Sitges 2017: A conversation with Brawl in Cell Block 99‘s Udo Kier about his 230-film career
The legendary actor talks Twin Peaks, talking to his dog on the phone and finding my accent erotic.
You may not recognize the name, but you have seen Udo Kier many times before. The 73-year old started acting back in 1966 and has made over 200 films since, from big Hollywood projects like Michael Bay’s Armageddon, to the villain in Blade, to smaller projects like the insanity that is Iron Sky. I got to meet him during the Sitges International Fantastic Film Festival of Catalonia (or, you know, Sitges) where we talked everything from his past roles, to gardening at age 73, to almost appearing in Twin Peaks.
It is a pleasure to meet you, sir. I don’t know if you remember but I was at the press conference for the movie yesterday and—
Udo: Of course! You asked me about playing so many villaaaaains, you said it kind of erotic.
(Hard, embarrassing laugh) You know, I was going through your IMDb page and you are in so much more than I remembered, and one that caught my eye was a small part in Armageddon.
I played the psychiatrist. It was very funny because Michael Bay wanted me in a movie and I went to the casting and the casting woman said to me “you are very good, but there is no role for you in this film”, and I said well, I’m already here. Then Michael called me and said “I have a gift for you, you play a psychiatrist and that gives you all my stars for one hour. I will write on the call sheet 1 hour with Udo Kier” So then they all came, one after the other and he said to make them uncomfortable, to improvise. It was totally improvised, they all came to me and I was supposed to evaluate whether they could go to the moon or not. It was very interesting.
Do you ever look back at older roles, watch yourself in your films?
Oh, no. What do you think? My God. Do you think I’m an actor who stays at home? I’m not an actor who has dinner with friends and says “do you want to watch one of my movies?” and they all roll their eyes. I don’t watch my movies, it’s in the past. And I do enough movies, I have 10 coming out in America, so I live in the now and tomorrow.
With so many movies, and I assume many offers, how do you choose what roles you want to do?
Well of course the script is the most important part. People send me their scripts, and when I read them first I read only my role then the whole script. Then if I realize my role isn’t necessary then I don’t do it. I also like working with the same directors though. Lars von Trier and I have done 11 films together, except for a handful of movies like his newest one The House that Jack built, and he was very nasty about it. He called me and said “my new film with Matt Dillon and Uma Thurman will say on the poster Without Udo Kier or Stellan Skarsgård” I said great, I will be on the poster without doing anything for the film? That’s great. But no, I mean, I am the godfather of his first child so I’m part of the family. He’s a genius director, you see I’m very lucky that I work with many directors you can’t make a bad film. They can make a film that many people don’t like, but that doesn’t make them bad films.
You see, the internet says that I’ve made over 230 films and I always say 100 are bad, 60 you can have with a glass of wine or two, and 40 films are good. I do think that’s a good number, when I die in the coffin will read “I made 40 good films”.
How many films have you now done with S. Craig Zahler?
Well, I made Brawl in Cell Block 99 with him, I made Puppet Master which he wrote but didn’t direct, and I made the film Dragged Across Concrete with Mel Gibson and Vince Vaughn again. And I think I’m going to make many films with him. I know him by now and he’s an excellent writer as well as a director.
Is there one director you want to work with that you haven’t yet?
There are so many. There’s even one of them in Spain, you can imagine who, he lives in Madrid. Of course I would like to work with Almodóvar. I’ve met him before actually, it was for a book signing at a friend’s store and he saw me and said to me “I know you very well” and I said of course, I also know you very well. But you see I’ve never in my life asked a director to work with them, and I’ve had many chances to do that with David Lynch. But imagine you see David and say I would like to work with you, then he answers, “who doesn’t?” I would feel like shit.
Have you seen the new Twin Peaks?
No, I haven’t. You know, I was actually cast in the original show. But I was making my first American film My Own Private Idaho with Gus Van Sant and it was one day overlapping, and they were scared because they shot Twin Peaks in Los Angeles, and I was in Portland. So I asked what happens it they go one day over, and they said that production would stop. They said no, and I was out of the show.
And I never believed in the new one, in making or watching it. It was the same as when I did The Kingdom with Lars von Trier, I got a called that Stephen King asked me to be in the new one. Then I called Lars and he said “Are you out of your mind? You are in the original! You are the baby and the Devil and you want to be in the copy?” I said no, with shame.
So that means you wouldn’t want to be in the remake of Suspiria that they’re making?
No, unless it would be Dario directing. But Dario (Argento) is not doing it, so what is the point? It’s the same with The Kingdom, we are doing The Kingdom 3 I think next year and of course I’ll do it because Lars is doing it and because I’m already in the previous ones.
You know, I read somewhere that your characters always die with their eyes open, why’s that?
Of course it’s true. Why should I die like a piece of meat, or a sack of potatoes and close my eyes? Whenever I’m doing a death scene, in the studio I tell the people to have a point or something in the ceiling so when I die I concentrate on that point so my eyes don’t look alive, but I never close my eyes. It looks so much more photogenic, and my eyes have a quite interesting color, so why should I close my eyes?
I guess you shouldn’t close your eyes! After so many years of work, how do you find the fun in doing different roles?
Well I’m always doing different things. I just did a role as the villain in the biggest game in the world, Call of Duty. I am very evil in the game (Udo adopts a sensual purr, then laughs) I create the perfect soldier, who never eats, never sleeps and can walk through steel. Of course I create the soldier for Adolf Hitler, so I’m a crazy scientist. It’s amazing how the technology works, I saw the trailer in San Diego (Comic-Con) and it looks like me! While recording you have a helmet on, a thousand-dollar helmet with a camera in front of your face and then you read. The camera gets all your movement, so in a way it’s scary because when I die – and I will die, I am 73 – they can steal my face.
How do you get involve with smaller projects like Iron Sky?
I am a lucky man. I have no agency, so directors go to IMDb and get my contact information and they call me. If someone calls me I just say, send me the script. But the good thing about the internet is that whenever somebody offers me something I can go right away to IMDb and see what they have done. Who have they worked with, what actor. I like that you can inform yourself right away. After all this years I can see in five minutes whether somebody has talent or not.
With Iron Sky, I became friends with the director after doing the first one, then we did the sequel. In the sequel I hope you saw the trailer, they show Adolf Hitler on a dinosaur. The director Timo Vuorensola called me and said he was going to China, I asked why and he said he was doing Iron Sky 3: The Ark. I don’t even know the story, I know what the description is on IMDb
Lastly I wanted to ask, after so many films, what keeps you going? What motivates you?
It is my lifestyle. I live in a former library in Palm Springs. I have a lot of books, which I only look at for a little while because I’ll wait until I’m 85 then I will seat in a wheelchair and read all my books. I realize when you get older, life goes faster. Last week it was Christmas and it is almost Christmas again. What keeps me going is meeting people, I like people. Well, not all people that would be hard. Imagine getting on a bus and saying to random strangers “I like you”, I’m not like that but I like a lot of people.
If I wasn’t an actor I would be a gardener. I have a lot of properties and if you look at my hands they’re all bloody. I like to plant trees, and whenever I work in my garden I don’t wear gloves, because I want to smell and feel the earth. I have 60 palm trees. I also rescue dogs, and I like to speak to my dog on the phone every day. I have a friend whom I call and he gives the phone to my dog and tells me if she waves her tail, that way she has contact with me. That’s crazy, right? This guy to likes to talk with his dog, no wonder he plays vampires.
Brawl in Cell Block 99 is available on VOD, and you should check it out and read my review