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Udo Kier has starred in a broad range of roles, including an erotic 1975 film he says is much better than Fifty Shades of Grey.Amy Graves

'I have no time for real horses, so I have a plastic horse. Large size. Called Max Von Sydow. For photographs it looks real. If I do a photo shoot and it stands in the background, you think it's a horse. A horse is a horse." Udo Kier sat at a dining room table in the palatial Grandhotel Pupp.

This was in early July, at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in the mountains of the Czech Republic, where the prolific character actor had flown in to introduce a pair of his latest films. His people had granted me an invaluable 15 minutes one on one – and I had already squandered 12, it seemed, by leading with a pleasantry about Kier's much-discussed Palm Springs home.

"Okay, a chardonnay!" Kier said as a waiter presented a glass. "Good. Yes. Nice and cold." This being Udo Kier, of course, it sounded more like, "Ohh-kaaaaay, a chardonnaaaaay, goodyesniceandcold." Kier has the sort of voice that even at its most affectless sounds dramatic: His every remark has the force of a sermon or soliloquy. I could listen to him hold forth on the merits of his estate all afternoon. But I didn't have all afternoon. I had two minutes.

"I've just seen the film," I interjected, hoping to direct at least a quote or two toward the interview's ostensible subject, Guy Maddin's The Forbidden Room, which will be playing the Toronto International Film Festival next week. "You're great in it."

"I haven't seen it," Kier said as flatly as he gets. Well then. But sensing my disappointment he continued: "You know the original was a totally different concept. It was planned to do 100 short films. That was the basic idea." Now we were getting somewhere. A bit more on this line and … a publicist approached the table with the look of strained apology common to all interview endings. My time had plainly come. Kier seemed confused.

"What? What?" he demanded.

"I have a big request on you," the publicist said in a heavy accent. "I have just received a call from the producer of the Zero. They have a Q&A after the screening right now at the cinema, two minutes by car." Zero is the second of Kier's two films at the festival, a Hungarian science-fiction curio about bees in which the actor, according to IMDb, plays "the lord of the world."

Kier nodded in my direction. "Well, he has to come with me." The publicist looked at me as if sizing up a mess she'd been asked to clean. "You can definitely come," she said, sounding anything but definite. "You can do the interview in the car, then after the Q&A you can continue." "Q&A!" Kier sneered. He put on a girlish, mocking whine: "'Oh, Mr. Kier, why did you make a film about bees?' Because the bees are dying, and if they are dying, we are dying!"

Then, as though segues were reserved only for lesser conversationalists, he leapt back to Maddin. "I met Guy four years ago when he asked me to narrate Brand Upon the Brain. I said I'd never done anything like that. But then they were very clever, they said Tom Waits did it, Geraldine Chaplin and Isabella Rossellini are doing it. I said, 'Well, if they can do it, I can do it.'"

"I saw you narrate one of Guy's films live in Ottawa a couple of years ago," I said, as we gathered our things to leave the hotel for the car.

"I like the Parliament because it looks like Dracula's castle." Kier is the kind of man who likes to hold your elbow firmly as you walk together, as though he were guiding you. And on our way out, practically arm in arm, we nearly collided with a four-year-old girl milling about with a doll in the lobby.

"Hello, there!" Kier beamed at her.

"Hi," the girl returned bashfully.

As we passed, he sighed. "I came here on Tuesday totally jet-lagged," he explained. "Of course it's also Karlovy Vary – such a party town." Indeed it is. Over the next several nights I would encounter Kier at any number of galas and soirees, parties and after-parties, champagne flute in hand and an amusing word for everyone.

We flinched under the midday sun and stepped into the hired BMW – me first, at Kier's insistence. "I like your socks!" Kier said as we sat. "Matching your jacket." Naturally this occasioned a discussion of men's wear. Kier is rightly proud of his ensemble: navy suit by Helmut Lang, crisp sky-blue shirt by Hugo Boss.

As we pulled out from the Pupp parking lot, dozens of locals stood poised at crowd-control barriers, cameras drawn and ready, peering into every passing car.

"Why are these people here?" Kier asked. "Who is coming?" It was Jamie Dornan, still in the fame stratosphere after Fifty Shades of Grey. "Ah, he is a very good-looking man, I saw the picture," Kier nods. "But I made a much better erotic film than he did. My film was called The Story of O. 1975. It was much more erotic: It was forbidden in England, it was forbidden in Switzerland. People took trains from London to Paris just to see it. In Fifty Shades you have to wait so long before just a little sex toy is going to be played with."

The Story of O remains, as Kier put it, an institution. Nor is it the only film of Kier's to have secured a place in the canon. Still, the man is skeptical of praise. "I hate when they say, 'Oh, your movie is so greaaaat!' Everybody is lying to you. That's the American way."

I pointed out Kier has been in a number of excellent films – truthfully.

"The Internet tells me I made 220 films. A hundred are bad. Fifty okay. Fifty are good. And before you die and lie on your death bed and say, 'I made 50 good movies' – that's great! Normally people can only say they made one or two: 'I worked with Hitchcock!' But I can say, 'I worked with Wim Wenders, with Gus Van Sant, with Herzog, with Fassbinder.'" He paused reflectively. "I worked with Guy Maddin!"

The car stopped in what seemed to be the middle of the street. The publicist bolted out the door. "Now we go out?" Kier asked. "We are here! Thank you driver. Ahoy ahoy!" And with that goodbye we marched off again, this time into the theater.

