When portraying a villain, Dieter Laser may be able to scare you to death but in real life he is the nicest person you can imagine. Having played more characters on stage and in front of the camera than you can count, he knows how to turn a simple interview into a show of its own kind – or did you ever hear of a „pussy schnitzel“ before? In our little conversation he talked about new and recent projects, the pros and cons of taboo breaking, how to get rid of annoying characters and what might have been the future of Dr Heiter and Bill Boss from „The Human Centipede“ films.
screen/read: After the massive success of „The Human Centipede“ you haven’t been on the big screen for a while but focused on working at the theatre instead. The more challenging it must have been to return for the final part of the trilogy where you are constantly at the centre of attention. How do you as an actor deal with such an extreme one-man-show?
Dieter Laser: That’s extremely dangerous of course. You only can cope with such a marathon by a meticulously careful preparation and utmost concentration in order to become able to play this part in an absolutely relaxed and fearless way. Then the whole thing is pure fun.
screen/read: Basically, the character of Bill Boss is a pretty gaudy cartoon character, rather to be found in underground comics than in movies. Nevertheless, there are also some quiet moments that allow a short glimpse at what he might hide deep inside. How did you proceed to develop this kind of balance whithout having the character fall apart?
Dieter Laser: To provide these tiny glimpses behind the mask of such a shrill comic strip figure you have to play it completely seriously and loaded with hidden, suppressed and covered emotions. That means under the ridiculous surface there is a permanent self talk going on, dealing with justifications, self-pity, injuries and fears, laboriously kept in check by the „character armor“. To create this inner dialog and to hide it carefully behind the cartoonish facade was goal and stimulation of my preparation.
screen/read: One can’t avoid recognizing that this character is of German origin and he even has a pretty weird past in his homecountry. For everyone who hasn’t seen the movie yet: Could you tell us a little bit about the backstory of Bill (respectively Wilhelm) Boss?
Dieter Laser: Yup, William Boss is a German-American – something I urgently asked for even before the script was written. Henry Kissinger, Billy Wilder and thousands of other German immigrants never ever got rid of their thick German accent. That provides several advantages: I don’t have to watch my accent all the time but can take care of my feelings. Also I can make of Bill Boss a grotesque over assimilated „Super American“ – just like lots of over assimilated migrants in Germany who are more German than any German ever could be. Third advantage: I prefer to ridicule rather a German (and thereby also myself) than other nationalities I know less about.
Wilhelm Boss grew up at his grandfather’s large swine-farm in a small German town with the matching name Schweinfurt (translates to „Swine Ford“). Grandpa taught him already as a very little boy the high art of castration without any stupid sedation – proudly practiced on cute little piglets and much valued by young Wilhelm. Therefore the warden Bill Boss regards his American penitentiary as a pig farm and treats his prisoners like pigs who suffer under too much testosterone and have to be relieved by castration in order to turn these aggressive swines into sweet, harmless and submissive „pussy schnitzels“.
screen/read: There is quite some excessive taboo breaking in this movie, the kind from which most of your colleagues would probably run away screaming, worried about their reputation. Lots of critics turned away in disgust. Being a stage veteran for whom taboo breaking is pretty much an everyday business (or rather has been), what is your position on this matter in the arts?
Dieter Laser: I don’t want to hide the fact that just like many blindfolded critics I „turned away in disgust“ when the script arrived at home. The tagline of the film says it’s „100% politically incorrect“ and while reading the script I took the announced taboo violations a hundred percent too seriously. I „ran away screaming“ by strictly refusing to play the part even though we already had a contract. Only when the director Tom Six after a lot of fuss managed to open my eyes for the vitriolic, pitch black comedy, only then I discovered step by step the possibility to make of Bill Boss a cartoonish comic strip character and to expose him so heavily to ridicule that it would become impossible for any sadist, racist or rapist to identify with him. Thereby the „100% political incorrectness“ is turned upside down and gains political correctness in an absurd way by making fools of all cowards like Bill Boss. Breaking taboos is always double-edged. For me it is crucial which contents shall be conveyed. Just for the sake of effect they are terribly boring. But if it helps establish the truth, then please radical and at full throttle.
screen/read: One of the film’s many examples for that is the act of raping a comatose female character. Tarantino featured that in „Kill Bill“ without being getting into trouble, while lots of critics got very angry about it here. How did you and your acting partner Bree Olson – who is originally a porn star – approach this possibly questionable sequence? And what do you tell critics who accuse the film of being misogynist?
