The Popcorn Reel

                                                                                                                                                 Monday, August 17, 2009


Photo and copyright Omar P.L. Moore/  2009.  All Rights Reserved.

                                                                                              Photo: Omar P.L. Moore/
Christoph Waltz, 52, And Living
The Charmed Life Of An Anti-Basterd
By Omar P.L. Moore/   SHARE
Monday, August 17, 2009


Picture a suite with a boardroom-length table and a dozen journalists seated around it.  The actor Christoph Waltz enters, introducing himself to everyone, shaking every hand as he walks around the table.  As you watch him you sense that he's a sincere gentleman, unaccustomed to going through the motions.  The Austrian-born Mr. Waltz certainly doesn't go through the motions in Quentin Tarantino's new film "Inglourious Basterds" as Nazi Colonel Hans Landa, parading through 1941 France with his fellow Nazi comrades looking for any remaining Jewish families that may be hiding out in the French countryside.  Mr. Waltz definitely plays villain but his portrayal is more than surface as audiences will see beginning on Friday in the U.S. and Canada.

A casting agent in Berlin had brought Mr. Waltz to the attention of the "Pulp Fiction" film director.  "I don't think [Quentin] knew anything about me," the veteran actor revealed.  Mr. Waltz stops for a brief moment. 

"It irritates me terribly that you're taping this." 

Mr. Waltz says this politely, and the journalists he addresses kindly offer to turn off their video devices.  "I don't want to interfere with the appliance but I get incredibly self-conscious," the 52-year-old actor admitted.  After mentioning how he "hates" third persons meddling with the camera while he's performing on a movie set, Mr. Waltz, in sometimes professorial tones and at other times an exacting but respectful manner questions some of the questioners' questions: "explain to me . . . how do you actually go about taking liberties with history?", he asks one journalist whose face reddens at the unexpected rejoinder.  "[Quentin] takes artistic liberties with the narrative.  But that's actually his beauty as an artist. . . . I'm not even sure that I would be irritated if I was a historian," he said, responding to the concern about accurate portrayals of World War Two Nazis and their fates.

"It was really terribly interesting to speak with the author of this script.  I had two months to study the script," he said.  As for creating and building the character of Landa, Mr. Waltz said: "I don't think in terms of cultivating -- basically that's what it is.  You can't avoid it.  You read it and it starts to ferment in a way -- consciously, subconsciously in a way.  I don't aim at cultivation.  I just try to find out what it is that's in front of me on the page."  As Mr. Waltz addressed his preparation for the role of Col. Landa he acknowledged Mr. Tarantino's voracious cinematic acumen.  "This man has an encyclopedic knowledge of film.  You can say, 'yeah, can you show me an analog character in a Hong Kong movie?' and he would [snaps his fingers] have it like that."  

The actor said he turned down Mr. Tarantino's offering up suggestions for Col. Landa.  "'The script is enough.  It's plenty, you know.  And it's probably more than I can digest anyway because there is just so much in it,'" Mr. Waltz recalled telling the director in pre-production.

"For me as an actor playing a part is a reality," said the philosophical Mr. Waltz.  "That doesn't mean that it's the same reality as if it happened in the so-called real life (of 1940s Nazi-occupied France) or real world . . . [as a director Quentin] is taking liberties with his cinematic reality."

Of his character Colonel Landa, Mr. Waltz describes him this way: "He doesn't apply judgment, you know.  He doesn't apply moral categories (to things).  Yes he could, but he chooses not to."

"Inglourious Basterds" had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in France in May and also showed in Berlin.

Mr. Waltz described a response to his film character that irked him.  "I was quite offended that a German journalist wrote, you know, 'this is a man who likens Jews to rats without a blink of an eye.'  And I was, you know, I thought, 'poor idiot, you know, he didn't get it.'" 

After mentioning his character's onscreen refrain that "the German could be a hawk and the Jew could be a rat", Mr. Waltz added that "propaganda -- Nazi propaganda, says the same thing.  But where our conclusions differ is that I do not consider the comparison an insult.  And that's the clue.  That really is the clue to the whole part [of Col. Landa].  Yes, others -- others apply moral connotations and you know, derogatory and racist and dangerous -- I don't do that.  I just say, you know, 'what is the rat?'  I look at the rat.  The rat has fantastic qualities.  You know?  And the Jews have fantastic qualities.

"And it's in full appreciation of what this whole layer of reality entails.  And that makes it infinitely more interesting than actually saying -- here Mr. Waltz uses a mock voice -- 'hold on, oh, you know, he calls Jews rats and Germans hawks.'"  

"This," Mr. Waltz says, referring to Mr. Tarantino's screenplay, "is fantastic play writing.  Really fantastic.  On the highest level."

"Inglourious Basterds" opens on Friday in the U.S. and Canada.  The film is released in North America by The Weinstein Company and everywhere else by Universal Pictures.

Related: Popcorn Reel Interview -- Melanie Laurent, One Beautiful Basterd

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