Shivers, July, 1999,
Much Udo about Everything
Shivers meets one of the Genreís Longest-Standing and most flamboyant
figures, cult star Udo Kier
Who could ever forget Udo Kier as Count Dracula looking for virgins to
bite in the Andy Warhol presentation Blood for Dracula ? Or the
emaciated actor running after famed Russ Meyer starlet Kitten
Natividad screamint "Itís not my sperm" in United Trash. Or whipping
up a sexual storm in The Story of O? Or reacting to the horrors of the
Spanish Inquisition in the notorious Mark of the Devil ? And thatís
just the tip of the iceberg for Germanyís most well known actor born
in Cologne, 1944. Kierís career has taken him from the multimillion
dollar American blockbuster to the Euro-sleaze no budgeter and the
striking character actor makes no apologies for that. He remarks, "Actors
are like children. They want to play. I really want to play hard so it
doesnít matter what I play as many bad movies as good ones even though
Iíve never set out to make a turkey. I just want to keep working so I
will do anything as long as it holds some interest for me."
Kierís first film was The Road to St. Tropez in 1966 but it was the
latest movie he was appearing in that took me to Luxembourg to finally
meet the man who uttered that immortal line as the Baron in Flesh for
Frankenstein, "You canít say that you know life until youíve f**ked
death in the gall bladder." Shadow of the Vampire may sound like cod
Hammer Horror but that title ( to be changed) disguises one of the
more interesting genre items you"ll be seeing come the millennium for
it tells the heavily fictionalized account of how German direcor F W
Murnau approached directing his classic masterpiece Nosferatu in 1921.
Murnau became famous for pioneering the Expressionist style of silent
movie making and was highly inspirational in setting the atmospheric
seal on the future imagery of Horror. Remember Nosferatuís shadow
climbing the stairs? His disappearance in a puff of smoke? His
wide-eyed icy stare into the camera lens? Both Alfred Hitchcock and
Orson Welles have cited Murnau as their major influence with regards
to the use of oblique angles and prowling camera movements.
The sweet-natured director was also homosexual and made sure his
entire cast and crew were gay too. But vefoe you jump to the
conclusion that Shadow of the Vampire is another Gods and Monsters
affair, while Murnauís private and professional lives are dealt with
in Steve Katzís witty and moving script, the accent is on a completely
different area altogether. The film posits the notion that Murnau cast
a real vampire when he chose actor Max Shreck to play the lead
character. Only he didnít tell anyone else that. How he kept it a
secret while his trustful cast started suffering from anaemia and
mysterious neck bites is the unusual avenue director Elias Merhigeís
bio-fictional symphony of terror explores with artful grace and humour.
John Malkovich plays Murnau, Willem Dafoe is Max Schreck and thid
billed is Kier who takes on the role of Albin Grau, Murnauís mentor
and the larger-than life producer of Nosferatu . Kier said, "It was so
strange. some German filmmakers had been after me to star as Murnau in
the real Murnau story centred around his tragically erotic death in
1931 (Murnau was indulging in oral sex with his 14 year-old chauffeur
causing their car to fatally crash). But I donít think they could get
the budget together. Then I was working on Blade and one of the floor
managers, Orian Williams, showed me Eliaís first film Begotten and
told me he too was working on a Murnau film. It was an extraordinary
coincidence. I absolutely loved Begotten which is indescribably arty,
gory and out there, so I couldnít miss the opportunity of working with
Being German, Kier knew all about Murnau but absolutely nothing about
Grau. "So Elias sent me a 10-page biography about him. It was then I
got scared because he was a far more complex person than I expected
and I was frightened of doing him justice. Grau literally created
Murnau. He not only found the money to make the movie, from very
dubious soureces itís claimed, he drew the film posters, wrote books
about him designed the costumes, stole ideas from paintings and told
Muranu where to use them, especially the clawlike hand imagery". He
continues, "Both men were obsessed by Nosferatu and thatís what I
decided to play on instead of the reality of the man. itís not
supposed to be true fact after all. Grau bankrupted the studio which
made Nosferatu because it was a blatant steal of `Dracula` and Bram
Stokerís estate sued them.
"But we donít go into that, only the fantasy of what making the actual
movie may have been like which is a wonderful take on the subject.
Nicolas Cageís production company, Saturn, is financing Shadow of the
Vampire and they bought the rights to use the real Nosferatu . So what
you see John Malkovich directing within the movie is the real film
itself. Donít you think thatís brilliant?".
