Controversial as it may be, there's one thing about The Human Centipede that has been universally lauded by everyone who's managed to sit through the film, and that's Dieter Laser's performance as the maniacal Dr. Heiter. Laser's turn as the crazed surgeon is nothing short of phenomenal, sending chills down your spine even during the tamest of scenes, and turning your insides at the most disturbing.
Recently, the German character actor was kind enough to grant me an interview and in a bit of an unexpected turn wound up being one of the nicest guys I've ever talked to. There was no trace of Dr. Heiter as he struggles through his German accent to talk about the atmosphere on set with the centipede itself, what it was that drew him to the project, and how he'd love to start doing more American films.
His German was sometimes a little rough to translate so bear with it as the English is sometimes a little broken. The interview has a few spoilers sprinkled in so if you want to keep everything a surprise, you might want to read something else for now.
Could you tell me what your initial reaction to the script was when Tom [Six, writer/director of The Human Centipede] brought it to you?
That was very interesting because when Tom and I first met he told me very detailed every single shot he planned for Dr. Heiter. His entire vision was very precise and very detailed. So that was quite a time before I got the script. So I was from the personality of Tom, of his dedication, his vision, and his precision and that he knew exactly what he wanted to do that fascinated me. So after about 90 minutes when he told me every single frame he wanted to do with Dr. Heiter, I said, "We have to do that! You are so dedicated, you know so precisely what you want to do. I have to do that." The lovely lady Ilona Six, his sister which is the lovely and very good producer of The Human Centipede, she said immediately, "then lets make a deal." And in between three minutes we had a deal. Then after a week later I got the script, and then I read it and because I was so spontaneously fascinated from the first meeting I got a little bit afraid because the surface of thing when I thought it over I got a little bit afraid. But then I read the script and discovered that the centipede, the shocking idea, the main thought of the construction is just a very good mock thing. Because in the script I discovered for me that Tom thought in precisely the same direction as me, that there has to be goosebumps and excitement and people have to be entertained and we want to do that, but underneath are several layers of very different things.
So why is there a German playing the doctor? There has been a time when people were regarded as insects, when you could do with them what you want. And who did that? The Nazi's, and their doctors, and their doctors like Dr. Joseph Mengele and these animal, non-feeling, dead souls, these killers and criminals of that time. My parent's generation, my whole life has haunted me so I have a source feeding my part mixed from hate against people like Heiter. And finally relieving myself to make dark jokes with Tom about these idiots and God-thinking people, thinking they are gods. And that was a great joy for me to do the part. With that I smuggled in things because that makes the film rich.
And in my opinion the film lasts longer in your mind and you can build up on your mind's screen your own film, is when the curtain is really filled with something, but it has to be covered really well because we have a want to be entertained.
What did you do to prepare yourself for the role of Dr. Heiter?
My kind of preparation is very very simple. I sit from 4 or 5 o'clock in the morning in my kitchen at home while my wife is still sleeping and I just read with a liter of coffee, a liter of black tea, a liter of green tea. I just read and read again the script and meditate in the fresh new morning about the part of the character and nothing else. There's only the script, the director and me. And I don't want to watch out for other actors, how would they play this or what have I seen, characters like him. I want to create him out of myself, out of the spirit of the script and out of the thought of the director. That is my preparation and nothing else.
And you know in a way it's the same thing normal people do when they have to go to their boss asking for more money, or if they have to talk seriously with their spouses, or with their parents. They start self talking. They start a dialog in their own mind. If they're afraid they even smell the office, they smell the perfume of the mother or the boss. And in a way they create a part without knowing it. And if they have had that occasion, then we all chatter in our minds and have dialogs the whole day really. And an actor like me is just focusing that stuff on one character and slowly slowly building it up. And as the writers sometimes tell after a while of sitting in front of a blank sheet and starting to write a novel, the happy moment appears that the characters take over their own lives. And that's the same for me. When the character Heiter slowly takes over his own life and starts to perform for me on my mind's screen, that's the best. And then I can say, "Oh what is he doing here?" If that scene appears again in my mind the next morning or in a week, maybe I should take it. Then I slowly slowly discover the guy. And when I saw it in Brussels 14 days ago, the first time I saw it, I never saw a trailer, I wanted to save it all for the big screen, I spoke with Tom and Ilona after and asked, "Have you seen what he had done there? That was very interesting." Because he becomes a stranger for me afterwards when it is done.
