Interview with Rolf Kanies
Interviewer: theFrey (Moderator – SadBOARD LEXX Forums)
Date: January, 2002
My first impression of Mr. Kanies was that he was an extremely well groomed, serious gentleman with exquisite bearing and manners. Well, as we all know first impressions can be deceiving; it is not that he isn’t all of the above, but lurking just below the surface of this serious gentleman is an enchanting sense of humor and a wonderfully sly wit. It is a delight to watch the subtle expressions flash across his face, completely changing the tone and meaning of his words.
While we of course know Rolf as Priest, the main body of his work has been in Germany. Lately however, he has been expanding his presence in English language productions. Rolf’s latest roll is as Hitlerin “Joe and Max”, a film about how boxers Joe Lewis and Max Schmeling fought in the ‘30’s and then became friends. It will premier in America on March 9th on Starz.
How old were you when you first realized you wanted to be an actor?
I was not quite four, when I decided to be an actor or a puppet master. I can still remember when it happened: At the time we lived in a town called Bielefeld in North Germany . While walking down the street with my mother, I saw a hand puppet called Kasper in a shop window. Kasper is a man with a long nose and a really long hat that helps the poor and of course all the princesses who are in danger. I told my mother, that it would be my biggest wish to have this puppet and after a while she bought it for me. Since it was my favorite toy, I wanted to have more of these puppets and after a few months time, I expressed the wish to become an actor or a puppet master.
How did your family react when you said you were going to be an actor?
In those early days they were amused by it. They supported me in buying more and more of these puppets. My father built bigger and bigger puppet theatres, until I had a huge theatre with lots of different lights and special effects. By now we had moved to a small village near Frankfurt where I was giving very elaborate performances nearly every day for my friends and the other children in the village. As I grew older however there came a day when my interest in puppets quite suddenly stopped and I became interested in * other * things. During this time I thought that I might like to become a doctor or lawyer. But then when I was sixteen, I again became interested in acting and helped build up a theatre group at our school. By the time I finished my A-level with 19 our group had become quite well known and I had decided I was definitely not going to be a doctor or a lawyer. (Ed. Note: an A level of 19 is a very good score, Rolf most likely would have been accepted into any University program he had wanted to pursue) My mother was not delighted. But I was absolutely serious about my wish to study acting when my civil service was over, and fortunately my parents came around after they saw the first results of my work. (Ed. Note: Civil Service is a mandatory two year stint that young people serve in some European countries, it can usually be served either in the military or as some other form of social service.)
What kinds of work did you do before becoming an actor?
I must say that I never did something else in my life. I was either studying full time to become an actor or acting. I was fortunate that my parents were generous in assisting me with my living expenses while I was studying. Other students, whose parents couldn’t help them, were subsidized by the German government. After completing my studies I immediately went to a theatre engagement and eventually built up my own theatre groups. It is perhaps easier to work in live theater in Germany than it is in some other countries. Germany is the one of the few countries in the world, where the arts are so highly subsidized by the state. The artists make contracts for at least one year with the individual theaters. Nearly all the bigger cities have a theatre and many have an Opera and Ballet. So, I never had to do any strange odd jobs between engagements. I looked at my job always as a full time job; when I wasn’t actually doing a performance I was either preparing for one, or doing exercises etc. This meant I was usually working 10 to 12 hours a day, even on Saturdays and Sundays.
What is the one thing that you think contributed to your success as an actor?
Work, work, work and learning, I have never looked at myself as an artist. I am a craftsmen, who is trying to do a good job in giving breath to those words and feelings, which were written by the authors, showing the mechanisms between people, their relation to society and vice versa. And never, since I was young, have I looked out for my ‘so called career.’ My only aim was that at the end of the road, that I would be able to say that I had tried hard to be a good actor; not more, not less.
While you originally preferred Stage work, what made you decide to go in to film?
When my colleagues and I studied acting in 1978, we were of course, influenced by the thoughts of the ‘68 generation. And because Germany is a country with that huge and long theatre tradition, it was quite clear to all of us that the only ‘real actors’ were theatre actors. Until 1982 it was absolutely impossible to think about doing television; we regarded it as absolutely stupid entertainment. Which it still is for me nowadays in most of the cases. Cinema was another question, there were some artists in cinema in Germanyin those days but not many. Maybe we thought, that’s something for later….
