French aristocrat who was very rich and killed children. There was a trial, and at that time in France, the person who was accused of something talked, and Gilles De Rais talked for twelve hours. When Borowczyk offered me that I thought it was a great idea, but he never made it. After that we made Lulu where I played Jack the Ripper, and I found Borowczyk to be a very artistic and aesthetic person.
Then we made Doctor Jekyll And The Women, and of course I wanted to play Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. The whole idea as an actor is that you play both. As an actor, transforming is the best thing. But Borowczyk convinced me that it wouldn’t work. I could have done it, but in his brain it wasn’t practical, and you don’t fight a director if he has an idea."
"I was very lucky to be in Suspiria. I think it’s one of the best films Dario ever did. I made a film with him and Asia [Argento] four or five years ago called The Mother Of Tears, or The Third Mother, and I played a priest. Dario always likes to have me explaining the whole film. If you see Suspiria, I have one scene where I explain the whole story, and it was the same in The Third Mother: I tell Asia the whole thing.
So I liked those, but I thought it wasn’t necessary for him to make Dracula 3D. It’s interesting, Dario is still a talented director but you feel – and this happens with some people – that he is missing the love for filmmaking that he had before. That hasn’t happened to Lars von Trier, or Wim Wenders or Herzog. But Dario was a great director, so maybe he’ll come up with a new film which will be sensational."
"He called me and we did the Tarantino film (the fake trailer for "Werewolf Women of the SS" in Grindhouse), where I again played a Nazi. Then when he was making Halloween he apologised to me that he cast Malcolm McDowell as the doctor, but afterwards he wrote a small role for me. But filmmaking is like a soup where you have a lot of ingredients and some end up getting left out, so my scene wasn’t in the film. And then he did it again! He wrote a nice role for me in Lords Of Salem, as a vampire hunter [above], but then when it came out, I’m not in the film. And it’s not because I’m not good in the film: it’s because the film is too long. He has always these ideas for me to be in his film but then when they’re too long he cuts me out. So I don’t think I’m going to work with him anymore."
End of Days
"They were very tricky in that film. They asked me if I had anything against rattlesnakes. Of course, actors never say they have a problem with anything, because you lose the role. Oh, I love snakes! So I got the role and I hated it. They showed me a snake which they had given some injection of valium, but they tricked me, because when the camera came they had a real rattlesnake and I had to open a glass and take the snake by the neck. It was really wild: it tried everything it could to bite me. Then they brought me a baby. I was supposed to kill the snake and then put my finger in the blood and into the baby’s mouth. I freaked out and said, 'Where’s the mother?' She should be in jail. How can you give, as a mother, your child to the movies to make money? I made a whole performance of saying my finger had to be disinfected before I would do the scene."