Richard Kiel: 13 September 1939 – 10 September 2014
“Well, they don’t really need an actor, he’s more a monster part… I said if I were to play the part, I want to give the character some human characteristics, like perseverance, frustration” – Richard Kiel.
At 7 ft 2 in tall, Richard Kiel, who has died at the age of 74, will be forever remembered for playing the henchman Jaws in not one, but two Bond movies. The role has became so iconic that he’d virtually made a separate career from countless Bond convention and fanfest guest appearances. Despite being blind in one eye, and his distinctive height and physiognomy attributed to the hormonal condition: acromegaly, he carved a 50-year career spanning dozens of television and movie appearances.
Funnily enough, in the mid-70s, when auditions for a certain evil cloaked space villain began, both Kiel and one Dave Prowse were up for the role. Interestingly, Kiel “turned down the role of Darth Vader in order to play Jaws, which he felt offered greater acting potential since the character was not encased in a mask.” When the role of Jaws came along, he (reluctantly) went up for it against (who else?) Dave Prowse…
And what about Chewie? In an interview two years ago, Kiel claims he turned down the chance to play that walking carpet due to a fear of being typecast, and complaining that it’s: “always so hot inside those suits…”
When The Incredible Hulk was developed for television in 1978, Kiel spent the first two days of filming as the green giant. However, the producers felt he “was not bulky enough,” so in stepped Lou Ferrigno, but later in the series Kiel would make an appearance, albeit uncredited.
“He was a super guy. He was larger than life. He was very friendly; would always make time to talk with his fans” – Luis Fairman.
Richard Kiel – who would have turned 75 this past Saturday – began his acting career by appearing in various TV Westerns such as Laramie and The Rifleman. He starred in the poor little-known SF feature: The Phantom Planet before making a striking appearance on television.
One notable episode of seminal TV show: The Twilight Zone, “To Serve Man” (1962) told how a 9-foot tall alien race known as the Kanamits arrived on Earth to assist mankind. Besides being 2 feet too short(!), Richard Kiel portrayed the still-imposing Kanamit ambassador who visited the United Nations to reiterate the aliens’ peaceful intentions; his lips never moved – as Kanamits communicated telepathically, his “voice” was provided by another actor.
Later that year, Kiel would play the titular caveman of the atrocious Eegah, in which “teenagers stumble across a prehistoric caveman, who goes on a rampage.”
Other roles in the genre included The Humanoid (1979). Richard Kiel had a substantial role in this ultra-cheap Italian Star Wars knockoff, but this is a shame, for it turned out to be yet another case of shoddy material which did not do its star any justice. As anyone can see from both Bond films, Richard Kiel could apply the subtlest nuances in his looks to alternately convey menace and mayhem and then heart and humour.
“They shot two endings [for Spy Who Loved Me]: one where the shark got him and one where he got the shark. And, in America, there was great whooping and hollering when his head came up out of the sea” – Sir Roger Moore.
Sir Roger Moore was said to be “totally distraught” at learning of Richard Kiel’s passing. Despite being involved in some of the best fight scenes of the 007 franchise, off-screen Moore and Kiel were the best of friends. Moore praised his giant friend for helping him in fundraising campaigns for UNICEF. “He was a big, caring man.”
The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) is often considered one of Moore’s best 007 adventures. Originally, Jaws was to be like every other henchman: do his bit and then come a cropper, but there was such a distinctive vibe about Kiel’s performance which makes Jaws one of the most memorable villains of any genre. Plus, preview audience reaction was so positive that the character was saved to bite another day.
Although Moonraker does not rate highly on some Bond lists, it still holds up pretty well. For the 1979 Bond movie, two elements were required: it had to have a sci-fi feel: to capitalise on Star Wars fever, then an unprecedented worldwide phenomenon; and secondly, Richard Kiel just had to make a comeback as the baddie with the baddest teeth.
Critically, Jaws may be even better in his second outing. Consider the list of classic scenes: who can forget his comical arm-flapping before plummeting onto a circus big-top?; the boat chase and the priceless expression he pulls prior to toppling over a massive waterfall; and what about the cable-car sequence? But what really confirmed Jaws in the stratosphere of franchise fame was the introduction of a love-interest in the diminutive form of a bespectacled, pig-tailed girl known only as “Dolly” (played by Blanche Ravalec, trivia-buffs!), who incidentally, was cuter and more charming than that film’s official Bond-girl(!) This twist could so easily have turned out ludicrous, but was handled just right. Upon realising that he does not measure up to megalomaniac Drax’s “standards of physical perfection” Jaws revolts, ending up aiding the same man he’d been hired to kill. Against expectations – certainly against type – Kiel had succeeded in creating a more tender, endearing individual.
There was no greater opponent for Jaws… other than his own metallic molars. “They were nauseating” Kiel said. “As soon as the director called Cut, out they came.” The formidable gnashers were tipped to be created by John (Planet of the Apes) Chambers, but that job went instead to dental mechanic: Luis Fairman. Whilst filming, those uncomfortable teeth were kept in a safe each night! So, have they been kept in a glass by the actor’s bedside ever since?
Not exactly. Kiel admitted not knowing what had happened to them, but thought they may have ended up “in a Bond museum somewhere.”
Well, here’s to you, Richard.