A Strange And Amazing Conversation With 'Brawl In Cell Block 99' Star Udo Kier [Interview]

Udo Kier is one of the most interesting screen personalities working today. To call him a character actor is somewhat small-minded. The man is a force of personality, so incredibly comfortable with himself that nothing is ever off limits. That makes him dangerous on screen because anything can happen.

From his early days working with Andy Warhol and Paul Morrissey in artfully absurd takes on the famous Universal Monsters to his current work, usually playing creepy European dudes, Kier always elevates everything he's in, be it the latest Alexander Payne movie (Downsizing) or direct-to-video sleaze like the Iron Sky films.

In S. Craig Zahler's Brawl in Cell Block 99 Kier plays a character known only as "The Placid Man," a servant for the big bad guy of the story who calmly lays out some terrible options for Vince Vaughn's rage-filled criminal at the heart of the story. We spoke to him following the film's premiere at Fantastic Fest and as you'd expect, chatting with him was an amazing, sometimes surreal experience.

If I had any doubt that Kier's bizarre personality on the screen was all an act, that disappeared as I waited in the hallway of the Marriott Hotel for my interview. Kier came out after every interview before me and casually talked up anybody who was around, whether it was journalists waiting for their chat time, the publicists organizing everything, or a confused hotel guest just trying to get to the pool. He'd flitter from weird topic to weird topic before dipping back into his interview room for another round of Q&A.

I think it was when he announced to the hallway that he had to take a break to call his dog, which is something he does multiple times a day when he is on the road, that I knew the interview was going to be...interesting.

Kier's personality was on full blast. I'd ask one question and he'll spin off in a dozen directions before coming back to it. I personally love that and think it makes for a way more interesting read than an actor simply churning out variations of the same answer all day long.

We talk quite a bit about his thoughts on the original Suspiria, his rather strong opinion on the pending remake, his impressive list of credits, working with director S. Craig Zahler and his upcoming work.


I woke up early for an 8am press screening of Brawl in Cell Block 99 at the Alamo Drafthouse. You know the movie works when you can hook an early morning press screening audience in the middle of a film festival. 

Is the Alamo where I went years ago when they showed (Flesh for) Frankenstein or (Blood for) Dracula, one of those?

I think it was both of them, a double feature. I was actually there for that.

How old were you? You must have been a boy!

I was 18 or 19, I think.

Oh, wow. I was there. I remember because there was this one girl who came with a bottle of vodka on the stage and we were drinking vodka and talking. Okay, let's go!

[Laughs] You ready to start talking about Brawl in Cell Block 99?

I am always ready. The problem is after four interviews I don't know what I have said already.

I will try not to ask the same questions over and over again, but I do want to start by asking you about Suspiria. Are you surprised that the movie is still as well-regarded as it is? Did you know at the time you were making something that was going to stick around for a bit?

I think it is one of the best films [Argento] ever did. I did another film with him and Asia Argento, The Third Mother, which wasn't that strong. I get killed in that one. Dario killed me himself.

Yeah, he's always the hands of the killer.

Yes. I think Suspiria was so honest in a way. The actors are great. Jessica Harper just came from The Phantom of the Paradise. I think Dario is very special. I was not involved in his Dracula, but I heard mixed things.

I didn't like it very much.

I have not seen it, so I can not talk about it, but I know people who said it wasn't strong. He should do his own stories anyway, not a vampire movie.

What do you think about them remaking Suspiria

I haven't seen [the script]. I would not play in it because I had once almost made that mistake. When Stephen King wrote The Kingdom, from Lars von Trier, they called me to play the baby and the devil, like in the original. I, of course, called Lars and Lars was very mad at me. He said, "Are you joking?!? You were in the original! You want to be in the copy?" I said, "Oh, I didn't see it that way, but you're right." So, I didn't do it. It came and it was gone. In the original Kingdom I was born on screen. Which actor can say they were born [on screen]? My head came out of the wound and I was screaming. So, no. Even if they had offered for me to be in the remake of Suspiria I would not have done it.

I don't mind remakes, but I do like it when they go their own way so you don't have to directly compare it to the original.

Yeah, but why do people always make remakes of films that are successful? Why don't they do a remake of a film that had a great story, but it didn't work? You make it work. How can you make a remake of Gloria? How can you make a remake of M? How can you make a remake of Sunset Boulevard? My favorite film is Sunset Boulevard. It's amazing and [Gloria Swanson]'s performance on the staircase? If you do it, whoever is the actress will be making a copy of the original.

When Menahem Golan was still alive they offered me to do a remake of M. I had seen the original Peter Lorre movie 25 times. I did it, but it was not called M because they didn't get the rights. It was called Children of Wax and, of course, I killed the children. It took place in Berlin and a little boy was in front of a toy store looking at an electric train and I say–

[Kier adopts an evil, low key temptation voice]

"Do you like electric trains?" "Yeah!" "Do you want me to buy you one?" "Why would you do that?" "Because I like children..." Then I kill him and I make wax figures out of all the people I've killed.

