The fictional character which instantly turned him into a horror icon in 2009 could not differ more from the real person: With the fascistic surgeon Dr. Heiter of „The Human Centipede“, Dieter Laser has nothing in common but those distinctive facial features. Apart from that, the veteran German actor is the nicest person you can think of. Only recently he finished shooting the last part of the controversial horror-trilogy by Tom Six and was kind enough to talk to us exclusively about the film itself, working with Eric Roberts, shooting in Hollywood and his surprising plans for the future.
screen/read: Freshly back from the US, now in your Berlin home again. Jetlag hurdled, relaxed and supposedly slept a lot – or did you plunge into work immediately? How do you cool down after a long and exhausting shoot with lots of memorable impressions?
Dieter Laser: Exactly like this: I slept a lot, dreamed a lot of the shooting, drank a lot of red wine, ate only a little bit of junk food, but watched a lot of trash-tv.
screen/read: It is almost four years now since you and Tom Six made this horror movie that influenced pop culture like no other in a long time. Now you worked with him again. Was that a seamless continuation with déjà-vu factor or has your type of collaboration changed?
Dieter Laser: It was an extremely smooth follow up and our working relationship became even more intense: Already during the preproduction and later on at the locations we discussed, coordinated and defined scene by scene, shot by shot down to the very last details, even more accurate than ever before – but then with hardly any rehearsals, only if needed by technical reasons for the camera, we shot and shot and shot. Totally anxiety-free and with great fun not to say with joy. Besides my admiration for Tom’s brilliant ideas I am tremendously thankful that he gives me the opportunity to be precise and spontaneous at the same time. This combination of safety and freedom leads to astonishing solutions whenever a problem appears. We call this „the third way“. Of course details won’t be revealed yet.
screen/read: Back then you shot in Holland with basically only one location and a small team in front of and behind the camera. Nobody knew who Tom Six was and most of all, nobody could anticipate what would become of the movie. Now you have been to the US, worked with an American team and everbody knew what to expect from the Centipede-franchise. How was the reaction towards you?
Dieter Laser: We were welcomed with great respect and affection. At the beginning our style caused some slight astonishment by only talking about the scenes and avoiding the rehearsals – but in no time at all we became a big family, because not only the crew but also the fantastic American actors, first of all Eric Roberts, very fast appreciated our way of working.
screen/read: It is pretty remarkable that your type of working surprised people who have been in the business for decades – as it is the case with a veteran like Eric Roberts. Is it possible to observe the different approaches in front of the camera? And could you maybe even learn from one another?
Dieter Laser: With Eric you see immediately his immense experience with the camera. Same thing as with John Malkovich or Burt Lancaster. I’ve already worked with them years ago. These guys take a single look at the camera and know precisely which lens is used. I myself have to ask the DOP quite often „how close?“ But at the end of the day what counts is what Burt Lancaster often said to me: „Dieter, we had a good atmosphere!“ After a few hours of work Eric gave me a big hug and I said to him: „you just look a good partner into the eyes and everything works beautifully.“
screen/read: What did your workday look like? When did it start in the morning, how long did you shoot?
Dieter Laser: At 4.30am the phone in the hotel apartment shrills and an exited recorded female voice yells: „Good morning! It’s a beautiful day in LA!“ – Into the bathroom, deodorant and perfume, the prepared cereal out of the fridge and down to the lobby where your driver is waiting dead tired but sharp on time and our silent ritual begins. Talking, radio and air conditioning are forbidden for poor Nick: handshake, taking over the bag, holding the rear passengers door open and off we are driving by stop and go into the heart of Old Hollywood. The first days with my eyes closed so I wouldn’t get too impressed and probably turn chicken. Handshake: „thank you Nick, have a beautiful day!“ and off you go for costume and makeup. During make up an assistant appears every three minutes and asks for “Dieter’s estimated time on set?” Keep your eyes closed not to get nervous! And at 7.30 I am on set unsettling the diretor by greeting every single team member slowly and thoroughly both in order to keep calm and to be polite. As everybody knows: Once you’re stressed it’s very hard to calm down again. – 8.30pm pumped full of adrenaline return trip to the hotel: cooking a nice organic dinner, preparing big amounts of breakfast and lunch: oat flakes, water, apples, bananas, all mixed up, all organic – I don’t eat catering food – in fact I love it: with scrambled eggs and bacon for breakfast, with a wonderful lunch and dessert, with cake and candy in the afternoon and with a big pizza in the evening – but not when I’m shooting! The audience sees EVERYTHING! And the camera is kind enough to pack in addition at least four pounds on top of you. – Shit, still have to brush my teeth, the Americans ran around with a toothbrush in their mouth after every single bite! Off to bed, reading a bit in my American crime novel, hoping it will bring me to sleep. But that hardly happens, the scenes for tomorrow are haunting my mind. – „Good morning! It’s a beautiful day in LA!“
screen/read: It is to be expected that the third part of the series will again cause a lot of controversy. Tom already published a star-spangled banner with Centipede-elements, which might indicate that the tagline’s „political incorrectness“ will rather not back off from America. How did the cast and crew deal with deliberate provocations from old Europe?
