Werner Herzog: Acting Takes Too Much Attention Away From the Real Things I’m Doing
Werner Herzog says the success of Disney Plus series “The Mandalorian,” in which he plays The Client, has made him think it’s time to park his acting career.
Speaking to Oscar-winning “Amy” director Asif Kapadia on Monday as part of the BFI at Home series on BFIYouTube, Herzog said, “I have done a lot more acting recently, and I have to review it, because it takes away too much attention from the real things that I’m doing.”
By “real,” Herzog is referring to his work as a filmmaker. Ostensibly, the German director was chatting to Kapadia about “Family Romance LLC,” which has just launched on the BFI Player in the U.K. However, the prolific Herzog spent as much time enthusiastically talking about his upcoming documentary “Fireball,” which looks at how shooting stars, meteorites and deep impacts have fired up the human imagination to learn more about the universe.
The documentary has been acquired by Apple TV Plus. However, the director revealed that before the film premieres on the streaming platform, it will play in various fall festivals: “Venice, Telluride and Toronto. Whatever,” he said.
“Fireball” sees Herzog collaborate with Cambridge University scientist Clive Oppenheimer for a third time. They previously co-created the Academy-Award nominated “Encounters at the End of the World” and Emmy-nominated “Into the World.” Herzog was full of praise for Oppenheimer: “He’s a great scientist and wonderful in his discourse on camera. I owe him a lot because he went around the world with me, looking at where meteorites had landed.”
The prolific director blessed the heavens that he was able to complete yet another film. “Fireball” is his fourth film in two years. “We were lucky because we finished shooting in December and we edited the film during lockdown.”
The enforced break caused by the virus has led Herzog to contemplate his own life and work, which is how he concluded that acting is becoming a distraction. Herzog revealed that Jon Favreau used a heavy dose of flattery and lessons in Star Wars lore to persuade him to take on the role of The Client. “Favreau said he really wanted me because he knew I would deliver as a badass. I also believe there is something very genuine about Favreau and he’s very fond of my films. He said, ‘I want the audience to take a look at the man who made these films.’”
But now, things must change. One of which is making films that require a lot of traveling by planes, trains and automobiles. “I hated having to travel so much to make ‘Fireball.’ It does no one any good to keep moving on planes, jumping time zones and cultures. So, existentially, there are things that I will still do on foot.”
In the winter of 1974, Herzog walked from Munich to Paris on foot believing if he did so, his close friend, Lotte Eisner, would survive an illness. He wrote about the experience in his book, “Walking on Ice.” He told Kapadia, “I have walked 2,000 miles. And it helps you understand the world; you get a real sense of the real world. On these walks, I do not take photos or film, but I take notes.”
Lockdown has given him time to read over these notes and others. “There is incredible stuff, things, images and events that have been dormant in me, which have all of a sudden come to life.” Herzog added that he has been writing a lot of poetry and short stories in lockdown. “Poetry is the essence of all writing for me,” he quipped.
The filmmaker was speaking from his home in Los Angeles, sitting in front of his bookshelf. He moved to the West Coast “not because I wanted to be in Hollywood, but because my wife lives here and I’m a happily married man.”
Hollywood has come calling for his services as a director. “In all cases, except ‘Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans,’ the projects were not good. It was average stuff, from the same treadmill, that was not so into storytelling either, it was mostly digital effects and star power as they call it.”
Kapadia asked Herzog about the use of non-professional actors and professional actors. “For me, I don’t make a distinction between an actor and a non-actor. I only see good and bad actors.”
In one of several barbs at establishment thinking, Herzog says he set up his Rogue Film School “as some sort of antithesis to the stupidity of film schools. It’s very depressing when you look at film schools worldwide. The Rogue Film School is like a guerrilla-style film school where we go on walks in Peru and I ask students to make films about fever dreams in the forest.”
It was through the film school that he came to make “Family Romance, LLC.”
“One of the students, Roc Morin, sent me an article he had written in The Atlantic [‘How to Hire Fake Friends and Family’], and I said, ‘This story is so big, you have to make a film.’” He became a producer on “Family Romance LLC,” which depicts the practice of hiring stand-ins in Japan who pretend to be close friends or family.”
The interview was not all a one-way street. Herzog spoke admiringly of the work of Kapadia, mentioning “Maradona” and “Amy.” When Kapadia revealed that he had visited the opera house in Manaus used by Herzog in the filming of “Fitzcarraldo,” the ever-mischievous Herzog said, “We should do a big workshop together and the headquarters should be the opera house in Manaus.’ Now that would be a film school worth attending.”
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