Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Spiritismes: An Interview with Udo Kier (Part I)

Image: Nicole Dunham/Fohnhouse

'It was something new for me…'

He might have a face and accent perfectly suited to horror movie villain roles, but Udo Kier also has a wonderful ability to send up both himself and everyone around him. 'You get four questions,' he told me, as we headed to the actors' room to talk, 'Just four'. He then proceeded to hold up a newspaper and tell me that the interview would consist of him reading me the news. When I began asking questions, though, his absolute professionalism was clear.

This isn’t the first time Udo Kier has worked with Guy Maddin – so how did this collaboration come about? 'Well, I narrated two of his films. Brand Upon the Brain was the first one – I got a call from the Cinematheque in Los Angeles and they asked me if I could narrate a film, that Guy Maddin wanted me to do that. I didn’t meet him, he was in Canada. The first reaction was no, because I’ve never done that before, but then when I heard that Isabella Rossellini had done it, Geraldine Chaplin, Tom Waits, everybody, I thought okay, I’ll give it a try, which I did. It was something new for me – you have to imagine, it’s on stage, the film is behind me, silent, black and white. I’m sitting in front of the screen, on my right hand side is an orchestra for the music, and on the left are three or four people for special effects noises. I have a monitor in front of my face and I read the text, and if the people are supposed to say something then I do all the voices.'

Udo in Keyhole

'Guy heard what I did, and then he called me and said that he liked it very much and he was going to do a film soon called Keyhole, with Isabella Rossellini, and asked if I would play the doctor. I said yes, so then I went to Winnipeg. There was a big studio, I think they made trains there before. There was the set – a haunted house – and then there were some students of his, and I was shooting three short films a day. Then, because [Guy] couldn’t control it like he wanted to, we stopped.'

'It’s a dream…'

'Then I saw him again, we became friends, and he said he’s doing a project with four museums, four countries, starting in Paris at the Centre Pompidou where we are sitting now, to do 17 films here, a part of the festival at the Centre [Nouveau Festival]. Everybody can come and watch, everybody can take pictures. Of course, at the beginning…' His expression suggests that this was annoying at first, but quickly softens. 'This is my eleventh day…as an actor you have to get used to it. There is noise, even when you talk. Of course, when you do a studio film, or any film, it’s absolutely silent. Everybody can take a picture…I’ll be wondering how many pictures of myself will be on the internet soon!'

Image: Martin Parsons/Fohnhouse

'I enjoy it – I’ve always wanted to meet Geraldine Chaplin, and now we work together. Charlotte Rampling I worked with before in Melancholia. I do all his [Lars Von Trier’s] films, so far, except Antichrist and The Idiots, because in one there wasn’t a part and in the other they were speaking Danish. For an actor it’s like an exercise – it’s a dream, to be able to play every day a different person. You play a killer, you play a priest, you play everything possible. This is only 17…I don’t know the stories but I will be in at least 50 more. So that’s the story!'

[At this point Guy Maddin arrived and asked if Udo minded being soaked for the next scene. Not wanting to damage his own suit, Udo proposed that only his face and hair be symbolically wet, which Maddin loved, demonstrating the symbiotic relationship at work between director and actors].

'There is intellectual craziness going on…'

You’ve worked a lot with Lars Von Trier, how does the working relationship compare to that with Guy Maddin? 'Well, it’s totally different! I mean, they’re both perfectionists, but their way of working is totally different. Lars would not allow to improvise anything, for example. Lars Von Trier has the whole script in his hand. Fassbinder was like that. I remember with Fassbinder once, I put one sentence more than there was, and he left the camera and didn’t talk to me all day! But Guy loves when the actors offer things.'

Kier in Melancholia

'There is intellectual craziness going on, as you have watched here. It’s great! If you did this with amateurs, it wouldn’t be…but if you do this craziness with Geraldine Chaplin and Charlotte Rampling, they are really world famous, and it’s fun to do it! They all take it very seriously. I take my job seriously also, and I’m going now to make up and will talk to you later!'


In part two of our exclusive interview with Udo Kier he discusses working with Dario Argento, where his acting inspiration comes from, his role as a moon-dwelling Nazi in Iron Sky, and more!


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