The Richard Kiel CBn Interview
Richard Kiel has made over 40 feature films and has appeared in over 30 television shows during his prolific career. Kiel has played everything from a love struck prehistoric caveman in “Eegah” (Mystery Science Theater viewers will know this one), to a towering space man in the classic episode of “The Twilight Zone: To Serve Man”, to a football linebacker for Burt Renolyds in 1974 hit The Longest Yard.
But most movie goers — and certainly all Bond fans — know Richard Kiel as the indestructible “Jaws” from The Spy Who Love Me (1977) and Moonraker (1979). Not only has Kiel/Jaws appeared in two James Bond films (the only henchman to ever survive his encounters with 007), but Kiel’s hugely popular “Jaws” character is also featured in the new hit James Bond video game, Everything or Nothing, and his likeness has even been molded into a bestselling action figure–twice! Kiel, who is a favorite on the fan convention circuit, recently wrote his autobiography, “Making it BIG in the Movies,” in which he speaks in detail about his long career and his involvement on the world of 007. I recently had the pleasure of making acquaintance with the talented Richard Kiel and his wife, Diane. Mr. Kiel graciously agreed to sit down with CBn and tell us about all about his life and his deadly encounters with Bond, James Bond.
Jaws is possibly the most memorable James Bond villain of them all; How does it feel to be have become as legendary as James Bond himself?
Of course, it’s a wonderful feeling to be a Bond icon and to have a Jaws figure made to honor my role in Moonraker. It is also a lot of fun to be a part of the new Bond video game Everything or Nothing as well as my children and grandchildren quite enjoy it.
How do you think a metal mouthed character who bites his victims as means of killing them could become so popular, especially amongst children?
I think by injecting a little humor into the character and letting him have moments of vulnerability where he gets kicked out of the train window or has the construction in Egypt fall on him or when his car goes over the cliff and falls into the house in Sardenia gave the character simpatico and let him become an underdog so to speak. This gave those who tend to root for the underdog a chance to enjoy Jaws especially the children and somehow this overcame his bizarre way of disposing of his victims.
Tell us about the teeth. Were they uncomfortable? Did you ever have any accidents with the teeth? Do you own an original pair?
The teeth were made by a dental technician near Pinewood who was only able to forge one set out of heavy chromium or cobalt steel. The production company wanted several sets in order to have a spare or two in case one set got damaged or misplaced but the dental technician found that getting that much chrome to melt was nigh impossible and when he finally was able after much time and effort to get at least one set made he said that was it.
They were uncomfortable but not really painful as they had a plastic liner so they wouldn’t damage your own teeth as they covered them like a boxer’s mouthpiece. The uncomfortable part was that they went up into the roof of my mouth and that combined with the taste of metal created a gagging effect.
I was only able to keep them in for a minute or so at a time and when the director said “cut print” out they came to be washed in mouthwash and placed into a Tupperware type container filled with sterile cotton. Because they only made one pair I wasn’t able to keep a set as the “one and only set” had to be kept in a safe.
I did borrow them one weekend to pull off what I thought would be a big practical joke. We were staying at the splendid Hotel Rafael just off the Champs Elysées near the Arch of Triumph. Our room service waiter was a very dark skinned man from India whom our three year old son affectionately called “black man.”
The waiter was terrified of me and all the time he was setting out the food he would keep one eye on me. When he came to the door to deliver the food that Friday night I had the teeth in and when I opened the door he took one look and left his serving cart in the hall and we never saw him again. I felt very bad actually because he liked my little boy who also was very fond of him and therefore the joke backfired as it wasn’t funny to the waiter at all.
Perhaps it was this attitude that I had about the teeth that took some of the onus off them. To me, the way that I looked in the mirror with those teeth was quite humorous. To others it was terrifying. I must admit that when Anya opened the closet door on the train in the Spy Who Loved me to find Jaws there grinning maniacally at her that it was scary even to me. I didn’t realize that, however until I saw the film later in a theater so all the time I was filming I thought I looked funny with the teeth and because of that attitude the teeth didn’t dominate the character. When Jaws is almost electrocuted by the broken lamp and then kicked out of the train window and sent crashing down the embankment he gets up and brushes off his clothes and straightens out his tie. This gave him a very human quality.
The other choice would have been to snarl with those teeth and to show a deadly desire for revenge. I believe that my choice gave contrast to the deadly teeth side and made the character more fun and endearing to the vast majority of the audience. This caused Lewis Gilbert’s grandson to say: “Grandpa, I like Jaws. Why does he have to be a bad guy?”
This, of course, gave Lewis and the producers the idea to turn Jaws into a good guy at the end of Moonraker.
Do you remember what Lewis Gilbert’s initial direction was for the character? Or did he leave it up to you to create Jaws?