What do you think of the reaction to the film, both good and bad?
I think that has to do something with where I tried to describe the surface and the subliminal things. The subcutaneous. People who just see the surface may be disgusted and say it's shit. But people who smell something underneath it and see some aspect of art in that film. Because I think it's photographed very well, and sometimes there are pictures that are real art for me. I love that dead face of Dr. Heiter with the blood on the wall. It's like a painting. And I think that is one of the reasons people just see the surface and say it's just porn and shit, and other people see a little bit deeper. I think it's good that there is discussion about it though. People are moved negatively or positively by that film, and I think it's better than them not being moved at all and just saying, "Oh, one horror more." I think it's great that it is controversial.
Could you tell me what the atmosphere was like on set working with Tom and working with the centipede itself?
Tom worked very tenderly and very carefully. It was wonderful to watch Tom and how much he cared about the feelings of the girls, and how carefully he designed the real centipede. He always tried to respect the girls and to protect their nakedness. Everybody watched out that nobody would be treated without respect and would be protected. I loved Tom and Ilona just for that even. And the team was so professional, a real tight little family. Everybody wanted to tell a good story. These American actress, these two girls and Aki this Japanese actor who lives in LA as well, they are so well educated actors, you'd hardly find in Germany or Europe actors in that age with that tremendous hard discipline. They had a lot to suffer just physically and because it's exhausting to be the whole time in that position, but they had so much stamina and so much dedication that I admired them a lot for their skills and their passion. When I'd come to work I'd have to apologize to the actress and say, "Excuse me. My concentration looks mostly really really angry. But it's just concentration, don't be irritated." And when I came one day to the set and the girls were working before I had to arrive, and I came in and said good morning to them I didn't get any answer because they were so concentrated and I thought, "oh gosh oh gosh". These young girls are worse than I myself in discipline.
It was very caring. Everybody knew this is very dangerous stuff, we have to be especially careful to each other. I said that while we were shooting we live in the "Belle Etage" of behavior.
Has Tom asked you to be part of the sequel yet?
You know, that's very, very funny and tricky. Tom wants to keep that a strict secret. And therefore he said to me, "Deiter, I won't tell you. You know Dr. Heiter so well that we can afford that. You will only shortly before I start, really start to shoot, you will know if you are in that second sequence or not." and I agreed completely and I think it's big fun. I really don't know, but I will discover that as well as you.
Are you hopeful that you'll show up in it one way or another?
I would LOVE to be in it, but I know that Tom, if he does it, he'll have to find a very intriguing trick to make it work. Like with a twin brother or something, but I know he wouldn't be satisfied by that. So I myself am VERY curious what he will do and if he will do it or if he'll just say, "No, Heiter is dead." But he won't tell me. It's a secret and I think it's very funny. But at the same time Tom declared that he badly wants to continue work with me. So if it's not the second part, it's for sure that we will continue to work together because we worked so well together it would be stupid not to continue.
Well you just answered my next question, I was going to ask if you were going to keep working with him on his other projects once he finishes the sequel?
Yes. We want to continue. I don't know in which direction or what kind of story that would be. But we both declared openly and with each other that we are dedicated to continue our work.
Great. I have just one more question for you. Your performance is getting a lot of positive recognition, and I was wondering if you were going to use that to start doing some more Hollywood type films?
Yes I would love to. If I understood you right, I would love to work in more American films because I admire American filming. Your country is the peak in film art. No doubt about it. You have the best directors, the best actors in the world. And you have the best tradition in film. So that's the dream of every actor. Every time in my small experience I had the honor to work with American actors or directors like Burt Lancaster or John Malkovich or Glenn Close, I was so excited about the work because it's really an honor to work with that great an actor and I would love to extend that a little bit.
Well that's all I've got for you today, Dieter.
Thank you very much, Will. Your questions were very subtle and nice. It was very fun to answer you.
Haha. It was fun talking to you, getting another side of Dr. Heiter. Thank you again, and good luck on your future projects
I'm just in between rehearsals for Shakespeare in Germany, a Shakespeare play, so I'm changing between horror and Shakespeare. But hopefully we'll meet each other for another interview about an American film.
Haha, I'm absolutely looking forward to it. Thanks so much.
For more on The Human Centipede read our interview with director Tom Six here.