News from the Locarno Festival

Focus on Udo Kier – Interview with the Vampire

Udo Kier, Concorso internazionale jury Member



Udo Kier, in your impressive career – more than 200 performances! – you have crossed  the boundaries of genres and countries, following a journey that has led you to Locarno several times. What is your relationship with the Festival?

It's my third time here: in 2004 I was in a jury like today, but the first visit was in 1981, when I was here for Gábor Bódy's Narcisz és Psyché which was also awarded. I remember that year very well: I was fascinated by Zulawski, who was presenting Possession. One evening, then, I was in a restaurant close to the Piazza Grande screen with Patricia Highsmith, Douglas Sirk and his wife, Paul Morrissey and Elisabeth Kreuzer, who played in the early films of Wenders. There are moments in which the eye becomes a camera. I remember every movement of Patricia Highsmith, who was intensely smoking a gauloise.

You made Morrissey's name. How did you get to work with him?

I was on a plane, the man next to me started talking with me and asked what I was doing. When I said I was an actor, he said “interesting” and asked for my phone number which he wrote onto the last page of his passport. After a few months he called me: “I make a movie about Frankenstein in Cinecittà and I have a small role for you.” I said, “Well, who am I?” He said: “Frankenstein”. After the last shot I was sitting in the cafeteria, surrounded by the actors of Fellini who was shooting the studio next door. Morrissey came and said: "Well, in our next movie we’ll have a German Dracula. You. But you have to lose 5 pounds in a week”. After a week of only salad and water I started performing Dracula.

You then played several roles for many great directors.

I met Fassbinder in a Cologne club when I was 16, he was 15 and a half years old. We only met again when I was already an actor and we did several movies together: Die Dritte Generation, where Hanna Schygulla is my wife, Berlin Alexanderplatz, Lola... Another time, in Berlin, a young man came to me and told me: “My name is Gus Van Sant. I'm making a movie with two teenager idols, Keanu Reeves and River Phoenix, and I have a role for you.” It was my first movie in America: My Private Idaho.

And what about your friendship with Lars von Trier?

A short movie I shot as director, The Last Trip to Harrisburg, was screened at the Mannheim Film Festival 1984. There I saw Lars von Trier's first long feature, The Element of Crime. I was so impressed  and asked to meet him. I expected a gloomy man dressed in black, but met this young guy. He called me a few months later: “I make a film based on Dreyer's script Medea, and I wish you were Jason. But please: do not wash your hair and do not shave for a month, because I have to sell you to the producers as king of the Vikings, and now you are not looking too much like him.” After a month, instead... Since then I have been working with him. I am his first daughter's godfather.

You have very often played the villain: is this your favourite role?

I am not asking this! In private life I love cooking, gardening, I adopt stray dogs… People want me bad. They often come to me and with delight in their voices they tell me: “You're so eeevil”. But, of course, there is one thing I love about villains: they have no limits.

Sara Groisman

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