I think that Lewis liked what I was doing with the character and decided to expand upon the humor. He did that with Roger’s Bond character as well. Roger was well known for his gags which normally became funny outtakes to be laughed at in the screening room only. Lewis decided to leave many humorous adlibs in and it gave Roger’s Bond a fun quality that worked very well for him.
I remember watching the scene where the underwater Lotus car come out of the ocean and Roger rolls down the window and drops a little fish out as he drives up on the beach. Cubby Broccolli was at the screening with a journalist and we could hear him say: “That’s one of Roger’s little gags and it won’t be in the film.” My wife, Diane, who was watching and overheard the remark said to me privately: That’s funny, too bad they are going to cut it out.”
Well, they left it in along with other Roger gags and it played well to the audience. The relationship between Jaws and Bond was enhanced, I believe, by Roger’s sense of humor. “How does that grab you?” he says as the magnet sucks me up by the teeth which is only accomplished by him smiling at me which causes me to smile back and then when he looks up it causes me to look up and that is why the magnet clamps on to my smiling teeth.
So Lewis took Roger’s Bond and the Jaws character into a new direction and this was accepted quite well in the first film “The Spy Who Loved Me” and as a result the humor was cranked up another notch in Moonraker and Jaws was given a love interest that motivated him to change sides and become a good guy.
Did you tailor your characterization of Jaws to work best with Roger Moore’s James Bond? For instance, would you have played the character differently had you been cast opposite Sean Connery or one of the other Bonds?
My way of playing Jaws worked well with Roger’s keen sense of humor. Unlike some stars he did not try and stifle what I was bringing to the plate, as he is a team player. It was because of this and the director Lewis Gilbert’s recognition of the chemistry and humor that both Roger and I were bringing to the film that caused him to use much of it in the final cut.
As far as how well this would have worked with Sean Connery and another director that is like trying to predict results from a crystal ball or tea leaves.
I tried things like inadvertently dropping the big block on my foot at the Pyramids when Bond and Anya get away in the van. Lewis liked it and it worked for the audience who enjoyed a little bit of humor. Whether another director or actor would have allowed me to do that is a good question.
Did you feel that the character of Jaws was simply a retread of your character Reace from Silver Streak?
I do not know how you can keep a straight face and ask that question. In the Silver Streak I played a typical heavy who talked and carried a gun which he used to kill people. The fact that the character I played (Reace) had some gold caps did not make him anything like Jaws who killed people with his teeth
Which movie did you enjoy making more: The Spy Who Loved Me or Moonraker?
That would be a close call as I enjoyed working at Pinewood in Spy and going to Sardenia and Egypt but spending months in Paris and Rio wasn’t bad either. After the success of Spy and knowing the cast and crew I suppose it was even more comfortable working on the second film although everyone made me feel right at home on the first one.
Jaws lives at the end of The Spy Who Loved Me, which is very unusual for a James Bond henchman. Had the decision already been made to have him return in the next film when this was shot?
They shot two endings for Jaws. In one he lived and in the other he was killed by the shark. I doubt if the decision to bring Jaws back was made until there was an audience response that caused them to do so.
Did you feel making Jaws a good guy in Moonraker was a mistake, or did you enjoy the direction the character took in this film?
Like James Bond having a love interest and getting married in On Her Majesties Secret the storyline of Moonraker was a departure from the normal James Bond (especially with it taking place in outer space) and although that film was not as well liked by the hardcore 007 fans, it did please the crowds and is Roger Moore’s most financially successful Bond film.
Although, like Roger I prefer The Spy Who Loved Me to Moonraker, it is the latter film that they made the Jaws figure about complete with the costume I wore when I jumped out of the airplane. I guess you can’t argue with success.
How did you feel about Jaws getting a girlfriend in Moonraker? Did you have any creative input of this decision?
In the first scripts Jaws was to have a 6-foot girlfriend. This was changed when they found a seven foot five inch woman to play the part of Dolly. Although this might have been good for a quick joke I felt that it detracted from the natural motivation I would have in protecting a girlfriend as a woman that big would hardly need protecting.
I just wasn’t at all enthused about this idea. I suppose this came about from my experiences in my youth when I attended some meetings of a club called the Tip Toppers. In the club the women all had to be at least 6 foot tall and the men something like six foot six.
I was attracted to a pretty Swedish blonde in the club who was just six feet tall and we were dating. Some of the women thought that since I was so tall that it would be more appropriate if I dated the tallest woman in the club who was about six foot five. The fact that she was six foot five wasn’t the reason I wasn’t interested in dating her as much as the fact that I just wasn’t attracted to her.
In high school I was attracted to and dated average size girls. I think there is a natural law of nature that causes big men to like little women and vice versa. Look at how Susan Anton and Dudley Moore were attracted to one another. Years ago it was the very short Mickey Rooney who married the tall sexy Ava Gardner.
