Udo Kier is a truly unique story of Hollywood success. When he was plucked from obscurity by Factory filmmaker Paul Morrissey in the early 1970s to star in a pair of avant garde monster flicks, had no idea that he would eventually evolve into a true cult film icon. Appearing in over 200 films, his genre-jumping ranges from roles in low-budget horror, exploitation and independent films — his resume even boasts an occasional Hollywood blockbuster. Even at 67 years old, Kier shows no signs of slowing down and always seems to working more than ever. His latest appearance is in the dark comedy, “Iron Sky,” where he plays the leader of a group of rogue Moon Nazi’s hellbent on revenge. What sounds like a crazy premise to some is just an ordinary day for someone like Udo Kier. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with the iconic actor to discuss the start of his career, how his early success continued to snowball through the years and provided him with exciting new opportunities, his plans for the future and much more!
You have been the part of so many great projects throughout the years. What got you started on your journey as an actor?
Ok, I will give you my life story. I was born in Cologne at the end of the war — October of 1944. It was a horrible time in Germany, really horrible, especially in Cologne because it had been bombed. I went to school there and I wanted to leave Germany, so when I was 18, I did. I went to England to learn English. I was doing different jobs and learning the language because I didn’t go to University because we didn’t have money for that, so I learned English later. Then on day I was really lucky. I was discovered! Somebody came and said “We are doing a movie. Would you like to be in the movie?” It was a short forty minute film called “Road to San Tropez,” which was my first film. It was filmed in cinemascope, which I didn’t know. They were all very kind to me. The cameramen shoot my closeups with a long lense and all I did was keep looking for the camera and where it was. I was thinking “Why are they so far away from me!” I didn’t know the technology and what my face would look like on the cinemascope screen. When the film came out, I was the new face of cinema and so on. Right away, I got with William Morris, the biggest agency at the time. I had never been to acting school. I found it all very interesting and of course, I liked the attention you get as an actor. I thought, “Ok, maybe I will try. If I can live from this profession, I will do it.” I didn’t want to do one film and then work for five months in a bar and have a newspaper with the clipping of the film with the date cut off to show and one tale to tell to my guests! I didn’t want to say “Actually, I am an actor, not a barmen!” [laughs]
After this, I did my first two films and my first black and white film in Vienna, where I played the lead, “The Pimp”. Then came a horror film, which became a cult film and it still is today. It was called “Mark of The Devil”. In the film, I played with Herbert Lom. The film is about witchcraft and witches. It was my first color film. Then it went on and on and on! When I was 15 or 16, in Cologne in a working class bar, I met [Rainer Werner] Fassbinder. When I was in London, I bought a newspaper and I saw a double page spread that said Fassinder was a genius, alcoholic and so on. I remembered him because I had met him before. We had not talked about film or theatre. I saw him and I started working with him. I started going to Paris and I was sitting on an airplane in 1972. There was a man sitting next to me who asked “What do you do?” I said “I am an actor, of course!” I showed him, right away, a photograph. [laughs] When you are starting in the business, you are always insecure and you always carry photographs with you! I was very photogenic. He asked me for my number and he wrote it on the last page of his passport. I asked him “What do you do?” He said “My name is Paul Morrissey and I am the director for Andy Warhol.” A couple of weeks later, I got a call. He said “Hello, it is Paul. I am doing a film in Rome for Cinecittà, “Frankenstein,” and I have a little role for you.” I said “What do I play?” He said “Frankenstein!” So that is how that started. Someone else was supposed to be Dracula, During the three weeks of shooting we made a film for an amazing amount of money — $300,000. We made an amazing 3D film in three weeks! I made a 3D film in 1973! Now, everything is in 3D but when I did it, there were only five in the world! [laughs] Then came “Dracula”. He [Paul Morrissey] came to the cantina one day and said “Well, I guess I have a German Dracula.” I said “Who?” He said “You! But you have to lose twenty pounds.” So, I didn’t eat anymore! Only water and salad leaves. I became really week and that is why, In “Dracula,” I am sitting in a wheelchair. [laughs] I couldn’t stand up anymore! That is not only how Robert De Niro prepares himself for movies but also Udo Kier! There you have it!
