Video Watchdog, # 2, 1995/96, David Del Valle
EVERY TIME I WATCH Udo Kier in ANDY WARHOLīS FRANKENSTEIN, I
immediately visualize what Peter Lorre might have been like had he,
and not Basil Rathbone, starred in Universalīs SON OF FRANKENSTEIN.
Kier has some of Lorreīs humor and mannerisms, with a touch of Marlene
Despite the sometimes gruesome milieux of his films, Kierīs career has
always centered on his own good looks. It was Robin Bean, then editor
of FILMS AND FILMING, who photographed him endlessly in the late
1960s. His appearance on the cover of that magazine resulted in his
first screen role in THE ROAD TO ST. TROPEZ, by first-time director
(and FILMS AND FILMING CORRESPONDENT) Michael Sarne.
It was a happy time for British cinema. The Swinging Sixties had
already made stars of Terence Stamp, Alan Bates, Michael Caine and
Oliver Reed. Udoīs natural affinity for the camera made him an
international glamor boy, whose only serious rivals were Alain Delon
and Helmut Berger.
MARK OF THE DEVIL (directed by another FILMS AND FILMING alumnus,
critic Michael Armstrong) brought Udo his first major international
dramatic role. Cast in the role of Christian-the well-meaning
apprentice of witchfinder Lord Cumberland (Herbert Lom), who rebels
against his mentor when he discovers that his motives are more rooted
in his own impotence than righteousness-Udoīs sincere performance
transcended the filmīs gore and awkward dubbing. Disagreements between
Armstrong and the filmīs producer/co-star Adrian Hoven resulted in
Hoven taking over the direction for much of the shooting. From thes
dubuous beginnings, Udo was chosen by director Paul Morrissey to en
portray the Baron in ANDY WARHOLīS FRANKENSTEIN (aka FLESH FOR
FRANKENSTEIN) and, later, the Count in ANDY WARHOLīs DRACULA (aka
BLOOD FOR DRACULA). It was in these Italian productions that Udo Kier
achieved horror star status. Because he was so young at the time, the
actor found the experience of making these
films confusing and exhilarating at the same time. Already a cult
figure, it would take the likes of Germanyīs enfant terrible Rainer
Werner Fassbinder, to turn him into an actor.
Although I also wrote for FILMS AND FILMING, I was not fated to meet
Udo Kier until the middle of 1994. He immediately seemed like one of
my oldest friends, and we were amazed by how many friends and
acquaintances we had in common. We marvelled that our paths had never
crossed before. Last year, in the wake of increasing appearances in
such American productions as MY OWN PRIVATE IDAHO, ACE VENTURA:PET
DETECTIVE and JOHNNY MNEMONIC, Udo decidet to establish a permanent
residence in Los Angeles. Ironically, he lives across the street from
actress Harriet White Medin (PAISAN, THE HORRIBLE DR. HICHCOCK ) who
was herself the subject of an interview in VIDEO WATCHDOG # 22.
A close friend of Barbara Steele, Udo has recently attempted to create
projects in which they could both appear. Barbara was to have played
Udoīs wife in a German-financed film, THE CRACK, filmed in South
Africa late last year. Ultimately, the Queen of Horror withdrew from
the project and was replaced by (who else?).... Kitten Natividad! More
recently, he was cast as the Puppet Master-opposite Martin Landauīs
Gepetto-in Francis Ford Coppolaīs production of PINNOCCHIO.
My personal experience with Udo includes a manic airline trip with
Martine Beswicke and Mary Woronov to a horror convention in San Jose,
California, exactly two days before he departed to South Africa for
the aforementioned film. Thanks to an unexpected rainstorm, the
convention was so illattended that there was little to do but gossip
or adjourn to the bar.
Udo is a remarkably calm, yet gregarious, person in the face of
adversity. When he realized there were no crowds, he simply said, "Who
cares-letīs go shopping!" And he went around the other dealersītables
looking for material on himself and suitable objets dīart for the new
home he is constantly furnishing. He has a great childlike sense of
wonder which has miraculously survived the destructive atmosphere of
the turbulent Sixties and the drug-in-duced paranoia of Fassbinderīs
At this point in his career, Udo Kier is a highlypaid and much
sought-after character actor who has run the gamut from the music
videos of Madonna (he is featured in her "Deeper & Deeper" video, and
pictured in her book SEX as well), to upstaging Jim Carrey (heīs been
invited back for ACE VENTURA 2!), and doing voice-over work worthy of
the great Peter Lorre. I would have expected nothing less of the man
who told us, in 3-D, "To know life... you must fuck death in the gall
bladder!"This conversation took place in my Beverly Hills apartment in
September 1994. -DDV
I understand that your first film was THE ROAD TO SAN TROPEZ, directed
by Michael Sarne?