Dieter Laser: That is exactly what everyone loved, that is why the crew and the actors were already fans before we started. That is why I was often asked when I went shopping on Sunday: „Are you German?“ – „Yes.“ – „Are you an actor?“ – „Yes.“ – „Are you Dr. Heiter?“ – „Yes.“– „Oh My God! May I have a photo with you?“ – „Sure! “
screen/read: You filmed a lot in Germany and all over Europe. Do you recognize a decisive difference of approach in America? What is your experience there?
Dieter Laser: In my experience in America the actor and his part is more regarded as some kind of a department a little company of its own. The director is more of an architect building a house and aligning various companies and departments in order to get his vision realized. That means the actor has way more options of personal responsibility. Tom Six generously provides me with those options. In that respect Tom is very American. Another difference is the enormous respect and the very high level of politeness towards the actors no matter how big the part. Knock, knock, knock: „10 minutes warning, sir“ – so that you can take a last pee before the next scene – knock, knock, knock: „5 minutes warning, sir!“ – knock, knock, knock: „May I invite you to the set, sir?“ – You get invited to work! – In the US the word „actor“ has the same effect as the word „doctor“ in Germany.
screen/read: Among the many remarkable decision in casting there is Bree Olson, who one would rather associate with her work in Adult Entertainment. With that in mind, did you experience her as a different kind of actress?
Dieter Laser: Tom Six is a master of casting: to offer Bree Olson the only female part is simply genius! She is an excellent actress, absolutely professional, without any bitching and it was an honor and a pleasure to work with her.
screen/read: Let’s talk a little about yout approach to the part. In the first movie you rarely came out of your dressing room unless you had to shoot in order to keep your character as real as possible. Afterwards your colleagues were praising your method-approach but also admitted how disturbing that was – in a good sense. How much „method“ did you include this time?
Dieter Laser: With this part I didn’t see much of my dressing room only for 30 minutes at lunchtime. Since there is hardly any scene without my character I spent most of the time at my favorite place: close to the camera in the silence of focused work where not much chatter is possible. So “method” in this case meant keeping your eyes shut and going through the upcoming scene for the hundredth time.
screen/read: Of course you have not seen the finished film yet, but you know the complete script as well as every single scene from the shoot. It can be expected that also this third part in the series will cause a lot of discussion. Judging from what you know, will the reactions this time be even harsher than before?
Dieter Laser: I have no idea. I’ve been so deeply involved that even the most horrible things are completely logical and normal to me. Much later when you see the movie for the first time, the part is so distant from yourself, that the guy on the screen has become a stranger and you are surprised what he’s doing there and you can’t believe that it’s actually you: „Oh My God, what is he now going to do?“
screen/read: There is still some time until the premiere, but most likely there will be quite a few festivals on the agenda. Are you planning to participate? And what kind of reactions are you expecting from the fans after a festival break of two years and a new character?
Dieter Laser: In any case I will be at the premiere and as far as possible attend the most important festivals as well. Throb, throb, throb!!! says the heart. Because even when you have received applause by the whole crew and by hundreds of extras you never can be sure in advance what the film will look like and how people will react. Throb, throb, throb!!! One thing is for sure: the plot is genius!
screen/read: The Centipede-series is finished with this third part, but that doesn’t mean that you an Tom Six will have to go seperate ways. Are there already plans for future projects together?
Dieter Laser: The „Dream Team“ – as we call ourselves – Ilona, Dieter and Tom will continue in any case. We would be nuts not to do so! But not at any price as you can see with THC2. The idea has to match and Tom Six literally sparkles with ideas. Let’s wait and wonder.
screen/read: Apart from that, what is next up for you? Will you stay true to the horror genre in the future or are you looking for totally different challenges? And could you imagine yourself on the director’s chair one day?
Dieter Laser: Next I’ll play an actor’s part in a big opera. This extreme change is very exciting! Which genre will be the next one on screen depends on the part and the script. Especially good scripts often need ten years before they can be realized. I have one in the drawer for which I fought over ten years. So the time is ripe for „Total Eclipse“ – this one I will also direct.
[We say thanks to Dieter Laser for taking the time (again!)]
[Images: Screencapture (The Human Centipede) | Ria Avramenko (Portrait)]