Thursday, 26 April 2012

Spiritismes: An Interview with Udo Kier (Part II)

Udo and fellow Spiritismes cast member Kim Morgan

'Nothing can be too much.'

After some intense business where he had to pretend to be struggling through a jungle, Udo bounded backstage once more to continue our chat. It looked like he had hurt himself breaking branches, he was sopping wet, and the emotions he had called up seemed like they must be taking some brutal toll on him. Is it, we put to him, really tiring to do?

'No! If it were tiring I wouldn’t do it, would I? No, it’s fun – it’s a lot of fun! It looks physically more difficult than it is, and emotion is just like, you know…you’re allowed, in a Guy Maddin film, to do things that in another film they would never let you. For Guy Maddin, I think, acting wise nothing can be too much. For Lars Von Trier, if I took ten per cent of what I am doing here he would say it was too much!'

Another director he has worked with is Dario Argento, appearing in his classic film Suspiria and follow-up Mother of Tears.

'It’s always a short scene. Basically, as an actor, it’s like a visit to the set! In Suspiria I was working with Fassbinder in Germany and [Argento] wanted to meet me, and said "I really don’t have any role but if you like you can do this", and when I saw Suspiria I realised that I explained the whole story. He likes me, obviously, to explain the film. The monk in Mother of Tears, it’s the same thing.

I work with a lot of directors. Lars Von Trier’s favourite line to actors is “Don’t act!” and in a Guy Maddin film – “Act!”. So that is the difference. But it’s good that every director has a different way of directing, because everybody works differently.

Udo as Dr Frank Mandel in Suspiria, and Padre Johannes in Mother of Tears

'What I see around me, that is my acting school…'

Do you have a particular ethos as an actor? 'No…what I see around me, that is my acting school. I’ve never been to acting school, I was discovered in London when I was 21 for my first film, Road to St Tropez, directed by Mike Sarne, who was a very popular singer at one time. And I learned – I was lucky that I worked with great actors, really good actors, and I learned. I learned from the best. If somebody’s bad I ignore it, because I don’t want to get any bad habits. I like it – talent is something you cannot learn. Very ironically I became a professor in Brunswick in Germany teaching theory of acting, and I have never been myself to an acting school! Of course, they knew that…What is important is that you have fun and are willing to learn, and that’s what I’m doing.'

I asked why he seems to end up in so many horror films. 'You know me from horror films because you like horror films! I have done other films…' I worried I might have offended him, but he flashed a grin: 'I like horror films because it’s a fantasy person. Dracula never existed – there was a Count Dracul in Romania, who was very rich, and he was hated, and if the people didn’t say hello Count Dracul would nail their hat onto their head. I like to play a fantasy person that never existed, because you have so much freedom to create something new.' 

Udo in Andy Warhol’s Blood for Dracula

'You play what? You play a Nazi on the moon?!'

As a final question I asked, following on from our discussion of horror and fantasy films, about his involvement with the film Iron Sky.

'Iron Sky was…somebody just called from Finland, they called my agent, and it was actually three years before they made the film. Everybody did ask me – my friends asked me – “What is this film Iron Sky? You play what? You play a Nazi on the moon?! What is this film?”. I got tired of explaining about the film, but just before I was really forcing them to take my name off the project my agent called and said “They got the money, they pay you the money, you start shooting!”

Udo in Iron Sky

It was a kind of an interesting year, because I made seven films, one after the other. The first was in China, playing a mayor of a city in America, playing [adopts accent] very American. Then I went to Winnipeg to play in Guy Maddin’s film Keyhole, with Isabella Rossellini, and do a lot of short films. Then from there I went to Lars Von Trier playing a wedding planner, then I went to Istanbul playing Bela Bartok in the Turkish film Görünmeyen…'

[Here Udo posed for our rather fantastic top photo, mimicking his character in Melancholia in being unable to look at the bride, here played by Kim Morgan]

'Then from Istanbul I went to Prague, playing the Pope in Borgia, which was an English German Spanish co-production, which is why the actors were mixed. I did that, and then I did a film called Berlin Project which I have never seen, I don’t know what’s going on with that film. And then I went to Frankfurt just before Christmas to shoot Iron Sky, the part which is supposed to take place on the Earth. So Frankfurt is standing for New York, or Washington, or whatever. And then after the holidays we shot in Australia, we shot in the studio.

The film was voted in Berlin at the Film Festival as the most popular film for audiences. People were standing in line, I’m not saying that because I was in the movie, but it was really a big hit. Huffington Post put a clip with me on, and said it was the funniest and craziest film of the year. And the Guardian in London put me on their Oscar list for Melancholia as Best Supporting Actor. So there you have your interview!'

With that Udo was off to the set again, this time to be repeatedly hauled up off the ground by a witch-haired Elina Löwensohn. All in a day’s work, of course, for Mr Kier, a truly unique actor and genuine cult legend.

Udo and Elina Löwensohn 


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