Spending three hours on a Friday morning at the hillside home of cult-film legend Udo Kier, we talked movies, gardening and art. Additionally, I was given a tour of Kier's art and photo collection, which includes work by Jim Dine and Greg Gorman and, to no surprise, a Warhol Indian with a personal inscription. Now in his mid-50s, those icy-blue eyes set off by his too-tan skin, Kier cut a striking, if not quite Hollywood, figure.
L.A. Weekly: You have one of the most bizarre roles in The Kingdom – you play a deformed newborn baby who talks – as well as a devil figure. What were some of your experiences on the set?
Udo Kier: If you think about it, playing a baby is the ultimate. I didn't sleep well for two days before the birth; we could only do it once. They put me in this enormous model, covered my head with slime and blood, and I had to push myself through and scream. It was really going back, very Sigmund Freud. Maybe the most difficult role of my life. All the time I was crying, and if you work with Lars von Trier, you don't work with eyedrops.
Weekly: Typical of a high-drama TV series, The Kingdom II ends in a cliffhanger.
Kier: We were going to shoot Kingdom III this year, but Lars was so busy filming The Idiot, he decided to do it next year. An American film company just bought the rights to The Kingdom, which, if they remake, I hope I will play the baby. I speak English! Though I don't think that the devil has a nationality.
Weekly: But surely English is the devil's primary language. Speaking of devils, you've said that because you're German, you're resigned to the typecast of playing the bad guy.
Kier: In general, if you're German, you either play the mad scientist or the villain. To be honest, I like playing the villain. Not because of the history of Germany, I hate that history. But the villain you always remember, evil doesn't have any limits.
Weekly: Von Trier seems to understand how to measure out your intensity. He's also cast you in Zentropa, Epidemic and Medea. How did your relationship begin?
Kier: I met Lars about 10 years ago at the film festival in Mannheim. I produced and directed a short film called The Last Trip to Harrisburg, and it was selected for the opening night with von Trier's Element of Crime. We had a beer together and exchanged telephone numbers. A few months later, Lars called and offered me a lead in Medea. When his wife was pregnant, he asked me to be the godfather of his child. We also have a verbal 30-year contract for a movie called Dimensions. All the actors meet every year around Christmas, and we shoot two days to have three minutes of film. The premiere will be in the year 2024.
Weekly: You've worked with many great European directors. Do you feel limited by the boring films Hollywood has to offer?
Kier: I started out working with Fassbinder and very good German avant-garde directors, and then Paul Morrissey, who directed me in Andy Warhol's Dracula and Frankenstein. Thanks to Gus Van Sant, I came to America for My Own Private Idaho. I jumped right into commercial films, and stayed here. Unfortunately, if you're a foreigner, you almost always play supporting parts. I did For Love or Money with Michael J. Fox and Ace Ventura: Pet Detective with Jim Carrey. I have two big Hollywood films coming out, Blade and Armageddon.
Weekly: But the difference is between making films for art and making films strictly for money.
Kier: The thing is, if you come to America and work in films, you know you're working in an industry. The good thing is that I'm in a position where I don't have to prove anything anymore. So you live with history and you also go forward. It's interesting to work in big productions and still have the time to do Wenders and von Trier. The thing is to be able to understand on what floor you are dancing, then it's fine.