On Wednesday, June 16 at 11 a.m., Todd Stephens’s Swan Song will have its Oregon premiere at Pride Pics, the new LGBTQ film festival from PrideNW and the directors of QDoc. The movie stars indie legend Udo Kier as retired hairdresser Pat Pitsenbarger, who breaks free from his drab Sandusky nursing home and takes a long walk to give a deceased former client her final cut-and-color. One stop on Pat’s Ozian journey of self-discovery includes a gay bar called the Universal Fruit and Nut Company, manned by an insidiously dumb twink named Gabriel, played by yours truly.
I’ll be in attendance for the screening (tickets are available here) and as a Portland native, it’s kind of surreal that my feature film debut will be shown in such an iconic parking lot and esteemed Cirque du Soleil graveyard. Teenage me, who made weekly OHSU visits to monitor my Accutane prescription, could never imagine an audience of Portlanders staring at a giant projection of my now-flawless face with that building in view.
Because I couldn’t decide whether to do an unofficial post-show Q&A at the Old Spaghetti Factory or on the Aerial tram, I decided to call up the film’s star, Udo Kier, to chat about our Ohio adventures and revel in the film’s recent ascension to festival favorite.
THOM HILTON: How are you?
UDO KIER: I just came back from Europe a week ago, from Lars Von Trier, and now I’m here, and I’m very happy that [Swan Song is doing] so well. It’s amazing. I’m very, very happy.
TH: In Portland next week, we’re gonna have a big outdoor screening.
UK: You know, Portland is very important to me because I made My Own Private Idaho there. It was my first American production.
UK: So Portland is a very good memory … I met Gus [Van Sant] in Berlin, and he said to me, ‘I’m doing a film with River Phoenix and Keanu Reeves, and I would like you to play Hans.’ Because German people, most of the time, they’re named Hans in movies. We had a great time because we stayed together and went out together most of the time—it was kind of wonderful. Basically the same situation we had filming Swan Song: low budget, no studio, no trailer, and I remember it very nicely and very well. You were born in Portland?
TH: I was born in Portland. I even worked at Huber’s, the restaurant at the very end of My Own Private Idaho with the dark wooden walls. And their claim to fame still, you know, 30 years later, is that they filmed that scene there.
UK: Oh, yes! And also, in the little street, the restaurant on the corner.
UK: Was it Jake’s? Yes, I went there with River. And, I mean, River was amazing in the film.
TH: I noticed in Swan Song, when you’re at the restaurant on the patio, you pick out an Oregon wine. I like to think that that’s a little homage to your time spent here in Oregon. Either way, I know that you like pinot grigio no matter where it’s from.
UK: No, it’s not true, ‘no matter where it’s from.’ It has to be a good one.
TH: This was my first time acting in a movie, and I was kind of scared because I had grown up watching you in Pinocchio, then Suspiria and Dogville and all these great movies. I got really worried on the days leading up, but you didn’t intimidate me at all. You rehearsed with me, you spoke your lines when they did my close up, you didn’t go off to a trailer or anything, you were there with me the whole time.
UK: When Todd first sent me the script, I asked him: Who plays this character? This character? And he gave me an explanation about the friends and actors he [wanted] for the movie. I wanted everybody [to be] good. If the parts around me are strong, it makes Swan Song strong. So that’s why we rehearsed, especially in the scene with you. It’s a great script, and every part is played well, you know? Everybody was really in the movie. In the story. That’s what I liked the most about the film. And I can’t wait to see it on a big screen, because I’ve only seen it on the computer. I’m very happy for all of us, it’s won audience awards twice—
TH: And you won Best Actor!
UK: And I got Best Actor in Monte Carlo. In Monte Carlo! Where all the rich people live who don’t want to pay tax!
TH: You said you were with Lars Von Trier last week, and I know that you say, ‘Don’t act,’ which he tells actors a lot. Can you talk about how you ‘didn’t act’ Pat?
UK: His favorite line is, doesn’t matter who they are, you know, Nicole [Kidman], Ben Gazzara, ‘Don’t act.’ Actors move their shoulder five inches to the left and Lars will say, ‘What is this business with the shoulder?’ And so I lived the situation. When I started shooting in the retirement home, I slept in my bed. I didn’t want to perform that, I wanted to be there for a day. To have that feeling. When Todd wanted me to roll in the wheelchair in the middle of the street, holding up traffic, I didn’t have to act. Just be proud in the green suit, smoking a cigarette, and rolling, rolling, rolling to town.
TH: I remember when I got to Ohio, the driver said to me, ‘Udo will do anything. He’ll lay down on the highway, he’ll get down and put his hands in the dirt,’ and I see now from how risky you were, how physical, that you connected yourself to Sandusky. Like you became part of the earth, and Pat became real there…. Well, I have one more question and it’s not about this movie.
TH: On Monday, your frequent collaborator Rob Zombie announced that he is going to make a movie of The Munsters. Have you heard of this show, The Munsters?
UK: No, why? Does he want me in it?
TH: It was a very popular show about Frankenstein and Dracula and stuff and they were a family, and there was a grandpa in it who’s a very handsome vampire and very funny. And so I just want to start your campaign now, that he should put you in this.
UK: I like it. I like Rob Zombie. What I like about him is that there’s room for improvisation. Other directors, my god, won’t let you say one line another way. So tell him hello.
TH: I’m so excited to see this film with an audience, to hear them laugh and take in all the energy that you are giving them, for you to get more reviews and awards, you really deserve it.
UK: Let me know how it goes down when you show the movie. For me, it’s important to see how people react.
TH: I will. I showed it to my grandparents and they’re both your age, and they love you. They wanted to pass on that it really moved them, because there are not a lot of movies with someone who is 70 in the main part getting to do everything. And my grandmother says that you are very sexy in the movie, too.
UK: Tell her thank you! Thank you! That’s good.