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Fantastic Fest: Udo Kier Teaches Us How to Properly Scream

In Brawl in Cell Block 99, Udo Kier prides himself on being the turning point for madness.
By  · Published on October 4th, 2017

In Brawl in Cell Block 99, Udo Kier prides himself on being the turning point for madness.

Udo Kier is an impossible force to ignore. Your relationship with whatever film you’re experiencing changes when he steps into frame.  “Huh, I thought I was watching the latest Matt Damon dramedy, but it turns out this is an Udo movie!” He is one of the few actors on the planet that can completely redefine a narrative by his mere presence. When Udo pops up in Brawl in Cell Block 99 the film plummets into a level of hell impossible to predict. The man has worked with everyone, and he has retained several lifetimes worth of stories in a single stretch. Sitting down with him at Fantastic Fest was an unravelling delight of legendary yarn telling. Udo held court over the conversation with one little prompt sending him into a flurry of monologuing. You don’t steer Udo, Udo steers you.

I saw the film this morning. I really, really enjoyed it. 

Udo Kier:  And they showed it this morning?

Oh yeah. They had a little tiny press screening, but even amongst that press screening, there was a lot of gasps and outcries as the film progressed. But you have a tiny window in the movie to make an impression. 

Yeah. But a very important window because I’m telling him the story, what does he have to do, if he doesn’t, what we’re going to do. So I think it’s … Because when you say window it’s because it’s actually a window I’m sitting in front of, a window in jail. And I saw the movie and I wouldn’t rushes or dailies, or whatever you call that? Because I never like to see myself on screen; I always think I could’ve done better. And I saw the film, it was very successful in Toronto.  In Toronto, they did something amazing. It was for the midnight show and they programmed the film so at exactly at midnight I’m coming on screen. So they had to tell the people it’s not starting. At midnight then they introduced me. And I liked the movie.

I think it’s very strong, but somebody from the journalists said, “Do you see it as a horror film?” I don’t see it as a horror film at all because it could happen. I see a lot of documentary on television about jail because I’m fascinated by it. To see what people are able to do to survive and when you’re in jail like he is in Cell Block 99, where everybody never gets out.  You can kill, but they put you in a private cell for weeks and they let you out. They tell you if you do that again … It’s interesting how this film of Zahler brings it out, that you are able to do a lot of things if you are in this kind of situation.

And then comes me on the film and he loves his wife, and he wants to have the baby, and he wants to get out and have a new life, and now I’m coming and telling him, I’m not saying that because people should see it themselves, but I’m saying … I’m coming with the most horrible thing. When I saw Zahler yesterday, he took me out there yesterday to have some meat somewhere.

It’s Austin, you’ve got to have some meat. 

Meat in the garden, barbecue and special water. So he told me that when he wrote it, it was no doubt that he wanted me to play that part. He never had anybody else in mind. Even he didn’t tell me, didn’t ask me if I would and when I read it, I said, “Wow. Wow.” Even now, when I talk my hair gets up because it’s such a brutal text. But I don’t do it! I just tell, I’m a messenger of death.

You’re also the first true threat in the film. All the other threats before you are something that he can deal with. 

Yeah, but not with mine. Especially, I mean, if there wouldn’t be a glass wall between us, maybe he would put his head through and try to get to my throat and kill me, but he can’t. And I know that. And that’s why I show him the picture with my phone. And I like the whole thing, the presentation.  There is “Doctor, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah.” He wants to talk to you about your wife and then I’m sitting there saying, “Hello.” I’ve worked with Zahler already. He wrote Puppet Master and I played Mister Toulon, in Texas, in Dallas. I mean, I’m just there at the opening and then I become this skeleton of course.

And then he called me, he said I’m doing a film with Mel Gibson, I wrote a part for you in there. So I did this already. So it’s already Zahler number three. And I like to work. All my life, I did it with Fassbinder, I did it with Lars Von Trier 11 films. I like to work with the same directors because they know you. They know what you’re able to do, they know you. Because you know each other so you say you do it like that, do it like that, and they know that you’re capable of doing it.

Well, it’s kind of like that for the audience too, though. When you come on screen, you’re bringing a lot of genre with you, a lot of previous works and so we have a thrill and an anticipation when you appear. 

And this is good!

Here, you’re the placid man, you’re reserved, but you do a lot of hand-work. You do the clips of the limbs (motioning snip, snip with my fingers). Even the way you are so mannered in the car at the end is menacing, but there’s also a sense of humor to it. 

