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The Werner Herzog Cameo Everyone Missed In What Dreams May Come

"What Dreams May Come," director Vincent Ward's fantasy drama that's finding a new life on Netflix, is an interesting movie. It's one of the least critically or financially successful movies to win an Academy Award in the past 30 years (it won Best Visual Effects in 1998). Based on a novel by Richard Matheson, "What Dreams May Come" follows a man named Chris Nielsen (Robin Williams) on a journey into literal Hell to rescue his wife Annie (Annabella Sciorra) from eternal damnation. At one point, as he approaches the entrance to Hell, he has to walk across the Faces of the Damned, a vast road paved with the faces of people who committed terrible sins while they were alive. Their bodies are trapped under the ground. One of the faces is a familiar one, if you're a fan of independent film — or "The Mandalorian," for that matter.

That's because the Faces of the Damned scene contains a cameo -– available to watch on YouTube –- from the acclaimed German filmmaker and actor Werner Herzog, who's best known as a director for the features like "Aguirre, the Wrath of God" and "Fitzcarraldo," as well as documentaries like "Grizzly Man." As far as acting, you'll recognize him for his role as "The Client" in the first season of "The Mandalorian." 

As for his appearance in "What Dreams May Come," it's a brief cameo that's easy to miss if you don't immediately recognize Herzog's distinctive Bavarian-accented voice.

Calling out for Klaus

During the scene in "What Dreams May Come," while Chris is stepping over the Faces of the Damned, which are crying out in misery — and in the case of one woman who claims she never overbilled her clients, denial (this complaint feels personal, like Vincent Ward is bitter about getting ripped off by someone) — one of the faces that Chris steps on calls out to him, "Welcome, son!"

"Papa?" Chris asks, bending down for a closer look.

"You're Klaus," the damned man says, and keeps repeating "welcome." Chris says he's not Klaus, and the man is not his father. The man is so desperately lonely that anyone who comes down there looks like his family to him, because his family never comes. It's a brief appearance, but strange and depressing in a way that's very appropriate for Herzog's persona.

In a behind-the-scenes section on his blog, director Vincent Ward explained the significance of the name Klaus. In fact, the "Klaus" to whom Herzog's character is referring is the actor Klaus Kinski. Herzog and Kinski had a volatile, love-hate creative and personal relationship, as depicted in Herzog's documentary "My Best Fiend."  

"Knowing something of their history, the otherworldliness became somehow haunting for all of us listening," Ward wrote. "So now this man, this face, is calling out caught amongst a morass of bodies waiting for Klaus to pass by through the endless eons of time."

'Smash my glasses with your foot'

In Vincent Ward's behind-the-scenes post about "What Dreams May Come," he shared a story about Werner Herzog on the set of "What Dreams May Come" that can only be described as Herzogian ... because yes, Werner Herzog is exactly how you'd expect him to be.

It seems that Robin Williams was worried about stepping on Herzog's face, and kept apologizing to him every take. Eventually, Herzog had enough of Williams' thoughtfulness, and told him to do what needed to be done for the good of the film. 

"​​Looking up at Robin from the ground where his face was embedded Werner said quietly (though emphatically): 'Go on Robin tread on my face, yes tread on my face,'" Ward wrote. "Robin echoed nervously, 'But Werner I...?' 'Go on!' 'I can't.' 'Yes you can, smash my glasses with your foot. Go on, tread on me, now. Break them.'"

So, there's an amazing image to take with you. Werner Herzog demanding that Robin Williams stomp on his face so hard that he breaks his glasses, all for the sake of one scene.