Yes, it was a short film actually, that was later picked up by 20th
Century-Fox. It was shot in the south of France, and was more or less
a documentary of the area, combined with a story about a French woman
vacationing in St. Tropez who picks up a gigolo, which I played. The
woman was played by Melissa Stribling, the wife of Basil Dearden. She
meets this boy, takes him home, and later when he goes to say goodbye
to his girlfriend, she wakes up in bed and finds him gone and looks
out the window-classical!-and sees him embracing this other girl, so
she goes back to her British husband whoīs just reading a newspaper,
and doesnīt even look up to say "Hello how are you?"
That was my first film. I was in England at the time, going to school
and learning English. I was fascinated while making this film by the
technique; when I came out of the water, I would look around for the
camera, which was very far away. I didnīt know that they could zoom
into my face. So thatīs why I had that interesting expression when I
came out of the water-because I was searching for the camera!
Then I went to Germany and decided to become a full-time actor. I made
my next film in Vienna playing the lead in the film about the Viennese
underworld, called SCHAMLOS. And then I made my first horror movie
called MARK OF THE DEVIL with Herbert Lom, Reginald Nalder, Olivera
Vuco (who played a kind of gypsy; she was my partner, more or less)
and a lot of other people from Europe, directed by Michael Armstrong.
It became a real success, which ran for more than ten years, kind of a
cult film. For the time it was done, it was a very strong film.
What do you remember of the locations for MARK OF THE DEVIL? Those
were old castles and the implements of torture were actually real,
Well, there was one castle called, as I recall, Malkenberg-in the
middle of nowhere in Austria, because Austria is much bigger than
people think. I mean, itīs Vienna, with all the castles around, and
there is a lot land, very green. We had a great time. The torture
instruments in the castle were not real, but they made it look like
they were used for torture. It was very,very interesting film and I
learned a lot from Mr. Lom.
According to Michael Armstrong, the original script had a homosexual
subtext in which Herbert Lomīs Lord Cumberland character was actually
lusting after Christian, the part you played. The way Armstrong tells
it, in the scene where Albino (Reggie Nalder) blackmails Lord
Cumberland, he realizes that heīs been doing all this to get your
attention or something. And then Adrian Hoven revised things to make
Cumberlandīs impotence the motive behind his torturing of women.
Well, I donīt recall it at all like that. This was more likely
Michaelīs idea after many years had passed by! (LAUGHS) I do recall
very well that the film, as Michael wanted to shoot it, was more
artistic. Artistic in a way that has actually been copied a lot
So you remember him as an innovator?
Yes, as kind of an innovator.
And Adrian Hoven, the producer, wanted a more commercial film.
Definitely. Like all producers, of course.
And so Hoven wound up directing youīd say, over 60% of the finished
Oh, Iīd say half. Michael was still there, but at that point ist was
my first commercial film. I didnīt have the pover to say, "Okay, make
up your mind whoīs directing!" Michael also didnīt have the power to
The movie, as it stands now, ends very abruptly. The film was supposed
to have an extra scene at the end of the dead returning to life, as
youīre hanging there and Olivera Vuco is crying over you. Armstrong
shot that sequence?
Yeah, but they didnīt use it. You know, Michael wanted all of the
graves to open up.He actually filmed it: people coming out of their
graves, their hands grabbing people, which actually looked very good.
I remember the day we were shooting this. But the German director (Hoven)
was more interested in the sexual side of the story than the horror
side, which actually was a pity. Because Michaelīs version would have
also been good, and very different in a way, but they were not
prepared for it.
The movie enjoyed tremendous success in Europe, and when when it was
released over here it was considered so violent that the distributor
rated it "V for Violence." By todayīs standards, itīs still a strong
picture, but there are worse pictures, from the standpoint of violence.