Before meeting with Kier, I had heard that he'd spent the previous night enjoying some beer with George A. Romero – a director, it occurred to me with some surprise, Kier had never worked with before. I asked him about the meeting.

"We met one time before," Kier reflected. "I went to a convention and I said I'm coming only to the convention because I read that George Romero was going to be there and I have dinner with him otherwise I'm not coming. They say, 'Okay we can do that Mr. Kier.' So I went there and I saw George Romero signing autographs. Romero had a long line. It was a horror convention." "Of course," I said, as he led me by the arm up a flight of theater stairs toward the relevant auditorium.

"I went to the organization and said, 'Tell over microphone that I sign autographs for free.' So the whole line from Romero switched to me. The manager said to me, 'You know, Mr. Kier, you can make money on this!' But I said, 'No, they're my fans! I can't charge them!' " He smiled. "Now of course I charge." We reached the top of the seemingly endless stairs – only to find the producers of the film and a closed set of double doors.

"Is the film over yet?" he asked. It was not. "Then why am I running?" The producers apologized and then asked if Kier would mind taking a few photographs for the press. He agreed with one caveat: "No selfies." When the photographers were finished Kier and I walked arm-in-arm to a remote hallway for some quiet.

"So why no selfies?" I asked as we sat together on a pair of chairs in a silent corner.

"Because people come and you don't know them and they coming so close to you! They're pointing their phones at you!" Kier put his arm around me and mimed a snapshot. "Oh blah blah blah!" Kier blathered, pretending to be a manic fan.

"I got the life achievement award in Berlin this year," Kier said, suddenly grave. "And I was sitting at the end ceremony in Berlin with Wim Wenders and all of a sudden I saw all these sticks coming up. And I said to Wim Wenders, 'What is this?' He says, 'Selfie sticks!' I said, 'What do you mean stick?' He says, 'Yeah you put the camera on there.' Wow."

"They've started banning them a lot of places. They banned them at Cannes this year. No selfies on the red carpet."

"When I go on the red carpet I forbid it. This selfie business is not for me."

There is something irresistibly funny about hearing Kier address such trivial crises, but this was a serious interview. So on to more serious things: Kier was 70 years old. Was there anything he hadn't done that he wished he could do?

He pondered the question. Then he lit up. "I would like to be able to see myself," he said. I didn't quite understand: He aspired toward self-knowledge? Yearned to truly understand his essence?

No. "You cannot see yourself," Kier clarified. "Where? In a mirror? It's just a reflection." "You mean you want to literally see yourself?" "Yeah! That's what I would like. My dream would be, which will never be happen unless maybe when I die and I float away my soul, is to see myself. I would like to be in a studio standing in the shade and see myself what I do. Maybe I'll find myself horrible. Be like, Oh, gah, how boring. But dreams are there not to be fulfilled."

Someone from the theater approached and informed us that it was time for the Q&A. As we made our way to back to theater we saw that the doors were open and much of the crowd was streaming out. "Why are they leaving?" Kier asked me beseechingly. Perhaps he ought to stop them, I suggested jokingly. But you don't joke about a thing like that with Udo Kier. He grabbed a man by the arm as he was moving toward the exit. "Hey! Back in there! Go back in!" The man kept walking. Kier, undeterred, grabbed another: "You're leaving? You're leaving? You didn't like the movie?" "I did!" the second man insisted, a bit flustered.

After accosting a few others, Kier was ready to make his entrance on stage. I haven't seen Zero and have no idea how Kier is in it. But the Q&A itself was a virtuoso performance: "You have any question?" he inquired by mic. "Don't be shy. I'm talking all day. Who has the question?" And for the next 20 minutes, Kier proceeded to squeeze queries from an audience that would have clearly preferred to remain silent. Between praising honey-drizzled sex ("Honey sex is good! It's very sweet") and intoning strange non sequiturs ("I need the blood of a virgin!"), he even managed to pose a question of his own – to some poor fellow in the crowd.

"I have a question for you, sir, in the red shirt," Kier said. "Why don't you like the movie? I feel your vibration, the way you don't like it. Tell me please why."

After the talk, Kier joined me in the hall and we walked together back to the car. "That was fun," I said, bemused. "You have to make it light," Kier said. "You don't have to be too intellectual, making people crazy. It was good, no?" It was. But I'm not sure the audience agreed.

"I think people don't know how to respond to you," I said. "Or maybe they're just used to boring Q&As."

"But it's my time! I want to have fun. I want to be where the people are happy. Ahoy ahoy!" As we drove back to the hotel we mostly laughed about things we saw out the window: Thai massage parlors, tiki bars, men in bear costumes. Kier was a laugh riot. "When did you realize you were funny?" I asked, not even certain to what degree he did.

"I don't consider myself funny," he replied. "But what can you do? I did a film with Jim Carrey, Ace Ventura Pet Detective. I played it very straight, as a billionaire. At the end the director said to me, 'Udo, you are the only actor Jim could not get through. Because you were the only person not trying to get on his level to be funny. You were just you.'"

Udo is always just Udo. How else could a man of that scale be? This isn't merely confidence or resolve. It's integrity. I thought about that as our car rolled back in to Hotel Pupp and Kier and I walked by the celebrity onlookers together, arm in arm once more. Before we parted I couldn't resist a photo of my own. But I knew to ask someone else to take it. That was the least I could do for the man: no selfies.

The Forbidden Room plays TIFF Sept. 16 and Sept. 18.

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