I found that “opposites attract” like North & South poles of a magnet and that very tall women preferred shorter men and real big guys like me seemed to be more attracted to smaller woman.
Anyway, I suggested a smaller girl as being more charming and they said how small? When I replied: “Well at least five feet.” they were shocked. “Do you think people would believe that?” they asked. My reply was that my wife Diane was only five foot one and one-half inches tall and that since we had two children already and one on the way they would have to believe it!
This got to be a problem too as Lewis Gilbert knew an actress who was short and brought her in to meet me. The woman was terrified of me and her hands were shaking. She was also a little older than me and it just wasn’t working. I told Lewis that she seemed awfully nervous and not quite right. He said she was a good actress and would be fine.
I was between a rock and a hard place as they were reluctantly agreeing to a shorter Dolly and yet I knew that this woman wasn’t quite the one. I approached the camera operator Alec Mills who was a good friend of Lewis and conveyed my feelings. He agreed with me and promised to mention it to Lewis.
I am not privy to exactly what happened but the next day Lewis told me to take Diane to see a French comedy called La Carapate as there was a short French actress in it that he thought would be wonderful in the part of Dolly.
I was impressed as this comedy the short actress plays a farmers wife who is having an affair and she is very pretty and very well built. Although the film was entirely in French it was very visual and extremely funny and Diane and I enjoyed it.
I knew that from her performance that like my wife Diane that this actress would not be intimidated by my size and I was absolutely right. The actress, Blanche Ravalec was able to convince the audience that she fell for Jaws within seconds of meeting him and it all worked like it was supposed to.
What was it like working with Roger Moore?
Roger Moore is a terrific guy and a real gentleman. I remember on my first day at Pinewood that I was having trouble getting used to the English way of starting the action. In England they call the name of the actor who begins the scene while in America they say “Action!” When my name was called my natural instinct was to respond: “Yes?”
Roger solved that by telling them to use the American “Action!”
All actors seem to have very fond memories of Cubby Broccoli, can you share with us one of your best Cubby Broccoli stories?
Most fans have read the true story where Cubby flew a doctor back with Diane and I because she was in the final month of pregnancy with our daughter Jennifer so I will tell you another true and amusing story.
We were in Buenos Aires promoting either The Spy Who Loved Me or Moonraker. It was during the World Soccer playoff game which was on TV while Cubby, Dana, Diane and I were having dinner.
Cubby liked to have coffee with his dinner and ordered some when we first sat down.
They brought the appetizers and the salads and soup but no coffee. Cubby politely asked the waiter about the coffee and the waiter said, “It’s coming!”
The entrees arrived but still no coffee. Cubby asked again very politely and the waiter again replied, “It’s coming!”
Finally, we were having dessert and still no coffee for Cubby. He asked again, “Could I have my coffee please” and the waiter again said, “It’s coming!”
When we finished dessert the coffee finally arrived. Seems in Argentina the coffee is not served until the very last thing after the meal and dessert.
What was funny about the experience was every time there was a delay getting something in production or some other matter, Cubby would look over at me and say, “It’s coming!”
Incidentally, Argentina won the World Cup in soccer that night and no one could sleep as the whole city celebrated all night long with firecrackers, gun shots and fireworks. It was a night that Diane and I will never forget.
Was there ever any talk about bringing Jaws back for a 3rd film?
No, I believe that Jaws had shot his wad at that point having been in two films back to back and having come over to help Bond save the world. Today, however, there seems to be a resurgence towards Jaws and the film Moonraker. In the last two years have attended several screenings of both the Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker around the world. They will be screening both The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker this November at the Prince Charles Cinema in London on Friday the 19th and then Saturday the 20 they will be screening Moonraker at the Berhamstead Theater and both Blanche Ravalec (who played Jaws girlfriend Dolly) and I will be at both screenings to do a Q&A and sign books and autographs.
In addition there is the new Jaws/Moonraker 14″ boxed figure, which immediately sold out in America and is selling out in the U.K. Finally the Everything or Nothing (EON) video game just came out in February and it features Jaws in a lot of new action never before seen in any film.
Looking at all this interest in Jaws I believe that it is now time for him to do a cameo. It would require some skillful writing on the part of the writers because of the change in Jaws’ character but it could be a lot of fun.
What do you think about Jaws being featured in the hit video game ‘Everything or Nothing’? Did you have any involvement in this or an opinion on the final product?
I have been sent by Electronic Arts (EA) the makers of the game to Dallas, Texas, Tokyo, Japan, Amsterdam, Holland and N.Y.C. to publicize and promote this new video game. In my opinion it is one of the best video games ever made as it is like a movie on to itself with real actors like Pierce Brosnan, William DaFoe, Heidi Klum and Shannon Elizabeth doing the voices and Maya doing the theme song. There is a Japanese actress in it as well, Misaki Ito, as Bond is huge in Japan.
