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.
Heather Buckley: You pick very interesting roles, a lot of them are in the genre. This piece is going to appear in Dread Central. Are you a fan of exploitation and horror films? You play great characters, you mentioned Dracula…
Udo Kier: The horror film came to me, not me to the horror film. I was just sitting in the aeroplane and Paul Morrissey was sitting next to me, and he wanted my number so I gave him my number. A couple of weeks later, I got a call, and he said, ‘I’m making a little film in Rome, Frankenstein, and I have a little role for you.’ I said, ’What do I play?’ and he said, ‘Doctor Frankenstein.’ So it started like that. It wasn’t any agent, or casting, it just came like that, and then when we finished Frankenstein, someone else was supposed to be Dracula, but he said, ‘I guess we’re going to have a German Dracula.’ And I said, ‘Who?’ and he said, ‘You, but you have to lose twenty pounds.’ So I didn’t eat any more for four days and then I became a very weak Dracula. And then, of course, because these two films became so famous, in a way, cult films, and then, for example, when I was cast for Blade, it was this time, playing the overlord vampire, and I like it, because the vampire, it has, a lot of people don’t know that from Romania, Count Dracul was a real, living person. He was Count Dracul, and he was a horrible person. And the legend came over the years that he was a vampire, people disappeared, people were biting, biting girls at midnight, so it… so you have a lot of fantasy. And there were famous people who were Dracula before me, so I have to be good to fulfill the chain of all the famous vampires. But it’s not me who’s looking for vampires, though. It’s interesting, though. It’s more interesting as an actor to play people who are fantasy characters.
Heather Buckley: What about something like in The Story of O? How did that find you?
Udo Kier: The Story of O? I did not want to make that movie. I was embarrassed for the opening of Frankenstein, and Polanski, we went together to a nightclub, and somebody came and said, ‘We saw your movie, we’d like to offer you the part in The Story of O, the leading man.’ And I said, ‘No way! I’m not going to do porno films!’ and then, after these people left, Paul Morrissey was there for his premiere, and he said, ‘Of course, you must take this movie. You will get so much publicity.’ It is one of the most famous books, which was forbidden for years, and so I made the movie. I made the movie, and I had a good time making that movie, The Story of O. If I had it again to do it over, I’d do it differently, but it was very French. Very French.
Heather Buckley: How is it working with all of the greenscreens on Iron Sky? That must be a big contrast from doing something like Melancholia with a full cast.
Udo Kier: In Iron Sky — Well, it was wonderful because it was all built as a set, it was up in a studio in Sweden, and greenscreen was kind of… we used to go, I mean, I know the story and I know the storyboards, and each time we had a scene, we would have a little meeting before and we would look at, the actors would look at the storyboards, But it is very different and it is very intense how you work with your actors, with your partner, because you have to concentrate much more. There’s nothing to distract you in the background, nothing like a plane going by; you’re just focused on the situation, with the actors who you are talking to or the situations you are observing. So I liked it, I liked it.
I liked it for a film like this; it works, but for example, for drama, or something realistically… for example I used to sleep in Germany, in Europe, I would sleep at night in the sets if it were my house. I would stay there one night. And I would look at every drawer because I made it mine. It’s like, I remember… actors, there are different actors. One actor does this and does this, but if you do greenscreen, you don’t have to because you just look at the storyboard, and you know where you are, and what is the situation. What is in the background. Is there a spaceship landing or… It’s a different thing. It works for black comedy. It works. But for a realistic film I don’t think it works, I mean, I never got the offer, never tried, but sets are very important, and lighting of course. Film is shadow and light, and light is very important.
I remember when I was making one of my first films, For Love or Money, with Michael J. Fox in New York, and we all had lighting doubles, and I went up to my lighting double and said, ‘If I stand here and you walk away, do you still get paid?’ and he said, ‘Yes.’ So I stood there with all the doubles, and Barry Sonnenfeld comes over the loudspeaker and says, ‘Udo, tell us why you are standing there,’ and I said, ‘It’s true, I want to know where the light is coming from.’ So, of course, I got the best lighting for the scene because it’s very important. I like to have fun. I don’t like to spend my time in my trailer, waiting my time to be called. I don’t like that. I like to have fun making movies. Seriously, but still having fun…I’m off to another interview; the tricky part is remembering what you’ve already said.
Heather Buckley: Well, I saw you do the panel for Theatre Bizarre up at the Fantasia Film Festival so good job with that one.
Udo Kier: Oh, thank you. Theatre Bizarre was strange because it was wonderful doing a film where I was a puppet and not knowing all the films and being there. I did it in basically one afternoon, being a puppet, and I really had a good time doing that.
Heather Buckley: Buddy Giovinazzo (Combat Shock) mentioned you while discussing his new film [Night of Nightmares]. He recently directed you in something for German television. He said it was the first time you acted in your own actual dialect.
Udo Kier: I played a homeless person in Cologne; I was born in Cologne so I could use the dialect. It was wonderful. And I was very proud because the TV show, it’s a police show, you know, like every week, and they have normally six million people watching it, and the episode I played in it had nine million so I was very proud, and it was the biggest rating for one year, for all these police shows. Buddy is a very good director. I made two films with him, some television, and he is a very good director. He is like Lars von Trier; he doesn’t like actors to act – just be there, be yourself, and not trying to be acting.
Iron Sky, directed by Timo Vuorensola, stars Julia Dietze, Götz Otto, Peta Sergeant, Udo Kier, and Kym Jackson.
You can bring Iron Sky to your city with TUGG, a collective action web-platform that enables users to choose the films that play in their local theaters. Select a film, screening time, and a nearby theater, and spread the word – once a necessary amount of people commit to attending, TUGG handles the rest!
Be sure to check out the official Iron Sky page on TUGG to get started.
In the last moments of World War II, a secret Nazi space program evaded destruction by fleeing to the dark side of the moon. During 70 years of utter secrecy, the Nazis construct a gigantic space fortress with a massive armada of flying saucers…and now they’re coming back to claim Earth for their own.
Two Nazi officers, ruthless Klaus Adler (Götz Otto) and idealistic Renate Richter (Julia Dietze), travel to Earth to prepare the invasion. In the end, when the moon Nazi UFO armada darkens the skies, ready to strike at the unprepared Earth, every man, woman and nation alike must re-evaluate their priorities.
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