Udo Kier: The Movieline Interview
Since being plucked from obscurity in the early 1970s by Factory filmmaker Paul Morrissey to star in a pair of avant garde monster flicks, German actor Udo Kier has evolved into a full-fledged cult icon. Oscillating comfortably between the art house and grindhouse, Kier's hypnotic and menacing ice-blue gaze has peered out from the dark corners of a vast number of low-budget horror films, countless indies -- including several by longtime friend and collaborator Lars von Trier -- and even the occasional Hollywood blockbuster. His current output is no exception: In the so-bad-it's-amazing Christmas Eve slasher Fall Down Dead, Kier plays The Picasso Killer, for whom murder is delicious kunst. (It just had a blink-and-you-missed-it theatrical run, but several high-visibility L.A. billboards suggests a The Room - style afterlife might await it.) He follows that with a turn as a non-murderous acting teacher in Werner Herzog's true-crime drama, My Son My Son What Have Ye Done. We spoke with the actor about everything from playing the original sparklepire, to his infamous collaborations with people like Andy Warhol and Madonna, to the true, gardening- and cooking-loving Udo the public rarely gets to see.
Where do you call home?
I live in Los Angeles and I bought a former library in Palm Springs and I'm turning it into my house. That's where I am now.
A public library?
It was a public library, yes, built by John Porter Clark, who was one of the famous Palm Springs architects, together with Albert Frey. I'm going to make a sculpture garden, because I have a lot of very talented artist friends in Europe. So that's what I'm doing at the moment when I'm not filming.
Your next movie is Werner Herzog's My Son, My Son What Have Ye Done.
That's correct. I haven't seen it, but I heard it's a very good movie, and got a very good response. I knew Chloë Sevigny -- I had worked with her on a Lars von Trier film -- and Willem Dafoe, who I'd worked with on Shadow of the Vampire and another Lars von Trier film. I had a really good time working on that film.
Describe your character.
It's a true story about actors. We're doing a Greek play, I'm the teacher, and Michael Shannon and Chloë Sevigny are my favorite students. It happened at the end of the '70s.
Are you a menacing drama teacher?
No, I play a straight part for a change -- just a teacher and a friend. It's really ensemble work between four actors.
Did you see Fall Down Dead?
I haven't seen it. I have a collection of modern art since I'm 20, which started in Germany with [pieces by] Magritte and Giacometti. So I was interested in doing a role called The Picasso Killer who murders in the style of abstract paintings. Also, it was a vicious part, which is always very interesting to play.
What is it about the darker roles that draws you to them again and again?
You should ask the people who cast. It's not my decision. Many, many years ago, in 1973, I met Paul Morrissey in an airplane, and he cast me as Frankenstein and Dracula. Before that I could never imagine playing Dracula, but I did, and the film was successful. Since then I've always just been cast in those kinds of roles -- in Blade, or what have you, always playing the evil roles. It's more juicy than playing a good guy.
In Blood For Dracula, you play a very pretty vampire. The opening credits sequence even features you applying makeup in front of a mirror. It struck me that this was very ahead of its time, when you look at the pretty-boy vampire craze gripping Hollywood lately.
That scene you mentioned was actually Andy Warhol's idea, which goes very much to his silkscreens. It was very similar to that. Just yesterday, I did an interview about vampires, and to be honest, in the vampires of that period -- that was 1973 -- improvisation was high, and the budgets were very low. It was more fun. Today when you see a vampire movie, it is all technology and animals flying through the air and they become human. For my taste, it's too much technology and it's not scary at all. I prefer the films when we improvised, and the blood was ketchup or punch fed through tubes.