Which do you now prefer? Why?
Times have changed. I do not think anymore that I can change the world by bringing to life the ideas and thoughts of the people on a theatre stage. Sometimes I can make people laugh or cry about the issues that beset our world, and maybe I can make them happy, for awhile but that’s it. So, about five years ago in 1997, I started to think about doing something new. And besides, even in Germany it was not longer a ‘sin’ to work in television. So I thought I would do some work in television and cinema as a change. But once a year I have to work in a theatre to get my brain going again! Those two areas of work are totally different. I can’t say which I like most, but I can say that acting on LEXX in the fourth season was wonderful. I enjoyed the political and social satire pertaining to our western civilization and I really loved the wonderful subversive touch. A few examples were particularly amusing and more like what you normally only find in live theater, or a really good film. For example;
Stan Down – The extraordinary childish moronic President, who wants to be the worst and most powerful man in the entire universe, but he is only the most stupid one. He is tortured by his mom-wife, the First Lady, who behaves like Lady Macbeth. Together they are responsible for blowing up Orlando, and then disguise it as an act of terrorism to cover their own mistake.
Xevivour – Television-‘real-life’-freaks get a real smack on the face.
Prime Ridge – The wish to live behind ‘Walt-Disney-Walls’ – in total security which changes into a terrible nightmare.
Is there anyone in particular you would really like to work with?
Yes, lots! Woody Allen, Scorcese, Spike Lee, the Italian brothers Damiani, Wim Wenders, some wonderful Turkish German directors and a lot, lot more……
Have you have been on lots of location shots?
Yes, I have been on a lot of location shots. Mainly in Germany though and of course in Thailand with the Lexx crew. And I was on a wonderful location shoot in Cape Town South Africa , doing a comedy for German television with Christopher Schrewe in 2000.
Which location shot has been your favorite and why?
I have been together with a lot of extraordinary people on nice location shots, but I must really say, that I loved being together with the Lexx crew in Thailand, because everything was just perfect.
What is your favorite film part that hasn’t been Lexx related?
In 2000 I did a lead in a comedy film called Mr. Boogie where I played Harry, a really dumb husband. I had great colleagues and I enjoyed the work very much, unfortunately this film didn’t get released until recently for many reasons…
What has been your favorite stage part?
I don’t know how many stage parts I have played, surely more than 150, and I loved a lot of them, but I think Macbeth, I do think was the most extreme and, at the same time, funny part that I have played.
Do you have any hobbies?
Cooking for my friends, and talking or playing cards with them. (Ed Note: Rolf likes to cook French, Italian, and Thai dishes and play Skat and Doppelkopf.) I also enjoy snorkeling when on holiday. I like visiting other countries, getting to know other people there, hiking through the jungle or canoeing through the wilderness of Canada.
How do you pursue your hobbies when you are working?
No hobbies besides work. When I work, I do nothing else.
Where were you born?
In Bielefeld, which is 100 km south to Hannover, quite in the north of Germany.
Where can people email you at?
Who is your agent?
My agent is Volker Stoerzel in Bochum
What address can people use to send a regular letter or package?
C/O Agency Volker Stoerzel,
Have you ever filmed or acted in the United States?
If not, have you ever visited the United States on vacation?
Yes, I visited the United States a few times. My first visit in 1981 was while rehearsing a play in Connecticut; during that trip I also spent a week in New York, which was just incredible. My second trip on holidays lead me through Ohio and Pennsylvania. I visited Lake Erie , Cleveland, Akron and the countryside of Pennsylvania. (I wanted to find some relatives there, who escaped in the second world war, but I couldn’t find them.) My third time was only a very short visit to Seattle, during a longer holiday in British Columbia .
Would you want to come to the States to work?
I would definitely say yes, because I do like American films in general much better than German ones!
Have you ever considered getting a US agent?
No, I have no idea how to do that and there are so many good actors in America….may be later…..
What did you think when you first started working on Lexx?
