Once he’s finished talking to me, somewhere on a ranch in Palm Springs, California, Udo Kier will visit his horse Max (named after Max von Sydow) and plant the trees he bought the day before. “I have a lot of land in the desert and I’m much happier working in the garden planting trees and watching animals than being in some stupid commercial film.” And with the quickest glance at his CV, it’s easy to tell he’s not lying – as long as you let his role in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective slide, it’s a sea of weird and wonderful arthouse films for as far as the eye can see. Nowadays though, Kier tells me he just wants to have fun when he’s making movies.
That doesn’t mean he’s slowing down though. “I might do the new Werner Herzog film, I might do a film in Belgium, I might play Bela Lugosi in London in a horror film.” And on that evidence there doesn’t seem to be much of a shift in tone either. It was his parts in the Paul Morrissey directed, and Andy Warhol produced, horror films Flesh For Frankenstein and Blood For Dracula which first made his name. Both are perfect examples of 1970s exploitation horror filmmaking at its finest. His role as Dracula in particular seems like the one he was born to play, his hypnotic eyes and classic Hollywood good looks befitting of Morrissey’s dignified and sympathetic take on the most famous of vampires.
“The internet, who knows more about me than I do, says I’ve made 220-whatever films,” says Kier. These include films by some of the greatest independent directors of all time – from Dario Argento to Gus Van Sant and Rainer Werner Fassbinder to Lars von Trier, he’s worked with them all. “I am a very, very lucky man.”
As godfather to von Trier’s first child, Agnes, Kier is both a close friend and long-time artistic collaborator of the controversial Danish director. The pair first worked together on Medea in the late 1980s and continue their working relationship to this day, the latest product of which is the much talked about study of sex addiction, Nymphomaniac. Kier plays ‘the waiter’ and although he didn’t have to shoot any sex scenes himself, he did have to take part in the film’s poster campaign in which every cast member’s face is photographed, in close-up, at the height of orgasm.
“One day before I left back for America he [von Trier] said: ‘Well, Udo, you have to do the orgasm picture’. We took our shirts off and they just said: ‘Okay, mime an orgasm’, but of course orgasm is such a private, strong thing, so I just rolled my eyes back in my head and that was it. It was just like a photo-shoot, they didn’t have to put me in the mood.”
“I have no orgasm in the film, I mean as an actor you have an orgasm every day when you get to the set because you realise how lucky you are that you’re working with great directors.”
“The magazines in America voted me as the best orgasm picture,” he adds with a hint of pride peering through his thick German accent. As we speak, von Trier and the rest of the Nymphomaniac cast are gearing up for the film’s premiere at the Berlin Film Festival; Kier is unable to attend due to other commitments but assures me he will be online reading all about it later on (although, as I write, the red carpet antics of Shia LaBeouf are garnering more attention than the film itself). Like so many of the actors who’ve worked with von Trier, Kier has nothing but good things to say about the director and makes it clear that he is always more than happy to appear in his films, no matter how small the role.
Another recent film that Kier is eager to talk about is Iron Sky, which is currently getting its ‘Dictator’s Cut’ release. The partly crowd-funded film centres around the simple, yet ingenious concept of Nazis hiding out on the Moon, waiting to invade Earth. He plays Wolgang Kortzfleisch, the leader of the Nazi Party. Kier admits to being sceptical about the role at first, which is strange when you consider his track record for playing Nazis; alongside vampires they seem to be his forte. Incidentally, if you think Nazis on the Moon is an interesting premise for a film, you should see Mrs Meitlemeihr in which Kier plays Adolf Hitler who’s survived the war and is hiding in post-war London, disguised as a woman – “it’s a very weird film, but beautifully shot.”
So why was he sceptical about doing Iron Sky? “When I heard about all the technical things, I couldn’t really imagine how it would be because I’m not a technician. Because I live in America, when I said I’m doing Nazis on the Moon, all my Jewish friends were really shocked and then I told them ‘no it’s not like that.’” He even prepared his own backstory for the film to help explain the role to his friends: “Hitler put his favourite people on a rocket to the moon and my mother, who was a very good looking woman, was one of them. So I was born on the Moon and everyone wanted to be near my mother so they always brought chocolate to the baby (me) and this explains why I became the childlike leader in the film, always eating chocolate.”
But even this story, as silly as it sounds, is partly autobiographical. Kier was born in Cologne, Germany in 1944 in the closing days of the Second World War; shortly after his birth the hospital he was born in was bombed. He recalls as a child tasting chocolate for the first time: “I got my first chocolate ever from an American soldier who put me in his arms and pointed with his finger to the pocket of his uniform, I reached inside and there was a chocolate in there.”
His talk of gardening and collecting mid-century furniture may sound like him easing into retirement, and who could blame him if that’s what he was to do? But on the contrary, the next minute he’s talking about all the things he wants to do next; Iron Sky 2 is currently in the process of looking for financial backers and one project in particular which caught my attention was a film he wants to make with Pamela Anderson.
“I bought a building, a school from 1880, in East Germany and I want to do Frankenstein there with Pamela Anderson as my assistant. The film starts with Pamela dressed as Little Red Riding Hood collecting mushrooms in a German forest; I’m working on that. I like Pamela.”
He seems relaxed and at ease with his career at this point, yet his output shows little sign of slowing. “I’m coming to the point where I want to have a good time. When you’re a young actor you would like to make three films at the same time because you think you’ll miss something.” If all the projects he’s told me about come off, he might just be back to the days of making three films at the same time. Oh, and it turns out Max von Sydow (the horse, not the actor) is made of plastic, he is life-size though. “I have no time to take care of real horses.”
Iron Sky: The Dictator’s Cut on limited edition, special steelbook embossed format, is available to buy today and can be ordered on Amazon.