Shivers, July, 1999, Alan Jones

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 him".

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.

Real Footage
"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".

Worst Movie?
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 clever".
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".

Satanic Priest
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".

Dogma 7
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."