I went to Paris for the premiere. I was in a nightclub after the premiere of “Frankenstein” and that is when I met [Roman] Polanski. It was there where someone came and said they would be doing “The Story of O” and they would like to offer me the lead. I said “No.I don’t do porno.” When the people left, everyone said “Udo, you are crazy! You have to do this film.” So I did “The Story of O.” That lead to me doing “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Miss Osbourne” for [Walerian] Borowczyk, a polish director. It goes on and on. You know, in the last year, I have done seven films! I played The Pope in “Borgia”. I play Bartok in a Turkish film, “Görünmeyen” and I did “Iron Sky”! And here we are! I am doing a monologue, you don’t have any questions! [laughs]
Absolutely. What keeps you inspired as an actor and in your private life?
In my private life, I am totally the opposite of what I am on screen. I like to cook for friends and they say I am a good cook. I have a house in Palm Springs that I bought, a former library. I collect furniture from Judd Nelson. I have collected modern art, all of my life from David Hockney to Andy Warhol. I am a totally different person. When I go out to make a movie, sometimes I have to break out of this kind of environment. When I go make a movie, I have so much fun being evil, being a vampire or a Nazi in a black comedy! I would never have and never will play a part where I would portray the Nazi’s as they were. I have played Adolf Hitler twice and I played one for Rob Zombie in “Werewolf Women of The SS” for “Grindhouse” but all of these parts were comedies. If I had to put it into one sentence, I like to be a Nazi like Charlie Chaplin in “The Great Dictator” when he is playing with the world. That is perfect or similar to Mel Brooks’ “Springtime for Hitler”. I like making the movies like that.
When they offered me the role in “Iron Sky,” they said it was about Nazis on the Moon. I said “What?! Nazis on the moon!” [laughs] I read the script and understood very well what it was. I have my own story about how we got to the moon. Do you want to hear this?
Yes! I definitely want to hear this story!
Ok, Jason. My mother was a very good looking woman, which she actually was in real life as well. Wernher Von Braun had readied a rocket to go to the moon, so he sent his favorite people to the moon. I was born on the moon. Then my mother and everybody wanted to have a little affair with my mother, so when they were around to see my mother, they were playing with me and bringing me chocolates. That is why the leader that I play in “Iron Sky” eats chocolate all the time. This is how I became the leader on the moon! That is my story because so many people would ask “How did they get onto the moon?” That is how we got to the moon! [laughs] I am actually not a war baby like in reality but a moon baby!
What do you feel that director Timo Vuorensola brought to the table for this project?
He brought the story. For years, he worked. The trailer was watched a massive amount, ten million times. He involved the modern technology not only for the film aspects but he used the internet to a very strong extent. You know, I worked 24 years with Lars Von Trier. I did “Melancholia” and many other films. Next week, I will be doing his new film “Nymphomaniac” with a great cast. Timo Vuorensola has a great sense of humor. The Danish and Finnish people have a very strange, dry sense of humor and I like that! I like that and that is the director. That is why there are little bits in the film that are very strange! [laughs] I don’t like to see the rushes because I get nervous, especially if I am still filming. When I see them, I only look at me and if that is wrong, I get nervous. I never see the film before it is a finished product and in this case it was three screenings in Berlin. They were sold out. When the showed it in Berlin at the festival, it played at the biggest cinema ever in Berlin! When I went there to see the film, it was a great atmosphere. The people were already laughing before seeing the film. I was laughing so much during the film! It was such a great party! Politically, there is not any kind of harmful message in the film. It is just crazy people, Nazis on the moon that want to take revenge and of course, the President of America looks like Sarah Palin and the black man is made to look white. It does no political harm to anybody. Only the title of “Nazis”. You know, that word, especially in the Hollywood industry draws attention. I was with Lars Von Trier in Canne and we know how people misunderstand, very quickly, that word.
You career has been and continues to be very diverse. Is there a particular type of film or genre that you are anxious to tackle in the future?
