Werner Herzog, speaking at the British Film Institute, watches a clip of Klaus Kinski in Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1972, dir. Werner Herzog)
“[Werner] Herzog is a miserable, hateful, malevolent, avaricious, money-hungry, nasty, sadistic, treacherous, blackmailing, cowardly, thoroughly dishonest creep. His so-called ‘talent’ consists of nothing but tormenting helpless creatures and, if necessary, torturing them to death or simply murdering them. He doesn’t care about anyone or anything except his wretched career as a so-called filmmaker. Driven by a pathological addiction to sensationalism, he creates the most senseless difficulties and dangers, risking other people’s safety and even their lives -just so he can eventually say that he, Herzog, has beaten seemingly unbeatable odds.
…If he wants to shoot another take because he, like most directors, is insecure, I tell him to go fuck himself. Every scene, every angle, every shot is determined by me, and I refuse to do anything unless I consider it right. So I can at least partly save the movie from being wrecked by Herzog’s lack of talent…He should catch the plague! Syphilis! Yellow fever! Leprosy! It’s no use; the more I wish him the most gruesome deaths, the more he haunts me.”
-Klaus Kinski, via his autobiography Kinski Uncut
“Kinski’s fits can partly be explained by his egocentric character. Egocentric is perhaps not the right word; he was an outright egomaniac. Whenever there was a serious accident, it became a big problem because, all of a sudden, he was no longer the center of attention. He was no longer important.
[On the set of Fitzcarraldo], a lumberman was bitten by a snake while cutting a tree. This was the most dangerous snake of all. It only takes a few minutes before cardiac arrest occurs. He dropped the saw and thought about it for five seconds and then he grabbed his saw again and cut off his foot. It saved his life, because the camp and serum was 20 minutes away. When that happened, I knew Kinski would start raving with some trifling excuse, because now he was just a marginal figure.
In another incident, a plane crashed, which was bringing people here. Luckily, they all survived, but some were seriously injured. Kinski saw that he was no longer in demand. So, he threw a fit, because his coffee was only lukewarm that morning. For hours he screamed at me, that close to my face. Incredible. I didn’t know how to calm him down, and then I had an inspiration. I went to my hut, where, for months I had hidden a piece of chocolate. We would almost have killed one another for something like that. I went back to him, going right into his face and ate the chocolate. All of a sudden he was quiet. This was utterly beyond him.
Kinski’s raving fits strained things with our Indian extras. They were Machiguengas, these two here, and a lot of Campas, too. Normally, they speak very softly and physical contacts are gentle. They were afraid. They would sit huddled together, whispering.
Towards the end of shooting, the Indians offered to kill Kinski for me. They said: “Shall we kill him for you?” And I said: “No, for God’s sake! I still need him for shooting. Leave him to me!”
I declined, at the time, but they were dead serious. They would have killed him, undoubtedly, if I had wanted it. I at once regretted that I held the Indians back from their purpose.”
-Werner Herzog, via his documentary My Best Fiend (1999)