Monday, July 20, 2009

Richard Kiel Chews the Fat

A poll once selected "Jaws", the steel-toothed assassin played by Richard Kiel in The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker, as the best-loved James Bond character, with 30% of the vote. Kiel is understandably proud of this fact, as well he might be, given the input he had in shaping the role. Speaking to Geoffrey Macnab, he recalls that Cubby Broccoli recruited him for the role with this pitch: ""The character we have in mind is going to have teeth like tools, maybe like a shark." (Maybe like a shark, and he's called "Jaws"? Does Kiel not know that there's a movie? Is it too late to tell him?) It turns out that Kiel hesitated to take the role because "He wanted to break away from rent-a-giant parts and play - as he puts it - 'regular henchman or villain roles'. However, he eventually managed to talk Broccoli into making Jaws a sympathetic, three-dimensional character rather than just a titan with gleaming metallic molars. 'If I was to play this role, I told him I'd want to give this character who kills people with his teeth a human side to make him more interesting, maybe have him be persevering and frustrated, so he wouldn't become boring. A guy killing people with his teeth could easily become over the top.'" After you've been in the business for a while, you become sensitive to these things.

Kiel made his debut in 1960 in an episode of the TV series Laramie, and stayed employed for the next fifteen years or so through a succession of, well, rent-a-giant roles. One of his classier early turns was as an alien representative in the classic Twilight Zone episode "To Serve Mankind." He also appeared in no fewer than three movies later immortalized on Mystery Science Theater 3000: Eegah!, the living-caveman flick from the semi-notorious Arch Hall, The Human Duplicators, and The Magic Sword, in which he picked up a check as an uncredited pinhead. He also played various heavies in a string of movies (Skidoo, Silver Streak, The Longest Yard) and TV shows (including two different special guest monsters on The Night Stalker). After Jaws, he appeared in So Fine, Cannonball Run II, Pale Rider, Happy Gilmore, and the family film The Giant of Thunder Mountain, which he wrote and executive produced. But he knows that, at some date in the long-off and unforseeable future, Jaws is going to top his obituary; he even reprised the character, sort of, in 2003 when he lent his voice to a video game. He certainly worked hard enough for the part: it turns out that the prosthetic dentures he wore for the role "were nauseating. They were up in the roof of your mouth and gave you a gagging effect - you felt like you were going to be sick. It did add to the stoic part of my character - to keep from throwing up." The man employed to make them "ended up successfully making one set. He told me he couldn't make any more - it was just too difficult." Between rides inside Kiel's mouth, the teeth were safely guarded, but he wasn't allowed to keep them as a souvenir and doesn't know where they are today. If they're looking for a MacGuffin for Nicolas Cage to track down in National Treasure 3...

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