At this year’s Berlin Film Festival, Udo Kier had two projects: David Schalko’s Austrian-German mini-series M – A City Hunts a Murderer, a homage to the Fritz Lang’s 1931 M, and he co-starred with Geraldine Chaplin (Charlie’s daughter) in Holy Beasts.
A consummate raconteur Kier is in great shape and has recently been regaling audiences at career homages at festivals in Macau and Gerardmer, France. Just don’t call them lifetime achievement awards. “My life isn’t over yet!” he declares.
COLLIDER: In a review following the world premiere of Dragged Across Concrete in Venice last year The Guardian called you “unflappably louche”. You play a menswear retailer with gangster connections in the film.
UDO KIER: I like Dragged Across Concrete. I like gangster films. Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn are two policemen who get their badges taken away and they go out on their own to find out what’s happening.
This is your third film with S. Craig Zahler.
UDO KIER: I think that in America I am lucky when I find somebody new. It’s like so many years ago when I found Lars von Trier and now we’ve been working together for 22 years. Or when I met Gus Van Sant in Berlin and he had just made Mala Noche for $20,000. He offered me a role in a film with Keanu Reeves and River Phoenix, but I’d never heard of them because I lived in Germany. I live in America thanks to him. My Own Private Idaho wasn’t my first American film—Paul Morrissey’s Flesh for Frankenstein and Blood for Dracula, both produced by Andy Warhol—but it was my first American picture filmed in America with a work permit. I also did Even Cowgirls Get the Blues and Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot. I like him. He lives partly in Palm Springs where I live.
You had also worked before with your M director David Schalko on the eight-part Austrian mini-series Old Money where you played the lead role of a billionaire industrialist. David says you were a real pro as you came in as a last-minute replacement for Gert Voss, who suddenly died.
UDO KIER: Yes I made it work. During filming David told me he had a nice role in M. Of course the story is the most important thing.
With your fur coat (made with recycled fur as David assures me) glassy blue eyes and camera around your neck, you look mischievous in M. We think you might be the child murderer.
UDO KIER: I’m taking pictures and I help the police with the photographs I’ve taken. When you take pictures in a city like Vienna, especially where children are playing, then of course the police are interested.
What do you think of violence in films? Mwas controversial in 1931 as it was the first film where a serial killer was humanised. Did you see Lars Von Trier’s German co-production The House That Jack Built? Now Fatih Akin has made a violent film, The Golden Glove. Dragged Across Concrete is also very violent.
UDO KIER: People say films are too violent but in everyday news there’s violence wherever you look. I haven’t seen The House That Jack Built. Some people don’t like it and some say it’s very good. I worked with Fatih on Soul Kitchen, which was not violent and was a good film. I think he is a good filmmaker and I thought Head-On was a masterpiece.
Today there’s a lot of violence and not much sex in movies. You have appeared in many erotic films.
UDO KIER: The only movie Pamela Anderson ever did was with me, Barb Wire. I like sex in movies but not if it’s just a sex movie. In 1975 I made the biggest erotic movie of all time, The Story of O where I had the leading part of O’s boyfriend and I bring her to a castle where she has to obey all the men. That was erotic. It was not porn. With Madonna I made the video for Deeper and Deeper from her Erotica album. I quote Fritz Lang in German and it was filmed in black and white.
You like variety?
UDO KIER:Yes I like to mix it up. I’m also in the biggest game in the world, Call of Duty. I play of course with my German accent Dr. Straub, who creates the perfect soldier for Adolf Hitler, a soldier who never sleeps, never eats. It was very interesting because it looks like me and was a very long process. At the end when I saw it I couldn’t believe it. It’s scary in a way because they can make movies with me now when I’m dead because they have all the other material.
So you can live forever. Is that a good idea?
UDO KIER: No, but you live forever as an actor in any case because I’ve made so many movies. Still audiences forget you slowly. Fassbinder he was a great, great director and we knew each other from when he was 15 and a half and I was 16 and now people slowly forget him.
Could you share one or two memories about him?
