Exclusive Interview: Udo Kier Talks Iron Sky, His Horror Roots, and Lots More!
Udo Kier has worked with the likes of Lars Von Trier, Gus Van Sant, and Rob Zombie. He’s portrayed Dracula (and assorted other vamps), Hitler, and Jekyll and is still going strong after over three decades of acting, his latest role being in Nazis-on-the-moon horror-comedy Iron Sky.
Some would say it’s his piercing blue eyes and thick accent that cement Kier’s presence as deliciously memorable regardless of the size of the part. I would also say it's his unique presence, the way he moves with such elegance and a dash of old world, unearthly sexuality and a twinkle of humor.
This time around we find Kier on the dark side of the moon playing Nazi leader Wolfgang Kortzfleisch. The movie takes place in 2018, in a world with a political landscape much like our own, filled with propaganda, global infighting, and a race for new fuel. Little does the world know that they're in for a second Nazi invasion. The Reich have been hiding out in their secret moon base waiting for their time to take back what is theirs—the world.
We recently had the chance to chat with Kier, who takes us through this process and other key projects which have made up one hell of a movie career. We bring you the man, the moon Nazi (now at a theater near you): Udo Kier.
Heather Buckley: What do you do to prepare to play a Nazi?
Udo Kier: Well, you have to say it a different way, obviously. A 'Nazi’ and a Nazi are two different things. In my life I’ve played, in comedy twice, Adolf Hitler. I played in Rob Zombie a Nazi, also comedy Werewolf Women of the S.S. for Grindhouse, and this film. I’ve never played, being German, a serious, let's say, role, where I was supposed to be a real Nazi with real evil ambition. And how do you prepare? How can any actor prepare themselves when they get an offer to be a Nazi on the moon? It’s like, you cannot prepare yourself; it’s just the uniform, the text, and the situation...what is important about this film, and how it was made. [Iron Sky] was partially financed by the internet. The trailer itself now has ten million hits on the internet, and it was for years they tried to find money for this film.
They did ask me, the director, Timo [Vuorensola], years ago, and it was on the IMDB and everybody said, ‘What is this film, you play a Nazi leader on the moon?’ and when they offered me the script, I mean, when they offered me the film years ago and they sent me the script, and it said ‘Nazis on the moon!’ and I said, ‘What? Nazis on the moon?’ So I read the script and I realized that it was a black comedy, and I liked it, and technically it was amazing because they showed me the storyboards and the concept of the film, and then we filmed a week in Frankfurt. Then we all met in Australia, and they had the water everywhere, and we shot it there.
Basically the whole big studio was a green box. We just looked at the storyboards, at what was going to be the next situation. So I prepared myself just by situation and by learning my lines, and trying to be serious, because comedy... to play comedy is very different and very, very difficult because you have to be very serious, and then people laugh. If you already try to be funny, it doesn’t work. Only Jim Carrey can be… he is brilliant, I did, with him Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, one of my first films in America, and he is brilliant, but he is a comedian, and he knows very well how to do that.
Heather Buckley: Is there a difference between acting in your native language and doing roles in English?
Udo Kier: Not anymore because I came for my first film to America for Gus Van Sant, My Own Private Idaho, which I think was 24 years ago, and now I’m 24 years in America, and now it’s like, I think I even dream in English. It’s like, sometimes I go to Germany and I have to be careful because when I do interviews sometimes, I don’t find the words, and I say, ‘How do you say?’ and you have to be really careful because the journalists can be really pissed that you forgot your own language. No, it’s no different anymore. It’s like, if there is a lot of text or something, of course, it would be better in German, and I still work a lot in Germany, I just played the Pope in the Borgia TV series in Germany. They had two Borgias, The Pope in America was played by Jeremy Irons; I played the Pope in Czechoslovakia in the TV show, and I just played in a Turkish film, so it is a language that is for me no problem, even for voiceover; I just did it yesterday. I did Scooby-Doo, and now I’m doing Batman (just the voice), and no, I don’t see there being any difference anymore.
Heather Buckley: How do these amazing parts find you? Because you just went over working with Van Sant to doing Scooby-Doo to doing satirical looks at the Reich—do you go with the character, do you go with the story, do the directors just stalk you down and go, ‘I need to work with Udo Kier!’?
Udo Kier: First, I like certain directors. Gus Van Sant, for example, discovered me for America. I met him at a festival, and we developed... 24 years ago there was no internet, we had no fax, we wrote letters and developed the character at a distance, and thanks to him I got my Social Security number in America and my permit here to stay. And I say the director is important. I’m working on 24 years in this country, and I’ve done many films. Tthe last one was Melancholia, and I’m off now to Germany to play a part in Nymphomania with Charlotte Gainsbourg and Nicole Kidman and the nice boy from the Transformers; he is playing in it. So that is my next step. The thing is, I like directors, certain directors; for example, I love David Lynch.
Heather Buckley: What do you like about Lynch’s work?
Udo Kier: Because it is different. Lars von Trier is different. Gus Van Sant is different, Cronenberg is different. They don’t follow the clichés, the rules. They make their own, they write their own scripts. Much more realistic, the acting is better, it’s totally different. I don’t like the word ‘independent’, because independent is never independent, but I think that they are just great directors and they are telling great stories, and the actors want to work with them so they have the possibility to choose amongst amazing actors, and that’s what I like because it is wonderful to be in a film like Lars von Trier’s Melancholia with Charlotte Rampling and with all these wonderful people, and everybody is normal. Normal.
If you make a film with David Lynch, there’s no room for a star system. If you work, for example, with Lars von Trier, every actor gets the same money. Every actor has the same trailer, every actor has the same car, every actor has the same class room. And that’s wonderful. I remember when I did Dogville, you sit in the evening, you have your dinner in the little hotel. Lauren Bacall, Ben Gazzara, James Caan, Nicole Kidman, Chloe Sevigny, Jean-Marc Barr, Stellan Skarsgard and myself, having a normal conversation. It’s not Hollywood, and that is some of the difference when you, as an actor, you work in a European film or an independent film, though I don’t like the word independent, with a director like Gus Van Sant, for example.
I had a great time when I made my first film, I had a great time seeing the city of Portland, I had a good time with the actors, with Keanu Reeves and River Phoenix. River Phoenix was an amazing person, unfortunately, as we know, he died so young. And that’s what I’m looking for, I’m looking for... I made a lot of films with new directors, sometimes it was bad. Somebody asked me the other day how many films. I said I’ve made over a hundred films, whatever, fifty of them are bad, thirty of them are okay, twenty of them are good. It’s a good thing. I’m a very lucky person. I sit in an aeroplane and I meet Paul Morrissey and I do Dracula and Frankenstein for Andy Warhol. I go and have coffee with Gus Van Sant and he offers me a movie. I’m a very lucky person because I’m not running after films; as I’ve said, I never told a director I wanted to work with him. I never stood in front of a director, waited until he’d come out and said, ‘I need to be in your movie’, I’ve never sent pictures away. I’m just working in my garden, doing my normal thing. Cooking for friends; I collect modern art and modern furniture, and so, there you have it.