There is a reason Werner Herzog agreed to co-star as a villain in the forthcoming Star Wars show The Mandalorian. And it is not because he is a fan of George Lucas’s sci-fi franchise.

“I had a very, very vague idea of what Star Wars was all about,” Herzog said at the Cannes Film Festival, dismissing a beloved, multi-billion-dollar empire as if it were a USA Network show canceled after a single season. The very German, extremely quotable, zanily profound filmmaker did, however, need money to fund one particular rogue movie idea: Family Romance, LLC.

Traditional Hollywood financiers would not have gone for the filmmaker’s latest stunt, and for understandable reasons. He wanted to use an incomplete script he wrote himself, cast Japanese-speaking non-actors, and film in Japan—a triple-axel of daring, particularly considering that Herzog does not speak Japanese. But he dedicated his first few checks from The Mandalorian to making Family Romance, LLC, and was able to scrounge up a few other strange jobs, according to Herzog. “The only thing I have not done so far [to make money for movies],” he joked, “is bank robbery.”

Don’t get Herzog wrong; he actually likes the role he took in the Star Wars spin-off. “I asked for the full screenplays, and I looked into the part, and it looked good and interesting,” he said. Herzog also had experience playing a screen villain, having faced off against Tom Cruise in Jack Reacher. “The only reason for having me in the film is they needed somebody who would spread terror, and be frightening for the audience,” he said. “I said, ‘Yes I think I can give you this stylization.’ It came with great ease.”

Herzog has worked with fine actors like Christian Bale (Rescue Dawn) and Nicole Kidman (Queen of the Desert)—but with all due respect to those Oscar-winning performers, he prefers to take his acting cues from Mick Jagger.

“He was in the original cast of Fitzcarraldo,” Herzog said, referring to his 1982 West German drama. “Jagger would have a huge argument with the production manager—I don’t know what about, his mineral water or the per diem. And I would say, ‘Mick, the camera is rolling.’” The Rolling Stones frontman would immediately stop, “step in front of the camera, and he’s a demon. I like that a lot. . . . I step in front of the camera, and I can change from one second to the next.” And Herzog does have to shape-shift to become a villain: “My wife would testify to you privately that I’m a fluffy husband.”

But back to Family Romance, LLC. It is a micro-budgeted movie about the lengths humans will go for emotional connection, and the way one Japanese company, also called Family Romance, LLC, has already commoditized that impulse. The film is based upon an actual business in Japan—run by Yuichi Ishii, who plays himself in the film—that offers men to fill specific emotional voids in the lives of its clients. In the film, a few of these scenarios are explored; a woman, for example, hires Ishii to play a father figure to her pre-teen daughter. Another woman, who doesn’t trust her alcoholic husband, hires Ishii to walk her daughter down the aisle at her wedding.

Herzog first heard about the real-life business through Roc Morin, one of his former rogue film school students who lives in Tokyo and speaks Japanese. Though he already had a few projects on his plate, the filmmaker knew this concept was “so big we have to tackle it right away.” Herzog’s metaphor for projects like this—the ones that leap to the front of his production line—is as Herzogian as you’d expect: “It’s like you wake up in the middle of the night, because there’s some noise in your kitchen, and there are five burglars. One of them comes at you swinging with an ax, so you better deal with that one first. But there are still some four more. This was one of those where I would instantly know this was so big, I had to do it right away, no matter if Hollywood tried to throw millions at it. I knew they would never make a film as good as I would do it.”


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