Richard Kiel is known best for his roles as Jaws in the James Bond film, “The Spy Who Loved Me” and “Moonraker.” He also appeared in the original “The Twilight Zone” series and of course everyone know his from “Happy Gilmore”. Movie Mikes had a chance to chat with Richard about his amazing career and also what he is currently working on.
Mike Gencarelli: You are known best for your role as ‘Jaws’ in the James Bond series, “The Spy Who Loved Me” and “Moonraker.” How was it working on those films?
Richard Kiel: It was a lot of hard work. We would generally work one or two days for every minute that appeared on screen. They were long shoots. “Moonraker” lasted almost six months. But the filmmakers wanted everything to be perfect. They worked very hard at that. The director (Lewis Gilbert directed both films) was a terrific to work with, as was Roger Moore. So was the crew. On “The Spy Who Loved Me” we got to go to the island of Sardania, which is in the Mediterranean. I had my family with me. We went to Egypt for the Pyramids…the Sphinx…the Valley of the Kings. And of course we worked at Pinewood Studios in London, so we stayed in an apartment for a while. We actually stayed in the stable keepers cottage on Pinewood. Pinewood used to be an estate so they had a stable keeper. For “Moonraker” we went to Paris and worked in three or four different studios there. Then we went to Rio De Janeiro where we stayed in a hotel on the ocean. So yes, it was a great experience that I really enjoyed. In fact, one of my sons was born right outside of Paris.
MG: Tell us about what you like most about that character?
RK: What I like most is that both the director and Cubby Broccoli, the producer, allowed me to give the character personality traits, such as frustration…vulnerability…persistence and a never give up attitude that made the character appealing to the audience. I get electrocuted in the train with the lamp and thrown out the window just to get up, brush off my clothes, straighten my tie and go after Bond. And the same thing happens when the villain’s car goes over the side of the mountain and ends up coming through the roof of an old Italian couples’ villa. I come busting out the front door straightening my tie and brushing off my clothes. So by the time they throw me in the tank with the shark, I’m getting huge applause and cheers. ‘Jaws” became extremely likable. So when they brought me back in “Moonraker” I had a girlfriend…a love interest. I turned into a good guy. There’s an organization in England which is very similar to Netflix in the United States that recently did a poll of all of their customers that purchased the new BluRay versions of the films. They asked them who, besides James Bond, is the best character in the Bond films. Over 9,000 responded and ‘Jaws’ got over 30% of the vote. The nearest competitor was ‘Q,’ who got 16%. Than Moneypenny and ‘M’ at 10%. And that was a great honor to me…that Cubby Broccoli and Lewis Gilbet allowing me to do what I did was being validated by the audience.
MG: Tell us about working on the original “The Twilight Zone” in the episode ‘To Serve Man’?
RK: There was a lot of heavy duty make up. To put that big head on me took three or four hours. They were long hours but they sure were worth it because it became a classic episode. “It’s a cookbook!” (laughs)
MG: How was it working with Rod Serling?
RK: Nobody that I’ve talked to who appeared on “The Twilight Zone” ever met him! He wrote most of the original stories and teleplays. I think they filmed most of his hosting appearances at the same time. He wasn’t there. And I’ve not talked to anyone who did the show who ever met him. I’m not saying he wasn’t ever on the set, but I don’t know anyone who was on that show that met him.
MG: How do you feel about the toys you inspired, including ‘Jaws’ from the Bond films and Kanamit from “The Twilight Zone”?
RK: That was quite an experience. Sideshow toys made these articulated figures which were about 14 inches tall and sent them to me in a presentation case. My wife asked why they took so long to make them, since it had been 40 years since I did “The Twilight Zone” and decades since I did the Bond films. But it shows the impact those characters have.
MG: Tell us about working with then unknown Jackie Chan in “Cannonball Run II”?
RK: I kept wondering why they had this Chinese guy (laughs). I was the driver of the car and he was my co-pilot. He was a very nice guy but, as you’ve said, at the time he wasn’t very well known in America. But I found out why the cast him. One of the film’s producers was from China, where Jackie Chan was a star. He was a star really throughout Asia. The studio sent he and I to Tokyo to promote the film. And over there he was as popular as Elvis Presley or the Beatles were here. There were tens of thousands of teenage girls that would show up everywhere we went. They were all screaming and giggling. It was very different in China. The Chinese people make great gamblers because they don’t show any emotion. They were excited, they just didn’t show it.
