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Werner Herzog on Why He Didn’t Need to See ‘Star Wars’ Films for ‘The Mandalorian’ Role

At first sight, playing a vital character in Jon Favreau’s “The Mandalorian,” Disney’s live-action “Star Wars” series, which the studio is using to launch its ambitious streaming venture, might appear to be an odd move for Werner Herzog.

Yet, if Herzog’s career has taught viewers anything, it’s to expect the unexpected. The legendary feature director and documentarian, known for his haunting narration and his films’ wildly eclectic subject matter, is set to portray a mysterious figure in “The Mandalorian,” one whom he says “sets the story on its path” by asking the titular bounty hunter to track a particularly dangerous individual.

Herzog dipped his toe into more conventional Hollywood waters in 2012, appearing opposite Tom Cruise as the villain in “Jack Reacher,” and he says that one of his first on-screen roles, in a German sci-fi film in the 1970s, wasn’t a galaxy far, far away from the character he plays in the Disney series. Variety caught up with Herzog to discuss working with “Mandalorian” creator Favreau, as well as his own surprising viewing habits.

Jon Favreau approached you directly for “The Mandalorian.” Why do you think he had you in mind, and why did you say yes?

I think there are two reasons: One, he has seen some of my performances as an actor and is completely convinced that I should be part of his new series. Second, I think it’s a bit of an homage to my films and to my storytelling and to my way of putting emphasis on world stories, fever dreams in the jungle, quasi-science fiction stories. I think he sees a kindred spirit in me.

What was your experience shooting the series with Favreau?

I do not know how the “Star Wars” films were shot, but I assume much of it was motion-controlled cameras and green screens. I can say that filmmaking — and that’s Jon’s great achievement with “The Mandalorian” — is brought back to where it always has been. As an actor, you see where you are, the planet on which you’re moving, and the camera could even be on the shoulder of a cinematographer and move around, and that’s how filmmaking has been and should be. As an actor, I knew it immediately this was good stuff. You feel it when the camera doesn’t have to be motion-controlled and you don’t have to act like a robot.

Favreau has made some highly successful films recently; did you feel an element of pressure working with him?

I do not know what other films he has made.

You don’t?

No.

He made “The Lion King” earlier this year with Beyonce and Donald Glover.

Well I like “The Lion King,” but the animated version 30 years back or so. That was a wonderful film, the music was particularly great, Hans Zimmer’s score.

You have said before that you haven’t seen any of the “Star Wars” films. Do you feel that affected your performance in any way?

No, it doesn’t really matter. You see, it was a very lively exchange, man-to-man so to speak, between Jon Favreau and myself. I was not tossed into unknown territory. I was very well briefed. I knew what was expected of me — I knew the interior landscape of the character and I knew the exterior landscape. You shouldn’t feel upset that I haven’t seen the “Star Wars” films; I hardly see any films. I read. I see two, three, maybe four films per year.

Do you watch any television?

I do, I watch the news from different sources. Sometimes I see things that are completely against my cultural nature. I was raised with Latin and Ancient Greek and poetry from Greek antiquity, but sometimes, just to see the world I live in, I watch “WrestleMania.”

An unexpected choice.

You have to know what a good amount of the population is watching. Do not underestimate the Kardashians. As vulgar as they may be, it doesn’t matter that much, but you have to find some sort of orientation. As I always say, the poet must not close his eyes, must not avert them.

So you’ve been watching “Keeping Up With the Kardashians?”

I’m starting to discover it. I’m curious; that’s my guiding principle.

Will you watch “The Mandalorian” when it blasts off?

Well, I can only watch it on Disney Plus. I’d have to sign up for it. So far, I have only signed up for one streaming platform, and that’s Criterion. They have hundreds of films, and every one of them is great.

What’s the next project you’re working on?

I have a documentary on meteorites and the cultural implications they have, which I’m currently shooting. It’s in the vein of the volcano film I made, “Into the Inferno,” which is currently streaming on Netflix.

In that case, you have extra incentive to pay for some more streaming platforms.

You’re right. I have no choice but to sign up for Disney Plus and Netflix. I shall go do that now.

Things you may not know about Werner Herzog:
Age: 77
Birthplace: Munich
Favorite sci-fi movie: Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey”
Favorite film genre: Fantasy
Current obsession: Climate change

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