UDO KIER: After the war he was the director who reflected Germany the best. All the others like Wim Wenders and Werner Herzog were poetic, but Fassbinder showed real life, how people lived. I grew up at that time and that’s why I did the sets for Lola. I’d never done sets before and Fassbinder said, “Remember when we met? You know what furniture people had at home, so just think about that time.” It was amazing, but I did not want to do it again. Though I learnt to respect furniture. I now collect furniture and I’ve collected art all my life. With my first film when other people bought themselves a new French suit I bought a little Man Ray or Magritte. I still have them. From when I started working with Andy Warhol I of course have works by him.
UDO KIER: I have one unique thing, which nobody else in the world has. When we were working together and Interview magazine was looking more like a daily paper we were in Paris and Roman Polanski was on the cover. He had said something nice about me and I said, “Andy, can you sign the magazine for me?” And he said, “Where?” I said, “every page” and he did. So it says on the top, “To Udo with love”. I also have a portrait of Man Ray, which he signed and I have a signed Robert Mapplethorpe photo of me. For 30 years I’ve been very good friends with David Hockey and have an original drawing of his. I had New Years Eve in his house three years ago. I also have a fond memory of going to Club 54 with Andy Warhol arriving with Liza Minnelli on one side and Bianca Jagger on the other.
Why have you survived when a lot of people from your generation haven’t?
UDO KIER: Because I like life. I don’t live to excess, I like good wine but I don’t need three bottles. I took drugs like everybody else 30 or 40 years ago and now I live a very healthy life in Palm Springs where the air is very good. I take time to relax. When you’re playing different characters in so many films you have to refuel your energy with natural things. I say I don’t wear gloves when I work in the garden. I like to smell the earth.
You have been a survivor right from the beginning of your life.
UDO KIER: I was born at the end of the war and I was born in the most dramatic way possible. I was one or two hours old and the nurses were collecting all the newborn babies to clean them and my mother said, “Oh, can I have him a little longer?” And the nurse said, “Ok”. Then she put all the babies on the table and there was an alarm and the wall came down. The nurse jumped over the babies but everybody died. My mother was lucky that her bed was in a corner so she had me in one hand and sometimes when I cannot sleep I have the sense of her other hand waving.
I grew up in this horrible environment in Cologne, which was totally destroyed and there was nothing to eat. When I was 18 with the permission of my mother–I had no father–I went to England because I wanted to learn English and we didn’t have money for high school. Then in London I was discovered. People offered me movies, I don’t know how because I never wanted to be an actor. I did the movie (The Road to Saint Tropez) then a magazine called me “the most beautiful man in the world” and I immediately got William Morris as an agent. I thought that if I can make a living from this then I want to be an actor. I’ve never been to acting school but I’ve watched my famous partners.
It was a huge leap forward for LGBTQ cinema last year when A Fantastic Woman won the Academy Award for best foreign film. Did you ever imagine that this kind of thing could happen?
UDO KIER: Of course not. The movies are getting better because the stories are better. I very much like A Fantastic Woman because it touches you but is not so obvious. I hate the obvious thing. We’ve come a long way. Fifty years ago when I went to America to get a visa there was a question: Are you homosexual? You had to fill that in and I said, “No, of course not.”
Can you talk about Holy Beasts where you co-star with Geraldine Chaplin?
UDO KIER: It’s a film we did in Santo Domingo. Geraldine plays an actress who wants to make her last movie, the unfinished film of Dominican director Jean-Louis Jorge, who died in 2000. She calls me to come and help her.
She’s an icon too because of her father.
UDO KIER: I’ve made three movies with her. The first was The Forbidden Room with Guy Maddin in Paris then after Holy Beasts we made a Belgian comedy called The Barefoot Emperor, about a Belgian king who goes undercover. That was shot in Croatia and I play a doctor. Geraldine is a wonderful woman. What I like about her is that she didn’t follow the American habit of plastic surgery. She looks like an old Indian.
Then I have another film, The Mountain, with Jeff Goldblum. It was good to make and Tye Sheridan, who was only 21 when we made it, is incredibly talented. But I haven’t seen it yet.
It’s a very strange story about a lobotomist.
UDO KIER: Yeah totally strange. I’m an instructor drinking alcohol and dancing through the house.