MG: Your role as Mr. Larson in “Happy Gilmore” is almost iconic. Was it a fun project to work on?
RK: “Happy Gilmore” is probably the second most popular film with my fans, with “The Longest Yard” coming in at a close third. The character was great…”your ball struck my foot!…and you can count on ME waiting for you in the parking lot!” Kids just absolutely love that movie. They say those lines when they meet me. It was great working on the film. Adam Sandler is a Bond fan and, obviously, was a fan of “The Longest Yard.” He treated me with a lot of respect. We had some nice conversations. He’s totally different off screen then his screen characters. His screen characters are so zany…like Jerry Lewis. But in real life he’s just a nice Jewish boy who just happens to know how to make people laugh. But he’s very down to earth.
MG: How was it voicing the character of Vladmir in the film Disney film “Tangled”?
RK: One of the directors was a big Bond fan and the producers knew of me from the Bond films. They were very, very happy with the voice work that I did. I had no idea the quality of the film. When I saw it I was just blown away. I had no idea it was going to be so spectacular. The animation…the look of it. The drama that was achieved with the leading lady and leading man and the stepmother was just fantastic. I actually wrote a letter to the directors and producers telling them how surprised I was that the film had been done so well. They said they really liked what I did and want to use me on their next project, which is an animated spy movie. So I’m excited because now I’ve opened the door to doing voice work. Since that time I got a gig with Hitachi recording the introduction of all of their corporate executives at a recent convention. When I first started out as an actor I auditioned for Hanna-Barbera but they wanted the big GIANT voice. But that’s not me…I’m really unique. “Tangled” was perfect because it was a more personalized character.
MG: Tell us about your novel with Pamela Wallace “The True Story of Cassius Clay: Kentucky Lion”?
RK: I spent about 25 years researching the character. He was very much like Oskar Schindler in “Schindler’s List” except he was an American. He put his life on the line much more then Schindler did. They both took a big chance. But the plantation owners were worried that Clay was going to try to put a stop to slavery. They were worried to the point that they put hit men on him twice to try to assassinate him. They successfully poisoned and killed his son, which ultimately destroyed his marriage. He paid a big price and went through a lot of grief for standing up for what was right. He ran for president at the same time as Abraham Lincoln. He knew he wasn’t going to get the nomination so he threw his support to Lincoln. He figured he was the closest thing to himself as far as being against slavery. He took Lincoln’s original Emancipation Proclamation to the state capitol in Kentucky to get it approved by the Kentucky legislature because they were a border/neutral state. He later became our ambassador to Russia under Lincoln. He got the Czar, who was a Christian and had just freed some 23 million slaves in Russia, to get on the same page. Russia wanted the U.S. to buy Alaska for two cents an acre. Of course during the civil war the country really didn’t have the money to do that. So Cassius Clay made a deal with him, telling him “if we buy it when the war is over…no money down, we’ll just make payments every other month…if we buy it will you sail your navy into our harbors in Boston and New York as a warning to Europe to stay out of our civil war? It would be a great help to us if you’d do that.” The Czar of Russia agreed to that and it kept Europe out of our civil war, which would have made a big difference. In fact, as he sailed towards Russia President Lincoln had him stop in England and feel out the British as far as them helping out the Confederacy. They were still smarting from the Revolutionary War. We had put a navy together that rivaled theirs. Lincoln was afraid that they would help the Confederacy be free of the Union. He found that they were really luke warm to the idea. So he wrote a letter to the English people and had it published in the London newspapers. And that stopped England during the war from coming in and helping the Confederacy. The book is also being developed as a mini-series and we’ve found a lot of major actors who are going to play cameo roles in it to support the project. Roger Moore…Christopher Lee…George Kennedy is playing a judge. Many, many fine actors who are friends of mine.
MG: What can you tell us about your latest film “The Xeno Factor”?
RK: Right now that’s the working title. I’m about 40% done filming my role and it is THE best part I’ve ever had. The director, James Marlowe, is sensational. He’s managed to pull out of me a performance the world has never seen before. I’m really, really proud of it. I wish I had met this director 20 years ago!