Dieter Laser: First of all it is a major advantage to play such a scene with a partner who is not only an excellent actress but also free of any affectation or phony prudery. Short professional arrangement between the two of us and the scene is shot in one take – including a spontaneous improvisation which shows that it is often not as easy to get „Him“ in, as thousands of boring TV-Fucks try to make us believe. This scene was of course one of the main reasons why after reading the script „I turned away in horror“ – just like one of the critics blinded by prejudice. Only when Tom Six accepted my suggestion to make this scene the surprisingly „tender moment“ of Bill Boss, only then I could overcome my disgust. The idea was to mirror the incredible care and tenderness which many disturbed men muster up for inflatable sex dolls – the rapist Bill Boss can only let go of his fear of women when a woman is in a coma like a doll. But unfortunately only the moment of putting „Him“ in is left over from that scene.
screen/read: Men using their position of power to suppress women sexually is a topic rarely being discussed in movies – which is especially strange since its roots in everyday life are so shockingly obvious. You dealt with this before in 1975 when you were playing a corrupt journalist in „The lost honor of Katharina Blum“. Apart from all the differences between the two characters, do you see a common problem that is shaping them?
Dieter Laser: Only at the age of about 25 I gradually gave up to argue with punches because I began to feel that this kind of „masculinity“ was nurtured by hidden fears. Bill Boss is a fear-laden monster and you can also assume insecurity and fear behind the boasting attitude of yellow press reporter Werner Toetges in „The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum“.
screen/read: Do morally questionable characters like these haunt you or are you able to just let them go once the day is done and the film finished?
Dieter Laser: The characters are active or on standby until the last shooting day. Then I cut the cord with red wine and lots of dreams in which the characters fight for their survival in my inner landscape – but they always lose. At the opening night they are long forgotten and when I can’t recognize myself on the screen and can hardly believe that it’s actually me who’s jumping around there – then I am happy with myself and the world.
screen/read: Your characters from the Centipede-films somehow managed to lead a life of their own. Especially Dr. Heiter has become a true fan favorite. How do you deal with that whenever you appear at a convention, sometimes even wearing the Eppendorfer coat from the movie? Doesn’t the character return that way even though you already got rid of him?
Dieter Laser: The „Eppendorfer“ doctor’s coat from „The Human Centipede“ gives the fans an additional little kick when being so close to the actor of evil Dr Heiter in his original costume. And since he is surprisingly polite and nice but looks so very evil on the selfies – meeting him is really worth it. The „horror family“ is astonishingly loyal and loving and so I take this job accordingly serious. Dr Heiter watches from far away like a memory.
screen/read: The trilogy is done and Dr. Heiter even got killed so there is no future for neither him nor Bill Boss. But since you lived with both of them for a while, did you ever think about what might have happened to them otherwise? And in general, when preparing for a character, do you speculate about their future in order to understand them even better?
Dieter Laser: Fantastic question! Indeed, during my private rehearsals I always think about the „before and after“ of a character. If not killed, Dr Heiter would probably have become a stateless person hunted by Interpol and leaving Centipedes all over the world until finally ending miserably as a „Middlepiece“ in Africa. Bill Boss on the other hand goes to Washington and becomes a centipede-commissioner for the UN – not only providing peace on earth with his „Modern Socialism“ but also ending once and for all the hunger in the world and thereby securing infinite growth for the higher earners of the western world.
screen/read: Recently you attended the German premiere of „THC 3“ at a festival. Before that you have been at screenings in the US and UK. How did the audience reaction differ, if at all?
