Udo Kier: "It was at a festival that I met a young Lars von Trier"

On screen he has played villains, lunatics, vampires and Adolf Hitler (twice), but in real life you can't imagine a nicer or down to earth actor than Udo Kier. Kier, who feels equally at home in b-movies as in high art, can be seen at IFFR this year in the Austrian television series Altes Geld, where he plays a rich industrialist who brings out the worst in his family.

By Anton Damen

According to IMDB you've played in over two hundred films. It lists 225 titles, to be exact.
"Yes, but you have to remember that there are also films like Armageddon, where my total role was one day of work. I've made two hundred films: one hundred not so good, fifty that are okay and fifty that are good. That's not a bad score! But every time they offer me a movie, I don't have a clue how good it will turn out at the end. There is editing, there is the music, there are so many elements involved. I'm not going to mention the title, but I made a film that I totally didn't believe in. It was nominated for an Oscar! You just never know. The opposite is also true. I've made films that I thought were brilliant, but turned out to be flops."

I said: I don't do porno's!

With frequent collaborations with Fassbinder, Lars von Trier, Wim Wenders and Gus van Sant it can't be your first time at IFFR, right?
"Actually, it is only my second time. The first time was, oh... you might not have even born yet. I think it was 36 years ago. I came together with Fassbinder and I remember we had a discussion in a small bar. Tarkovsky was in Rotterdam and the festival was on fire. Everything was small back then; the whole festival was. When I arrived yesterday, I had to pinch myself... for a moment I thought I had arrived in Boston or New York, with all these high-rises. I really like festivals like Rotterdam or Mannheim, because they haven't turned into a market. In Berlin or Cannes, everybody wants to sell something to you. But here the festival is still what a festival is supposed to be: information on films from all over the world. Actually, it was at a festival that I met a young Lars von Trier for the first time. We both had a film in competition at Mannheim and we met on the opening night. Four months later we were working together. Not only did he ask me to be in his adaptation of Medea, he also asked me to be the godfather of the baby he and his wife just had. I did all Lars' films but two; the two that are in Danish. I can't speak it – it's a very difficult language."

At least half of your career you've played monsters. Is your character in Altes Geld one as well?
"The whole monster business started when I was young. I was in an airplane sitting next to Paul Morrissey, who was a director for Andy Warhol. He asked me what I did, and when I said I was an actor, he asked me for my telephone number. He wrote it down in his passport – I took that as a sign that he was really serious. A couple of weeks later I got a call. 'Hi, this is Paul from New York. I'm making this 3D film for Andy, it's Frankenstein, and I have a small role for you'. What role, I asked? 'Frankenstein'. After that I made Mark of the Devil, which became a cult film, and Andy Warhol's Dracula. My commercial breakthrough was The Story of O. Which is 100 times stronger than Fifty Shades of Grey. I didn't want to do it, but at the Paris premiere of Frankenstein I went to a party with Roman Polanski and somebody came up and offered me the role. I said: I don't do porno's! Everybody started kicking me under the table. 'Don't you know it is the forbidden book in France? You'll be in every magazine!'. I never asked a director if I could be in his film – not even David Lynch – but I consider myself very lucky in my career. In Altes Geld I'm not playing a monster at all, but he is rich and corrupt. It's almost a non-acting role. I just have to be present, as a figure of power. The German press, like Der Spiegel, raised the question as to why they don't make series like Altes Geld in Germany. But they can't. The Austrians, and especially the Viennese, have a specific sense of humor. Very dark. In Germany there is not so much humor. Altes Geld is beautifully shot as well, and the director is extremely talented. I try not to do too much tv, though. Especially not in America, where there is hardly any time. And should you make a suggestion to the director to change your line, you are immediately jumped on by two or three writers, yelling 'you can't have credit for that!' I don't want credit, I just want my characters to sound believable."

One-on-One with Udo Kier

Away from the bustle of the festival, Dore van Duivenbode invites one interviewee at a time to the green room of Oude Luxor theatre for a One-on-One talk. Watch her talk with Udo Kier below. David Schalko, director of Altes Geld, joined the conversation.

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