From the very first moment, when I started working with Christopher Schrewe on ‘The Battle’ I loved the show. Loved the very, very good and nice crew and I must admit the producers as well. I loved working with the actors and I liked Halifax, so I was really happy.
Did anything interesting happen while you where in Thailand on the Lexx location shot?
Uh, so many things , which were interesting…. For example : Ms. Zentilli, Ms. Dubin and I went , on a free day, through the streets of Kanchanaburi. This is the main village in this area, close to where we were shooting by the river Kwae. The ladies wanted to go for a ride on really old fashioned bicycle-rickshaw. The rickshaw drivers were extremely old men, I suppose each of them above 90 years old, and we were really worried about it being too hard on them to carry us. Since they couldn’t speak English a nearby woman helped us find out the price, which was not much money for us but a lot for them. And in the end we went on a tour through those old streets on those bicycles down to the riverside and it was just great fun. Thailand really was wonderful, the people are so kind and their hospitality is incredible.
Were you surprised to be called back to work on season 4 of Lexx?
Yes, that really was a surprise, when Paul Donovan asked me if I was interested in playing Priest again, but this time as the President of the United States. I loved the idea! And without even thinking I said yes. When I saw the first four scripts of season four I couldn’t believe how funny they were, yet at the same time – how real the satire was. It was too funny thinking about how Priest (Our Vietnam War Hero) was becoming the new President because the elections were manipulated. I enjoyed the absurdity of his acceptance speech: “I do solemnly swear….” which ended with his final words “..so help me dog.” And then the whole story in ‘Stan Down’ with this President, who had no idea about ruling America, who didn’t know what Newfoundland is like or how to pronounce it; who didn’t know where Florida is on a map (right there on that land bit that sticks out…); forced to do things like a marionette by his two bosses, Prince the head of ATF (the bureau of alcohol, tobacco and firearms) and his wife, the First Lady and his whole behavior concerning his own mistake (blowing up Orlando), I was fully convinced that this story is a real hook in modern political satire.
Of course, I never intended to make a caricature of any American President, though there are lots of comparable moments. I only intended to stick in my mind the former Priest character from ‘The Battle’ as a leader who wants to rule the whole universe with out being under the thumb of Prince. Unfortunately Priest has absolutely no idea how to run a country especially where bigger interests, usually money and power, are behind the deals of our leaders of the world.
Did you expect the part of Priest to be a big as it was in season 4?
No, I don’t think nobody expected this part to be as big as it became. But the more Ms. Zentilli and I went on playing, the more they liked this mad couple. President Priest and his Bunny just want to have sex and fun like the other main characters, which on Lexx. is always difficult as we all know…..
Does President Priest get to keep his Bunny?
That’s a secret; sorry……
Will you miss Lexx?
My time in Halifax and Thailand was so extraordinary, with all those lovely people, that I surely miss it. on the other hand it has been a long and successful year, but now I am looking forward to seeing what this year is going to bring to me.
Do you plan to stay in Canada, seek work in the U.S., or return to Germany ?
After I finished the Lexx season in Thailand last November, I went back to Germany and did another part in a German crime series. I am quite happy that at the moment I am on holiday, because the whole last year was brilliant, but exhausting. I am not seeking work in the U.S., because I actually have no contacts there . The film I did last year, where I played Hitler.
What did you think of UnCon 2001 and the fans?
I really loved them, everybody was so interested, nice, polite and in such a good mood that I really appreciated all the days!!!!
Was Pat Zentilli as much fun to work with, as it appeared onscreen?
To work with Ms. Zentilli is a gift that you get as an actor! She is always highly professional, friendly, concentrated, prepared, helpful, polite and she has such a wonderful influence on everybody on the set, that the atmosphere is just terrific. And even nicer, we became friends.
Who was your favorite actor to work with on Lexx? (If it is Pat, besides her.)
Besides Patricia I have to say, that I liked to work with everybody! Really it’s true. Of course most of the scenes I had were with Mr. Bennett, who is a brilliant partner. But Mr. Downey is a extraordinary actor as well and always helpful and a truly polite colleague! I didn’t have many scenes with Mr. McManus, but we had hundreds of discussions about filming and theatre in our favorite second home in Halifax, “The Shoe Shop”, and we got to know each other quite well. I didn’t have had that many scenes with Ms. Seeberg either, and since her second home was not “The Shoe Shop”, we saw each other mostly only in the hallway of the studio. And all the guest stars, like Janet Wright, Steven McHatty and Ellen Dubin were wonderful as well!