Itīs wild, but also very naive. All of the torture scenes are very
naive, unsophisticated. Itīs not like Coppolaīs high tech horror or
like THE MASK where everythingīs interactive.
Adrian Hoven also directed a swquel to MARK OF THE DEVIL in which you
did not appear.
He did another one which was based on... moral sex, I suppose (?-Ed.).
And to be homest, I never even saw it.
Where did your career take you after MARK OF THE DEVIL?
I did some German TV, and I wound up doing a film in Italy called LA
STAGIONE DEI SENSI ("Season of the Senses") . Then I wound up meeting
Paul Mirrissey on an airplane. He was on his way to Munich from Rome
on a promotional tour for his film HEAT, with Joe Dallesandro and
Sylvia Miles. We met on the airplane and we talked for quite awhile. I
was talking about being an actor, and he wrote my telephone number on
the back of his passport. I asked him his name, he said "Paul
Morrissey," and then I knew who he was.
Later, I was doing a German television play and I got a telegram. He
said he was doing FRANKENSTEIN and that he wanted me to call him. So I
called him and he said, "Well, I have a role for you." And I said, "What
part am I going to play?" He said, "Frankenstein." They knew they were
going to make FRANKENSTEIN and then DRACULA, but I was not supposed to
play Dracula; it was going to be another actor. While we were shooting
FRANKENSTEIN in Rome, in the middle of production, everybody-all the
technicians-came to me and said,"Why donīt you play Dracula?" And I
said, "Well, Iīm very grateful that Paul cast me for one, so Iīm not
going over the top now and say I also want to play the second one."
Carlo Ponti was producing. Morrissey had told him he could make a film
for $350,000 in 3-D, and Ponti said, "Ikay, Iīll give you $700,000.
Make were all the same. Only the actors changed. We were working up
till the end with very high concentration because all of the dialogue
in FRANKENSTEIN was improvised. I had never done improvised films,
especially not in English. So we were not allowed to drink and we had
to live very calmly in a villa on the Via Appia Antica.
On the last day of shooting FRANKENSTEIN, I was very exhausted and we
all went together to the local cantina and I ordered some wine. And
Paul Morrissey came in and said, "Well, I guess I have a German
Dracula." I said, "Who?" He said, "You.... but I want you to lose 10
Well, there was only one week before we started shooting, so I really
did starve myself. I did not eat. I had salad or steak sometimes and
thatīs why really couldnīt stand up anymore. I was really weak-which I
You looked great! As you know, the Italian versions of both films were
credited not to Paul Morrissey, but to Italian director Antonio
Margheriti. What exactly was his involvement?
He had no involvement at all. The thing is, at that time, it was an
Italian film and there were almost no Italian actors in it; the main
actors were American, German, French and Yugoslav. Thatīs why they had
two directors. In Italy, it was credited to Antonio Margheriti. I met
him, but he didnīt diect me because I would not have loved to be
directed by two people.
Not a second time!
It would have been confusing.
You know Margheriti has achieved a certain popularty in horror films.
He directed Barbara Steele.
I know he did a lot of films, but at that time the director was Paul
Morrissey. Morrissey directed the film from the beginning to the end.
Margheriti was on the set, he came to the studio from time to time,
but he never directed the actors. Never!
Was it difficult to act in a 3-D movie like FRANKENSTEIN?
It was very difficult for the actors because, besides your acting and
your part, you have to learn how to act spatially to create the effect
of three dimensions. For example, at the end when I have the stake
through my body, with the liver hanging there, I had to act my scene
but, at the same time, I had to be careful not to lose one of the
windows-the image screen on the camera-because we would then lose the
3-D effect immediately. So we had to work with technique, which still
fascinates me, even to this day. So it was okay.
Did Andy Warhol ever come on the set?
Yeah, for publicity. Andy came and we had pictures taken for VOGUE,
with Archibald-the doctor of his dog-on my arm. We also did a lot of
newspaper publicity when Andy came.
But his involvement on the film was limited to publicity?
And giving it his name. He also came to visit us. We were all staying
at this veautiful villa in the Via Appia Antica. The process was also
in a way already winding down, because Polanski was preparing a 3-D
film for Carlo Ponti, so our work was almost done.
