He’s starred in almost 150 movies, featuring opposite Nicole Kidman, John Hurt, Willem Dafoe, John Malkovich, Bruce Willis, Billy Bob Thornton, Keanu Reeves, Jim Carrey and Uma Thurman.
The list of glittering co-stars goes on. Yet Udo Kier doesn’t even care that, at 73, he’s still not a household name. In fact, he prefers it that way.
“I have never ever asked a director to work with them. But somehow they all find me,” he purrs in that familiar silky feline European accent, part pussycat, part wolf.
Welcome to the Udo Kier show.
“I’ve never been to acting school in my life. I created my own style. I was lucky to work with amazing actors and I watched them.
It’s a technique you can learn, but you cannot learn talent. You either have it or you don’t,” he announced when STACK caught up with him at the International Film Festival of Macau, where he was honoured with a Career Achievement Award.
Kier’s life has been filled with drama from the moment he was born in Germany in 1944 toward the end of WWII – the hospital bombed moments after his birth.
Beloved by cult directors Lars von Trier, Gus Van Sant and Dario Argento, he won an early starring role in Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein (AKA Flesh for Frankenstein) in 1973, leading to a string of indie and big budget vampire-themed films including Blade, Shadow of the Vampire and Dracula 3000.
Flesh for Frankenstein (1973)
The way Kier sees it, his career has been a happy intersection of luck and gift.
“My most memorable films are always the ones which changed something in my life. For me it was Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein because I was able to move to an artistic level…”
His every film adventure comes embellished with wondrous tales. Like the time Alexander Payne invited him to lunch while visiting Palm Springs with his wife.
“He looked at me and asked, ‘All these directors want to work with you. What makes you so special?’ I said: nothing, you get what you see,” says a dismissive Kier, who would go on to star with Matt Damon and Christoph Waltz in Payne’s Downsizing.
“I call those actors ‘trailer stars’ because they care more about how big their trailer is and if the trailer is too cold or too hot, and you think, ‘Wow they must be a great actor‘ and then you go work with them and nothing comes, and I move my eyes to heaven,” he says, those big blue eyes filled with mischief.
“But the good thing is when you work with Lars von Trier or other young directors. In Dogville with Nicole Kidman and Lauren Bacall, they must all eat the same food, self-service, stay in a little town and all have the same rooms, the same cars – that’s always much more fun.”
Kier’s veteran status allows him a wider overview. “I have more fun because it’s easier for me now. When you are a young actor, you want to work with everybody. But now I don’t care.”