When I visited the Shadow of the Vampire set, the company were in
their last week of night shooting. Incredibly, Kier was making another
movie by day in the same country - The New Adventures of Pinocchio,
the sequel to director Steve Barronís The Adventures of Pinocchio from
1996. "Iím Madame Flambeau, who is really Lorenzini, the villain I
played in the original, in disguise. She turns Gepetto into a puppet
with a magical elixir and makes children into fish which she eats as
sushi. Itís important for my career because itís my first leading role
in an American film. Michael ( Loganís Run ) Anderson is directing,
Martin Landau is back voicing the Gepetto puppet and itís much darker
in tone than the first".
He added, "I can dash between Vampire and Pinocchio because no real
acting has been required in my scenes on the former - all Iíve been
doing is looking intently into John Malkovichís eyes. Madame Flambeau
is a real larger-than life role and a camp delight to do. Anderson is
79 years. old now but he seems to know what heís doing. Well, I hope
so. I know it wonít be the worst film Iíve ever made in my career".
So what would that be in his estimation? Prince Valiant? Barb Wire?
Island of the Bloody Plantation?
"Hmm, not sure about that. But I will tell you the film that taught me
the greatest lesson. It was Expose . Everyone was very nice to me
except when I got to the end of my three week shooting schedule and
asked to be paid. They told me they didnít have any money to give me
and would the rights to the film in Japan do instead? Now, of course,
I wish Iíd said yes to that but back in 1975 no one cared. I never let
anyone else take advantage of me again and always got money sorted out
properly in advance. Expose was the movie that taught me to be
He added, "I know people smile about my career. But thatís okay
because Iím working constantly. I donít use the word Happy very often
but I can honestly say Iím happy with my life at the moment.
Film-making is my life and directors like Wim Wenders and Las Von
Trier are my family. I love the fact that people call me up and say
ĎWould you like to be killed by Rod Steiger in Revenant? and solely
because Iíve always wanted to meet him I do it. I donít know what Iíd
do if I couldnít flit from film to film as my mood takes me".
And thatís exactly what Kier has been doing and always intends to do.
Take a look at his schedule: "I just finished End of Days with Arnold
Schwarzenegger. Itís the most expensive movie of the year costing $160
million. I open the film as a Satanic high priest speaking Latin and
squirting snake blood into an eight week-old babyís mouth. The
rattlesnake kept trying to bite me even though theyíd stitched itís
mouth up! After Shadow of the Vampire I fly to London to say one line
to Stephen Dorff in Stephen Norringtonís low budget crime drama The
Last minute . Then itís off to Scotland to star with Richard E. Grant
in Little Vampires . Then Iím making the Lars Von Trier musical
Dancers in the Dark with BjŲrk and Catherine Deneuve in Iceland.
Thereís talk of Blade 2 and Jess Franco has asked me to appear in a
new Dr. Orloff film.I said Iíd do it if he gets someone like Barbara
Steele to costar. I like making cheap horror movies because the sleazy
ones are always far scarier and gorier than the hi-tech studio ones".
However, there are two particular projects on Kierís packed horizon
which are exciting him more than most. "One Iíve reserved is called
Dogma 7 with Von Trier to initiate my directing dťbut. The story is
about a transvestite in a wheelchair who makes a living from phone sex.
I want to contrast the glamorous way he/she conducts business while
living in such sordid surroundings. Iíve already spoken to Martin
Landau about appearing in it. Iíve worked with so many bad directors
in the past, how hard can directing really be? Thatís what I intend to
find out. The other is Paul Morriseyís return to directing. we had a
great time making the Andy Warhol Horror films together and he wants
me to star in The House of Clang as a top fashion designer hooking his
models on heroin so they Ďll look great in his skimpy clothes."
Crest of a Wave
Currently riding the crest of television fame Stateside thanks to a
Cannon camera commercial he made with Andre Agassi, and about to be
crowned ĎVampire of the Millenniumí by a consortium of American Horror
magazines, the future couldnít look rosier for Udo Kier. He said, "iíve
always wanted to play the impossible, from Dr. Jekyll and Jack the
Ripper to Dracula and Frankenstein. I want people to look at my hectic
career in disbelief and notice Iíve always stayed on the edge despite
the - often poor - end results. That philosophy, and constantly
working with the new generation of film-makers, keeps me young and
active. Apart form my house in the Hollywood Hills and my two dogs, my
profession is everything I have. Itís more than enough for me."