Yeah, but that’s what I like about Christoph Waltz because we became friends now. We both have the same agent for years, but we never met and in Downsizing we worked together for months. That’s what I like about his performance that I must admit and it’s the truth, when I saw Inglorious Bastards I was jealous. Because I would have played it in the same direction, different, but the same kind of direction. There’s two ways you can scream, especially if you’re German and scream, “I kill you!” But you can also clean your fingernails and say (whispering), “You know, when I’m done I’m going to kill you.” And that’s much more evil because you have to do it. You have … It’s the same with me. I have to

In the Zahler film, I have to deliver him the message from my boss. But you know, The Abortionist (mimes snipping fetal limbs). And so that’s, I like to … I hope I work again with him and maybe something longer on screen, but that direction because I think also that’s what he likes about me, to go in that direction.

He lets you do the work, right? 

Yeah, but also … Well, you know, I have to offer to him and he corrects me. That’s what a good director does. From what I saw, I see Variety or the Hollywood Reporter, they wrote the film is so strong and when Mr. Kier comes on screen the film becomes insane. That’s a great compliment. To be able in a small – there’s no small role, but in a short screen time to deliver that … Trade paper write you a film because you make the film insane, that’s a good compliment. Friends of mine say, “Well, that’s odd.” And I say, “No. You don’t understand. It’s a compliment, if they say …” If you’re able to do that, that’s you know, very important.

Sure. You’re the switch in the movie. You’re definitely- 

That’s why they showed it in Toronto exactly at midnight.

I’m seeing it again tonight and I’m really excited to watch it with a real, proper crowd. 

Yeah, me too because I know the cinema. I came here many years ago, I forgot when, but I think it was either for Dracula, or for Frankenstein, they invited me and it was a discussion in the cinema with peers. It’s very different. I like what I remember, and what I read about it, I like festivals like this. I don’t like when it’s kind of early because it’s market at 350 films. I mean, who can see 300 films? You cannot even see 100. You know, that’s why when I do accept to be in a jury, I always say okay, not more than two films a day. I can’t because I want to remember them and not writing down everything then … Anyway… I wait also for tonight. I like to see the reaction. How people will react to me because it’s important.

Oh you’re going to get some hoots and hollers for sure. When you come into that window. And then, the ending too. 

The ending is the one where they’ll scream. I mean, in Toronto they did. But finally we have the premier next week. And I have this and two days later I have 40 years anniversary of Susperia.

The new restoration! 

Yes! And I want to see the new restoration. I got an award already in the others. I was just here last year. I went to convention to sign autographs and then we had a discussion, Dario, Stefania Casini, and then all of sudden they all brought an award. 40 years of Susperia. Yeah.

And that film still plays- 

I don’t want to see the new one.

I mean, that’s so much about the time of it, and Argento. It’s just- 

Well, it was one of his strongest films.

Oh, absolutely. 

I made another one, which wasn’t that strong, the Third Mother with Asia Argento. I play a monk, but it was okay, but it was no Susperia. You see a lot of directors like Fassbinder, a lot of them on their first film, or let’s say that beginning of their career, they have so much energy and they put that all in the film. Then when they make 20 films, it becomes kind of, I’m mean they’re … I’m very lucky to say that I worked with a lot of directors who cannot make a bad film. Like when Wim Wenders, they cannot make a bad film. They can make a film people don’t like, or it’s the wrong moment. Like the film with Matthew McConaughey the people did not like, but it was not a bad film.  It was just maybe the wrong moment. You know, it’s the same with Lars Von Trier. Lars sabotaged himself with his speech but they’re…

I mean, if you are director like Lars Von Trier who is able to get actors on a table like Lauren Bacall, Ben Gazzara, James Caan, Nicole Kidman, Chloe Sevigny, Stellan Skarsgard, Udo Kier, all in the self-service situation in the same room, the same trailer, no money, then you must have something that everybody accepts.

Well, there’s a conversation to be had with all of his films. 



No because the thing is with Lars, the thing is – which I like, that even if people like Nicole Kidman who came with her own airplane form Tom Cruise, but deep inside even people who make commercial films, they are all want to make good films and art films with good directors, with good partners. They all want to do that. Some people do it all their lives. I like also to do commercial films like Blade or Ace Ventura because that makes my name stronger, then to be able to do a low budget film, you know.

Brawl in Cell Block 99 is in theaters October 6, with a VOD and Digital release (and theatrical expansion) set for October 13, 2017.

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Brad Gullickson is a Weekly Columnist for Film School Rejects and Senior Curator for One Perfect Shot. When not rambling about movies here, he's rambling about comics as the co-host of Comic Book Couples Counseling. Hunt him down on Twitter: @MouthDork. (He/Him)