Is that why Polanski was in DRACUlA?
That was a very clever cameo that de did.
Polanski agreed to appear in a cameo because I went away. I had
promised a friend of mine, a German director, that I would appear in
his film. And I kept my promise. So I went away, for one day, and they
didnīt know what to shoot without me. Thatīs why they shot the scene
with my assistant (Arno Juerging) and Polanski. It was not only
Polanski in that scene, but also Gerard Brach (Polanskiīs screenwriter),
the producer (Andrew Braunsberg) and writer, and all of Polanskiīs
friends. It wa a very important day, actually. I went to Austria,
played a poet in my friendīs film, and came back to shoot.
Do you remember those locations on the DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN
Both of them.
Were those famous villas?
Well, FRANKENSTEIN was more or less all done at Cinecittá, in the
studio. DRACULA was done in an actual castle in Frascati, where the
famous wine comes from. And it was fabulous because this castle
actually had its own story. The owner of the castler was in a madhouse,
and his family was renting it out to film crews to make money so they
could pay his hospital bills. It was very funny; at one point, ther
were two different film crews working in the same building. Once I
went out of a room through a door, dressed as Dracula, and I came out
through a secret door, and found myself in the middle of another set,
witz the cameras running! So I ran in, said "Im sorry," and I got out!
Unfortunately, they were not clever enough to keep my little cameo in
their film! (lauchs)
Thatīs sounds great!
It was. This door opens and Dracula comes out, looks around, and says
"These are not the people I know!" (laughs)
So those two Morrissey films were fun to do?
Yeah! But all my films are fun to do. The more films I make, the more
fun it becomes!
By the time you did these two pictures you really were hooked on being
an actor. You really enjoyed it.
Yeah, of course, but I was hooked from the beginning. Ever since MARK
OF THE DEVIL, almost thirty years ago, Iīve never ever had to do any
other job. I could always live off this work all my life, which is
ikay. Now it seems much easier to get work because I have so much work
Around this time you appeared in Just Jaeckinīs film of THE STORY OF
O. What do you remember of that assignment?
I was in Paris for the opening of FRANKENSTEIN, and I was staying with
Polanski and the others at the beautiful Plaza Hotel. That night I
went out witz Polanski to a nightblub and some people came up and said,
"Were preparing to shoot THE STORY OF O and we would like to offer you
a role." I tld them, "Iīm not doing any porno films, and thatīs no
joke." Polanski and Morrissey told me, "Youīre crazy to turn it down;
youīll get so much publicity for doing such a film." So, for a lot of
noney, I agreed to do the movie. I had a contract prepared that said I
would not have to do this and this and this and this-you know, no
nudity and so on-and it became by far the most successful film that I
ever did. Looking back, I regret that I wasnīt demanding more or being
stronger, because I left myself completely in the hands of the
director. i think I could have done much, much better on my own, or
maybe with another director. Jackin came from a background of fashion
photography - he was quite brilliant at it - but when you see me on
the screen for the first time, he was using a star filter so there are
litrally stars in my eys - popping off the screen! But I suppose that
the success of this film shows that he was right. A director like
Fassbinder, of course, would have never cast me in such a part; they
would have found someone much more masculine than me.
Did you feel a little bit like Dorian Gray when pou first saw your
image on film?
Yeah. Of course, I was very photogenic, but they put a lot of makeup
on my face which today, with my experience, I would refuse - if I were
young again - because it was too much. I learned a lot about how to
use makeup when I started working with Fassbinder. I was an old friend
of Fassbinder's most of the stories in this book youīve shown me by
Mr. Katz are lies. Most of it is a lie.
How did you meet Rainer Werner Fassbinder?
I met him in kind of a working class bar in Cologne around Bonn. He
wasnīt born in Cologne, he was born in Munich, but he was at school in
Cologne and he stayed with his aunt. We met at this bar and his name
was Rainer and my name was Udo, and he was 16 or 17 and I was 17 or
18; I donīt recall exactly how old we were. And we used to go out and
have fun together, meeting on weekends and going out to bars, going to
discos, all of the things you do when you are young. And then later,
when I was in England going to school, I openend up a copy of DER
STERN and I saw an article called "Genius and Alcoholism" and I
thought to myself, "I know him as Rainer; I didnīt know the name