Well, there are still a few directors on my list, like David Lynch, David Cronenberg, Steven Soderbergh and a lot of other people I would still very much like to work with. If I would have played the role that would have given me 100% satisfaction, I wouldn’t make films anymore. If I had played that role, I would just stay here in my home in Palms Springs, give dinners and watch myself in the perfect film! [laughs] Everyone would have to see it one hundred times, like many actors do! Not me! But they will have a dinner party and watch a film and slowly everyone roles their eyes to the ceiling! [laughs] No, I don’t do that. I don’t collect my movies. One day, when I am dead, other people will do that and put them all together. I am still looking for a movie — I don’t know. I tried to make my own movie but then I realized that it was to much for me to handle. I started a movie called “Broken Cookies.” I played a transsexual in a wheelchair who lives from telephone sex. I casted all transsexuals in wheelchairs in Los Angeles, so the cast was quite a cast! [laughs] So there you have it. I don’t know. I have played so many different characters, I have no idea. I am still waiting for a script that makes me jump when I read it.
You have so many great stories to tell. I there any interest on your part in one day penning an autobiography?
Yes. I will one day do that. I have it already planned with the best German magazine. The thing is that I will write the book about my life and I don’t want to lie, so it has to come out when I am dead. When I am dead, my life story will come out and the money will go to a foundation with a really good cause that has the most need for money. I read many biographies and people lie. Like Marlene Dietrich wrote in her book that she never had a sister. Of course she had a sister! She wrote that she was the daughter of a general — of course not! In these books, everybody lies and it is all about what they like to eat because everybody is scared to hurt somebody. I wouldn’t hurt anybody but I would write the truth — the truth about how I felt, the truth about some people and how ridiculous they are and how how wonderful some other people are! Hollywood is the most insensitive place to work — it’s built on sand and tits! That will be the title, “Sand and Tits”. [laughs] That is where I live now. I have spent the last two years in Palm Springs. I have spent more time here because it is all retired people. I call Palm Springs “Cadillac City” because Cadillacs and wear those insect glasses from the eye doctor! It’s wonderful! When I go to a restaurant, they say to me “Young man, can you pass me the salt!” I am already 67 years old, so I feel good! [laughs]
What is the best piece of that you can pass along to aspiring actors looking to follow in your footsteps?
To buy a gun and shoot himself.
Well, that is certainly interesting advice, if nothing else!
[laughs] I said that on television in Canne and they were shocked! I know that every young actor is the same. When you are young, you would like to be in every film. You want to be everywhere because you like the attention. It’s the best. I have a title, I am a professor. I was teaching in Germany, even though I have never been to acting school but I was teaching the theory of acting. It just depends on why you want to be an actor. Do you want to be an actor for the glamour? Do you want to buy yourself a beautiful car that makes a lot of noise so that everybody sees you? If you want to be an actor for that purpose, then forget it. You want to be a real actor, talent is something you cannot learn. You can learn a technique and you have to have connection. That is why some people don’t have connection, you see them in one or two movies and then they disappear. Acting is something wonderful. It is entertaining when you see them performing for the King, dancing and doing all of this. Acting is something wonderful. It is good that not everyone is a good actor. That would be horrible, especially for me! [laughs] We have wonderful people in the industry like my friend, Pamela Anderson. She is a wonderful person. Imagine if Pamela Anderson would be acting like Meryl Streep. It wouldn’t work! Pamela is Pamela Anderson. She is wonderful. We made “Barb Wire” together. Or someone like Madonna. We did the “Sex” book together and I did two videos with Madonna. Jason, I am having a good time! There will be one day when I close the door and will laugh about cinema!
That is what it is all about. Thank you for your time today, Udo. It is very much appreciated.
Thank you, Jason. Have a good time!
Check out the official site for “Iron Sky” at www.ironsky.net. Like the film on Facebook at it’s official page, www.facebook.com/ironskythemovie. Check out Udo Kier’s impressive filmography at IMDB – Click Here.
Official Synopsis: 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.
When American astronaut James Washington (Christopher Kirby) puts down his Lunar Lander a bit too close to the secret Nazi base, the Moon Führer (Udo Kier) decides the glorious moment of retaking the Earth has arrived sooner than expected. Washington claims the mission is just a publicity stunt for the President of the United States (Stephanie Paul), but what else could the man be but a scout for the imminent attack by Earth forces? The Fourth Reich must act!
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.