I understand that you have finally gotten to watch some of season 4, which is your favorite so far and why?
Yes, I have seen several, but to compare them is really difficult because they are all so different in style as well as in subject. I liked each of them in different ways.
Can you confirm rumors of the Lexx spin off yet?
No I haven’t heard more than rumors either……
Would you be interested in such a series?
Surely , I would be very much interested in doing a spin off.
If so will you be in it?
I really hope so, because it was an absolute pleasure to work on it !!
What about Pat and Brian? Will they be involved?
If it happens, (that there will be a spin-off) I am quite sure that they’ll be involved.
Who will be writing/producing the spin off?
If there’s no spin-off what do you plan on doing next?
I must admit, that I am quite happy that I have no plans at the moment, I am preparing a musical called “The Winter Journey” by Schubert and mainly enjoying my holiday. I’ll do it with an actors voice to show, that as well ordinary and young people, who do not like Opera will like them.
What was it like to play Hitler?
It has been very exciting to play Hitler, especially as you can imagine since I am German. To play such an incredible figure in history is a real challenge and very, very exhausting. I was so nervous, but the director and the other colleagues were very kind and helpful.
You have been in some musicals, what kind of material do you prefer?
I can’t say, that I prefer a certain material, because I just love to sing. But, for three years now, I have been working on ‘The Winter Journey’ by Franz Schubert; I want to sing it as well as play the piano in it and want to bring it out at the end of this year. Which will be a tremendous lot of work, as you can imagine.
Have you ever performed anywhere as a singer?
Yes, all together I performed in four musicals. Three times with a main part. And I sang at theatre shows songs of Brecht, Marlene Dietrich, Zarah Leander etc.
Have you ever done any commercials? If so for what products?
No, never. And I hope it will be so for the future, that I do not have to do commercials because I need the money.
What do you like to do when you are not acting?
When I have time for myself, I like to read literature mostly from the last four centuries or listen to classical music from Bach, Handel, Mozart, Beethoven, Chopin, Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, Schubert, Schumann or Brahms. I also like to play the piano.
Do you have a web site?
I can tell you, that just last week I registered http://www.rolfkanies.com I had really never thought about it until I found out that my name was still available on the internet. I hope to have a small informational website posted there in the near future.
Films – Actor
Nichts bereuen (2001) …. Daniels Vater
Wilsberg und der Mord ohne Leiche (2001) (TV) …. Herbert Schering
Mister Boogie (2000)
M”rder in dir, Der (2000) (TV) …. Herr Kowalsky
Todesfahrt der MS SeaStar, Die (1999) (TV)
Julia – K„mpfe fr deine Tr„ume! (1998) (TV) ….
Dr. Erwin Gr„bert
Television – Actor
“Lexx” (1997) playing “Reggie J. Priest” in “769” (episode # 4.13) 11/7/2001
“Lexx” (1997) playing “Reggie J. Priest” in “Bad Carrot” (episode # 4.12) 10/30/2001
“Lexx” (1997) playing “Reggie J. Priest” in “Rock, The” (episode # 4.6) 8/17/2001
“Lexx” (1997) playing “Reggie J. Priest” in “Stan Down” (episode # 4.4) 8/3/2001
“Lexx” (1997) playing “Reggie J. Priest” in “Texx Lexx” (episode # 4.2) 7/20/2001
“Lexx” (1997) playing “Reggie J. Priest” in “Little Blue Planet” (episode # 4.1) 7/13/2001
“K’stenwache” (1997) playing “Reeder Ludolf” in “T”dlicher Schmuggel” 5/30/2001
“St. Angela” (1997) playing “Hiawatha” in “Wer mit dem B„r tanzt” 1/22/2001
“Lexx” (1997) playing “Priest” in ” Battle ” (episode # 3.10) 4/9/2000
“SK K”lsch” (1999) in episode: “Tod auf dem Rhein” (episode # 1.9) 3/15/1999
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