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Richard Kiel

Richard KielFrom The Twilight Zone to Pale Rider, Force 10 From Navarone to Happy Gilmore, Richard Kiel has been an unmistakable presence in TV and film for fifty years. The 7’ 2” actor is best known as the iconic James Bond villain Jaws, the unstoppable henchman with a steel overbite, and to date the only villain to appear in two Bond films played by the same person. X-Press sat down to talk to the big guy, as he headed over to Perth for Supanova.

As to how Kiel found himself gravitating to acting, the answer is surprisingly simple. “I needed to find work so I could afford a king size bed, custom boots and a car big enough to fit me,” he jokes. “And I had an aunt who said, ‘Why don’t you get into movies?’ So I kind of lucked right in.”

Playing plenty of tough guys and monsters during his career, his work on the western Barbary Coast (alongside William Shatner) brought him to the attention of the Bond producer. “Albert Broccoli interviewed me. We had lunch at the Beverly Hills Hotel and he described the character to me, and I said, ‘Oh my God that’s a monster role, I don’t do those any more!’ I thought, ‘It’s James Bond, you love James Bond, figure out a way to make it work.’ So I suggested that whoever he hired he really needed an actor, as a guy who killed people with his teeth could become over the top very quickly. If I played the part I would want to give him human qualities, like perseverance, frustration and vulnerability. “

Needless to say he got the part.

However, using a set of metal prosthetic teeth as Jaws’ signature weapon did present a slight problem. “The teeth were a challenge. You couldn’t talk with the teeth, you couldn’t eat with the teeth. They weren’t painful, but they sat in the roof of your mouth. They were very nauseating. So they gave me a stoic look, while trying not to throw up. It was quite a challenge, but it gave me a distinctive look.”

Kiel has also done some unexpected things during his career. He voiced Vlad in Disney’s animated movie Tangled, and co-authored a biography on the 1800s abolitionist Cassius Clay (a subject about which he is incredibly knowledgeable and passionate).

Yet it is the tough guy roles that Kiel is best known for, and so he has been in dozens of on-screen fights over the years. “I was pretty good with stunts. I would learn from the stuntmen, and I would rehearse with them. So I would learn how to take and throw movie punches. In Egypt (during The Spy Who Loved Me) they wanted me to walk across some scaffolding, and if you fell, it was right down to the rock slabs at the bottom of the Temple of Karnak.” After some previous close calls, Kiel decided to pass on the stunt. “The stuntman did it. He was 180 pounds, but learned to walk and move like me, and until the day she died my mother thought I did it. I mean, suffer from acrophobia! I don’t even like being this tall!”

DAVID O’CONNELL

Richard Kiel appears at the Supanova Pop Culture Exhibition at the Perth Convention And Exhibition Centre from June 20 – 22. Go to supanova.com.au for details.