The graphics are fantastic and there is a story written by Bond writer Bruce Feirstein. Like I said it’s like a movie with great action including car and motorcycle chases and I like what Jaws does with his character.
Did you have any input – approval of likeness etc – on the new Sideshow Collectables Jaws action figure?
No, but they did a great job and I am very happy with the likeness.
Which movie do you get more fan mail from, The Spy Who Love Me or Moonraker? Or do fans simply remember you as Jaws? Have you received and “unusual fan mail”?
Moonraker sold a lot more tickets and it naturally follows that the most fans identify me with that film along with Spy. At autograph shows we sell more Moonraker photos as well. There is no way to break down the fan mail except to say that we get more requests for Moonraker photos.
Do you ever regret becoming part of the Bond world? With all the conventions and Bond “geeks” out there, do you ever get tired of being “Jaws”?
No, not at all. I enjoy doing the conventions and meeting the fans. Unlike some TV shows or movies the Bond fans are not “geeks” although maybe one out of a thousands fancies himself as Bond and comes wearing a tux (whew!). I get more young men who grew up with braces who identified with Jaws. People love to have their picture taken with me pretending to smash their head and women seem to enjoy a regular picture with me because they feel very petite and feminine.
Are you a Bond fan yourself–when did fandom strike you? If you are a fan, who do you currently see being the next James Bond?
I was a Bond fan before playing Jaws. I think that Pierce Brosnan has made a very good Bond. Of course, when the time comes for Pierce to move on there will be another actor anxious to step into the role.
Can you tell us about some of your other acting rolls apart from Jaws? Which roll got you started in acting? Which rolls were key in your acting career? And which roll did you enjoy the most?
I was in The Longest Yard (aka: The Mean Machine) with Burt Reynolds. Force 10 From Navaronne with Harrison Ford & Robert Shaw. Happy Gilmore with Adam Sandler. Cannonball Run II with Burt Reynolds where Jacke Chan played my co-driver, driving one of the cars in the race. I got started in American television playing lead heavies in shows like “Klondike” where I played a bare-knuckle or “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” where I played a henchman not unlike Jaws but without the teeth and I talked.
The roles that were key to my career were The Wild Wild West television series where I played Voltaire with Michael Dunne’s Dr. Loveless and the movie The Longest Yard where I played one of the maniacal convicts who got to beat up the guards playing football in the prison. The audiences around the world loved my line, “I think I broke his f–ing neck!”
I enjoyed making that film as it was the one where I met my wife Diane. Another film that was a lot of fun to make was They Went That-A-Way & That-A-Way with Tim Conway. We also enjoyed making L’ Humanoid with Barbara Bach and Corrine Clery as the film took us to Rome where we filmed at the famous Cinecitta Studio and on to Israel where we filmed moon valley effects by the Red Sea and with the help of matte shots placed a futuristic city around the Kennedy Memorial which I walk out of. In both countries we worked a five-day week and had a car and driver to take us sight seeing on the weekend. I had my wife Diane and my then two older children with me and we brought over my mother and my sister’s two girls so they could enjoy the experience with us.
What inspired you to write your autobiography, Making It BIG In The Movies? And speaking of making it BIG just how tall are you anyway?
I decided to write my life story and how I broke into acting because that is the most asked question especially by hopefuls who believe that they want to be an actor. Breaking into the movies and carving out a successful career and a good living wasn’t an easy accomplishment. Many would-be actors and actresses fail in the attempt and you see the sad reality in young girls and young men who stand on Sunset Boulevard hoping to be picked up and earn a few dollars for rent and food so they can keep trying to make it big in show business rather than go back home as failures.
I did a lot of things that helped me become a success and I thought if I could pass them on along with the reality of how tough it was then perhaps it could save a lot of heartache as many people reading my book would realize that it took me 17 years to finally do that first James Bond movie and seemingly become an overnight success!
If you read my autobiography you discover that I had to do many innovative things and to have a regular job in between so I could finance the trade ads and the publicity and acting coach expenses. Many of these stories are not only useful but also very interesting and sometimes humorous making for a good read.
I am actually 7 foot and and one-half inches tall. I say Seven two because it’s easier. Unlike some tall skinny guys I am really “big” weighing around 350 pounds. Being “big” wasn’t enough however and that’s why you need to read my book.
Well, I’ll defiantly have to read your book now! Thank you very much, Mr. Kiel, for spending your time with CBn today.
Thanks for all the time and good questions and see you soon.
To discuss this interview visit this thread on the CBn forums. Thank you to Richard Kiel for all his time and great stories.
(You can pick up a signed copy of Kiel’s autobiography, “Making it BIG in the Movies”, from his web-site RichardKiel.com where you can also put in a request for a signed photo of him–plenty of picture choices.)