Last week, S. Craig Zahler’s Brawl in Cell Block 99 celebrated its US premiere at the 2017 Fantastic Fest, and it also enjoyed its Los Angeles debut yesterday evening at the 2017 Beyond Fest at the historic Egyptian Theatre. Daily Dead recently had the opportunity to speak with one of Cell Block 99’s co-stars, the legendary Udo Kier, who discussed what drew him into the project initially and his thoughts on collaborating with Zahler.
And because Kier has enjoyed a career that has now spanned over five decades (with well over 200 titles on his résumé), we also asked him about creating memorable characters and his involvement with Dario Argento’s Suspiria, which is enjoying new life amongst fans with Synapse Films' 4K restoration.
Congrats on the film, Mr. Kier. It's really fantastic. What was it in particular about this character, who doesn't even really have a definite name in this, where he resonated with you and you knew you wanted to be involved and work with Craig?
Udo Kier: Well, the director, Zahler, called me and said that he's making a new movie. I hadn't seen his Tomahawk movie, so I wanted to see the movie right away. I rented it and I liked it, and then the script came. We hadn't met because he was in New York, and I in Los Angeles. And then I read the script and I thought, "Oh my God, what a message of death to deliver a line like that." And then I talked to him about how he wanted me to deliver the lines, and I agreed, and then I went to Rhode Island to do the film. Then, I met Vince Vaughn, who I think, by the way, is amazing in the film. And I've never seen Don Johnson like that, either.
And that scene, I was a little bit, not scared, but I was anxious about it because it was such a brutal thing to say to another person. And I thought, "Okay, the only way of delivering this line is to remember that there’s the glass between us so he can do nothing bad to me [laughs].
And I wanted to do it very sweet and very slow so the audience who later on would see the movie can totally follow each movement of the little operation that I’m talking about. But I like Zahler, and he called me and said, "I am writing Puppet Master [The Littlest Reich] and I cannot direct it because I am directing another movie, so I want you to play the Puppet Master." So I did fly out to Dallas, and I was Mr. Toulon, the Puppet Master. And then he called me again and said, "I'm doing a film [Dragged Across Concrete] with Vince and Mel Gibson and I want you to be in the movie." So I just fly to Vancouver, and I was in the movie. So we have now worked together three times.
I have many films coming out, too. I did the new film with Gus Van Sant, Don’t Worry, He Won't Get Far by Foot with Joaquin Phoenix, who is sensational in the movie. Then, we’ve got the premiere in Los Angeles of Brawl in Cell Block 99, and two days later is the Cinematheque reunion of Suspiria, and I'll be there with Dario Argento, too. And in between, I live in Palm Springs in a former library built by a famous architect, and I have a very big property with a lot of trees. So when I'm not working, I'm a gardener, and I work with the earth without gloves because I want to feel the earth. And I rescue dogs, too. That's what I'm doing when I'm not making movies.
You’ve had so many memorable roles throughout your career, and I'm curious, when you come in to play a role like this, where, say, you don't get a ton of screen time, but yet you still have to make that huge dramatic impact with that character, is there an approach that you use as an actor to make these characters stand out? That way, even if we only see them for a few minutes, they continue to stick with audiences long after.
Udo Kier: Yes, but the thing is, for example, I have worked for 25 years with Lars von Trier, and there was a moment in Melancholia, where in the room was Charlotte Rampling, Kirsten Dunst, Kiefer Sutherland, and John Hurt, where they all want to have big ears, they all wanted to hear what I wanted to say. And I said, "Give me a moment." And I said, "I would put my left hand in front of my left eye on the side of my face." He said, "Okay, do that." So when the film came out, people wrote about my hand movement.
So it is not important how big the role is; it's important that something unexpected happens. If you have only a few sentences, you have to find your own way of delivering. So I think that sometimes, there is the main role automatically concentrated on you, but if you play the friend of the main role, you will never be the main role, because the rule for cinema is that then you will be the friend. So, sometimes it's better to play something smaller, but where you can still leave an impact. When some people send me a script, I only read the script for my part. And then I know what it's all about. But I don't read anything else, just only my part. Eventually, I read the rest of the script, but my initial concern is always the character they want me to play and what I can do with it.
You mentioned Suspiria, and I'm really excited because I'm actually going to be at that screening next weekend, so I'm so excited to see that at the Egyptian. Are you surprised at all by the longevity that film has enjoyed, or did you recognize that Argento was doing something very unique and very special when you guys collaborated on it?
Udo Kier: No, I didn’t. I was in Munich and I was working on another project. I heard from our director that Dario Argento was about to make a movie about some things in Germany, and I liked the name because Argento means silver. So Mr. Silver was in town and he wanted to meet me, and I went to the hotel and he said, "There is not really a role for you, because it's all women, but there is one role, and if you want, you can play it." And I said, "Okay."
And then I played the role, and later on I realized that I play in the whole film, and I did not know anything. I just didn't know how it would work out, and then, when I heard about it and saw it, I enjoyed it. I made another film with him in Italy called Mother of Tears with Asia Argento as the lead, but I prefer Suspiria because a lot of directors, when they do their first films, they have all the energy because they want to be there. They have the energy to do something special. And he did.
In case you missed it, check here to read more of our Fantastic Fest 2017 reviews and interviews, and stay tuned to Daily Dead for more of our coverage of the festival.