Dieter Laser: „THC 3“ is more comedy than horror. If you expect an escalation of part 2 – you will be disappointed. If you expect something similar to part 1 – you also will be disappointed. That concerns especially hard core fans. The British audience with its distinctive preference for black humor just went hilariously crazy at the England premiere. At the Hollywood premiere I could notice a certain insecurity in the audience how much and if at all one was allowed to laugh about the announced „100% political incorrectness“. At the German premiere (English version) half of the audience appeared to me stock-still while the other half had great fun laughing out loud – hard to tell if the paralyzed fraction had language problems or different expectations. And I got an e-mail from one of the distributors of THC 3 about the tremendous success in Japan.
screen/read: Just a few weeks ago genre fans learned that you will be part of „Sky Sharks“, a German Nazisploitation film that has been around for a while now. How did that come about and what was it that attracted you?
Dieter Laser: The concept is mega – not another corny Nazi joke in the sky as you might assume. The script is bombastic and the part is ace. I read it in one go which is always a good sign that also the audience might like the film provided everything works out as planned. I accepted spontaneously, met the guys, and now I’m totally excited. Only a splendid agreement remains to be negotiated.
screen/read: In an earlier interview you told us that you are working on your own film which you wrote and will also direct. Can you tell us a little more? What will it be about?
Dieter Laser: „Total Eclipse“ is a utopian drama about the „future of the past“. It happens in a deserted no man’s land, a dehumanized Nazi Germany which could be just as well a foreign planet in 2084. For now I don’t want to reveal more.
screen/read: Now even though this will be your directorial feature debut, directing is anything but new to you. Over the years you directed various stageplays and wrote some as well. What type of director would you consider yourself to be? And which stage directors did you learn from the most?
Dieter Laser: Director is one of the coolest professions in the world. With the according manipulation a director can delight in an almost god like power over other people. That is why so many jerks and psychos are eager to do the job. The best power though is the one you don’t exercise. I call myself a „love-director“ – no manipulation, no carrot and stick, no „wrong“ or „bad“, no tactics or strategies. The only goal is to make the story and its actors bloom by very precise watching and listening combined with extreme polite and caring manners. Power is only exercised to protect this vulnerable atmosphere. After the premiere of my second work as a stage director the management of the theatre withdraw the dismissals of two elderly actors. That’s what I call a success. These guys had bloomed. – From some famous German directors like Gustaf Gruendgens, Peter Stein and Rudolf Noelte, I learned „The Silence of a good Director“ – keep your mouth shut and wait patiently until you really understand the actor or his problem, so that you can actually help him and recommend something really substantial. Just pretending competence or trying to use any kind of pedagogy is fatal. A good actor smells it immediately and loses trust. That’s why with my method you can’t afford to lie (during work).
screen/read: Having a rich experience on stage and in front of the camera, what would you say are the central differences between the two for you as an actor?
Dieter Laser: On stage common rehearsals for everyone involved last between three short weeks and – often terribly long and sometimes also terribly boring – two to three months. Film rehearsals only serve as a short arrangement of a shot mainly for light, sound and camera. The actor has to be ready to go and his character has to be developed by himself in so called „private rehearsals“. Shooting a film is a long lasting premiere over weeks performed in tiny garbled bits and pieces. The advantage is that film directors are under much more time pressure so that jerks, psychos and sadists have much less space to show off. Also the pain eases off faster since you don’t have to spoon up the director’s soup every night on stage over and over again. Nevertheless there are enough psychos among film directors who prefer rather to ruin a scene or the whole film than to tame their ego.
screen/read: What’s next for you?
Dieter Laser: „The Weekend of Hell“– Europe’s Largest Horror Festival with Dr Joseph Heiter in his Eppendorfer doctor’s coat – November 6th to 8th in Oberhausen, Germany. „Jesus’ Blood and Red Currants“ – an arthouse film to be shot in Estonia – November to December. „Sky Sharks“ – to be shot in Poland – February to March. For May to June I’m in negotiations for a German theatre festival. And there’s a quite dubious offer from Hollywood for a probably terrible horror film. But let’s wait and see.
P.S.: This interview was conducted in German, but Dieter is such a pro that he even added his input to the translation and authorized it in the end. What more can you expect? By the way, make sure to follow Dieter’s official Facebook fanpage under dieterlaser.actor.
[Images: Screencaptures (The Human Centipede 1, 3 / The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum)]