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Arts & Culture

German Actor Udo Kier Not Looking For 'Evil' Parts, But Found One In 'The Painted Bird'

IFC Films
Udo Kier in "The Painted Bird."

Prolific German actor Udo Kier’s icy, blue eyes have been a fixture of his distinct look over his nearly 55-year career, but if you can avoid becoming transfixed, you’ll likely find an equally cold onscreen character behind them.

From his portrayal of cinematic horror icon Count Dracula in 1974’s Blood for Dracula to his role as a deformed newborn in Lars von Trier’s ’90s miniseries The Kingdom, Kier, when called upon, always delivers the kind of performances that can make your skin crawl – even if it’s with one ominous glare.

In his newest film, The Painted Bird, which is based on author Jerzy Kosiński's controversial 1965 novel of the same name, Kier doesn’t disappoint. He plays an unnamed miller who takes in an orphaned Jewish boy at the end of WWII. The boy’s stay is short, however, when the miller does something horrific to one of his workers after catching him leering at his wife.

Kier’s role is part of a 15-minute segment in The Painted Bird, which runs a total of two hours and 49 minutes. But don’t call his role a small one.

“There is no small role, only small actors,” Kier said during an online interview. “[My role] is not a main role, but it is a very important role. There are roles which are big, but not important. There are roles where somebody comes for a couple of moments, and people say, ‘My God, that was evil.’”

The malicious nature of some of his characters, like the miller, are sometimes part of a larger and even more disturbing picture. The Painted Bird is no different. During its premiere at the 2019 Venice Film Festival, The Guardian newspaper reported at least a dozen moviegoers walked out of the screening, presumably because of the ultra-violent and sexually deviant scenes.

That said, Kier has never accepted a role in a film just to “shock" people.

“I’m making movies that I have an interesting part, which people do not forget,” he said. “Otherwise, why should I be in a movie if they forget it? I’m not looking for special, evil parts.”

The Painted Bird is available on VOD/Digital platforms, including iTunes and YouTube Movies, and at limited theaters July 17, including the Santikos Embassy.

Kiko Martinez is a film journalist and critic based in San Antonio, Texas.