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Werner Herzog Wanted To Murder One Of His Stars & Even Threatened To Shoot Him

The relationship between Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski involves one of the most legendary behind-the-scenes battles in filmmaking history. Together, they made five films, including some of Herzog's most beloved works, "Aguirre, the Wrath of God" and "Fitzcarraldo." But between them raged a fierce feud. Kinski was an intense, eccentric egomaniac, prone to fits of rage and outbursts of violence on set. While shooting "Aguirre," he attacked an extra with a real sword and later opened fire on a hut containing cast and crew, shooting three bullets through the wall and blowing off the middle finger of another extra. 

Herzog took a big risk casting Kinski in "Aguirre," and they clashed from day one. "[He] arrived here at our location as a derided, misunderstood Jesus," Herzog says in the documentary "My Best Fiend," a film about his and Kinski's relationship. Kinski had canceled a touring show in Germany to star in "Aguirre" — the show involved Kinski shouting and raving on-stage for hours, claiming to be the son of God. "Often, it was difficult to talk to him because he answered like Jesus," Herzog says.

Near the end of filming, Kinski threatened to walk before Herzog intervened. "I was not armed," Herzog says in the documentary. "I went up to him and said, 'You can't do this.' ... He said, 'No, I'm leaving now.' And I told him that I had a rifle, and by the time he'd reach the next bend, there'd be eight bullets in his head and the ninth one would be [in] mine."

Werner Herzog actually planned to murder Klaus Kinski

Werner Herzog consistently denies ever having directed Klaus Kinski at gunpoint, as the apocryphal story goes. But he did threaten to shoot him — if only to save his film. "We had a great love, a great bond, but both of us planned to murder each other," Herzog said at the premiere of "My Best Fiend" at the Cannes Film Festival (via The Guardian). "Klaus was one of the greatest actors of the century, but he was also a monster and a great pestilence. Every single day I had to think of new ways of domesticating the beast." Their feud escalated during the troubled production of "Fitzcarraldo" — one example of a great film saved by reshoots — and Herzog later admitted to planning to murder Kinski.

In the documentary "My Best Fiend," Herzog says, "One day, I seriously planned to firebomb him in his house. This was prevented only by the vigilance of his Alsatian shepherd." He recounted the story to the press in more detail, explaining how he would have burned Kinski to death in his bed — but the actor's dog attacked Herzog, foiling his scheme. That's not the only time Kinski narrowly avoided death on "Fitzcarraldo."

Herzog explains in "My Best Fiend" that Kinski's frequent outbursts on set also made him a powerful enemy: the Peruvian natives who were working on the film. He says that the chief of one indigenous tribe seriously offered to kill Kinski for him, but Herzog declined.

Allegations were later leveled against Klaus Kinski

Klaus Kinski died of a heart attack in 1991 in his California home. But Kinski was not just a menace in his professional life — allegedly he was a monster in private as well. In 2013, his daughter, Pola, published an autobiography in which she claimed that he repeatedly raped her for 14 years, since she was about 5 years old. Though she said she's never seen one of his films in full, Pola Kinski also said that the figures her father portrayed were familiar to her: "When I did catch a glimpse of one I always thought: 'he's precisely like he is at home,'" she told the German paper Bild am Sonntag (via The Guardian).

Pola's sister, Nastassja Kinski, supported her brother's claims that Klaus repeatedly sexually abused her as a child. She added that she was not spared from this abuse, either: "He always touched me far too much, held me so tightly against him that I thought I could not escape," Nastassja Kinski told Bild am Sonntag (via Yahoo! Movies). "At the time I was 4 or 5 years old."

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).