Klaus Kinski Has a Tantrum on the Set of Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo

Ford and Wayne, Hitch­cock and Stew­art, Truf­faut and Léaud, Scors­ese and De Niro: these are just a few of film his­to­ry’s most beloved col­lab­o­ra­tions between a direc­tor and an actor who nev­er threat­ened to mur­der one anoth­er. If we remove that qual­i­fi­er, how­ev­er, the list length­ens to include the work of Wern­er Her­zog and Klaus Kin­s­ki. Between the ear­ly 1970s and the late 1980s, Her­zog direct­ed Kin­s­ki in Aguirre, the Wrath of God, Nos­fer­atu the Vampyre, Woyzeck, Fitz­car­ral­do, and Cobra Verde — to the extent, in any case, that the volatile Kin­s­ki was directable at all. The clip above cap­tures just one of his explo­sions, this one on the set of Fitz­car­ral­do.

“By some rare chance, I was not the brunt of it this time,” Her­zog says over the footage, which comes from his doc­u­men­tary on Kin­s­ki, My Best Fiend. “I did­n’t both­er to inter­fere because Kin­s­ki, com­pared with his oth­er out­breaks, seemed rather mild.” But the star’s rav­ings proved “a real prob­lem for the Indi­ans, who solved their con­flicts in a total­ly dif­fer­ent man­ner.”

For the pro­duc­tion had recruit­ed a num­ber of native locals, oper­at­ing as it was in the Peru­vian jun­gle for max­i­mum real­ism. (Its sto­ry of an aspir­ing rub­ber baron drag­ging a steamship over a hill also neces­si­tat­ed, at Her­zog’s insis­tence, drag­ging a real steamship over a real hill.) At one point a chief offered to kill Kin­s­ki, but Her­zog had to turn him down. There was a movie to fin­ish, and he’d already shot almost half of it once, with Jason Robards in the title role, but when Robards came down with dysen­tery he was forced to re-cast and re-shoot.

A nor­mal film­mak­er would per­haps hes­i­tate to intro­duce a noto­ri­ous­ly errat­ic actor into an already dif­fi­cult pro­duc­tion — but then, Her­zog is hard­ly a nor­mal film­mak­er. He was also one of the few direc­tors who could work with Kin­s­ki, the two hav­ing known each oth­er since they lived in the same board­ing house as teenagers. (In My Best Fiend, Her­zog remem­bers the young Kin­s­ki lock­ing him­self in the bath­room for two days and tear­ing it apart.) While shoot­ing Aguirre, the Wrath of God, Her­zog had employed an unortho­dox tech­nique to put an end to Kin­ski’s melt­downs: pulling out a gun. “You will have eight bul­lets through your head, and the last one is going to be for me,” he lat­er recalled telling Kin­s­ki in an inter­view with Ter­ry Gross. “So the bas­tard some­how real­ized that this was not a joke any­more.” All such direc­tor-actor col­lab­o­ra­tions hinge on the for­mer know­ing how to get the best per­for­mance out of the lat­ter — by any mean nec­es­sary.

via Messy Nessy

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Por­trait Wern­er Her­zog: The Director’s Auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal Short Film from 1986

Wern­er Her­zog Offers 24 Pieces of Film­mak­ing and Life Advice

The Dream-Dri­ven Film­mak­ing of Wern­er Her­zog: Watch the Video Essay, “The Inner Chron­i­cle of What We Are: Under­stand­ing Wern­er Her­zog”

Wern­er Her­zog Gets Shot Dur­ing Inter­view, Doesn’t Miss a Beat

Start Your Day with Wern­er Her­zog Inspi­ra­tional Posters

Nor­man Mail­er: Strong Writer, Weak Actor, Bru­tal­ly Wres­tles Actor Rip Torn

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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