Anyway, why always remake good things? I made a television show called Old Money. It was very successful, but very Viennese. It showed at a festival and America bought it to do the same story with American actors. Why don't they just dub the film? I can dub myself in English.

That used to be a much bigger thing in the '60s and '70s. Now they only really do that with animation, like all the Studio Ghibli stuff. You have a very recognizable voice, too. I'm sure you'd be great at that.

I'm now the new villain of Call of Duty, which comes out the 2nd of November. I'll tell you what I'm going to do. I'm going now to Spain with the film (Brawl in Cell Block 99). I will get a lifetime achievement award in Spain in two weeks. From there I fly to Santa Domingo, if nothing has happened with the hurricane, and I will be starring with Geraldine Chaplin in a film. Then I fly to New York to do a film with Jeff Goldblum then I fly to China to do Iron Sky 3...

So, you're keeping busy is what you're saying.

Well, nobody forced me! It's all interesting. I did a Gus Van Sant film in Phoenix... they're all interesting stories. Normally, I like my privacy in the high desert. I have a barn, I have a ranch and I work in the garden. I plant trees. I don't wear gloves when I work in the garden. I rescue dogs. That's my world, but when I get good stories, like Brawl, or with Mel Gibson now, then I fly to Canada for a couple of days and do that.

I get people wanting to work with me and I say no. I'm not saying yes to everything. People say to me "on the internet it says you made 250 films!" I say, "Yes, but 150 are bad, 50 you can see with a couple of drinks and 50 are good." If you can say you made 50 good films that's a lot. I made 11 with Lars von Trier alone!

So, what was it about Brawl in Cell Block 99 in particular that made you decide it was going to be one of the good ones?

I never think that. You can't. I made films, like Shadow of the Vampire, and I did not like the work I did on it and then Willem Dafoe was nominated for the Oscar. I made films like The Adventures of Pinocchio with Martin Landau. I thought I would get nominated and it flopped. You never know. If there was rule then everybody would only ever produce, direct and act in good films, but there isn't.

What I liked about the film when [director S. Craig Zahler] offered me the role... I saw his first film, Bone Tomahawk, and I liked the details and the brutality. When I read [Brawl] I thought "Oh, I'm really the messenger of death." I'm secure. It's not me doing it. I'm just telling him what my boss is going to do and I'm safe because I talk to him through a glass wall.

What I particularly liked about your part is that you get to be the face of the threat. You are delivering messages on behalf of your boss, but we don't see him much. You get to be that visage.

That's a nice way to say it. In Toronto at the festival they did something special. They programmed the movie and at midnight exactly I am on screen. They had it exactly timed. I like it. Variety writes that the film is very realistic and when Udo Kier comes on screen the film becomes insane. My friends said "That's horrible!" I said, "No! It's a compliment."

When [Zahler] called me and said "I'm writing Puppet Master and I want that you play Mr. Toulon," I did. He didn't direct it, unfortunately, but he found directors from Sweden (Sonny Laguna and Tommy Wiklund) and then he called me and said I'm doing a film with Vince Vaughn and Mel Gibson (the upcoming Dragged Across Concrete) and I wrote a part for you.

I like Brawl in Cell Block 99. I think Vince Vaughn is incredible and I've never seen Don Johnson like that. It is very realistic. Some people say it is a horror film. It is not a horror film at all. It is very realistic. If people are in cell block 99 they never get out for the rest of their lives, so they can do what they want. They can kill people, they can beat people up. I think it's very, very well done and not because I'm in it. It's 130 minutes, but it doesn't become boring. Sometimes you feel in movies they could cut 10 minutes out.

To Variety's point, you have a big part in that. The second you show up with the threat the movie accelerates and doesn't slow down until the end.

Because I have a very strong message I'm telling. The way I was talking to Zahler about it was that I wanted to deliver it like "I'm sorry... I don't want to say this, but I have to because I get paid for it." Two more questions.

The next film you're doing with Craig Zahler is called Dragged Across Concrete, right?


Have you already shot it?

Yeah, I'm done.

Is your role in that similar to this film, where you get to be a little intimidating?

No. I own a shop. There was a possibility [I could play another character], but I chose a big scene with Mel Gibson and me alone. I'm not with gangsters or other people. He just comes to my shop because he asks me for a favor. He did me a favor [regarding] my son and now he asks for a favor in return.


Brawl in Cell Block 99 bows theatrically and on VOD October 13, 2017. Even /Film's own Jacob Hall, who didn't like the film, thinks it is worth checking out.