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Christoph Waltz on Inglourious Basterds

Published August 18, 2009 in Movie Interviews
By Fred Topel | Image property of TWC
You might wonder why we’re doing a story on some unknown German actor, but after you see Inglourious Basterds you’ll want to know more about Christoph Waltz. He plays Col. Hans Landa, nicknamed “The Jew Hunter,” the real enemy of the film’s heroes, if not the direct target of the Basterds themselves.

Inglourious Basterds Hunt Christoph Waltz

“What I tried to learn is what makes a detective,” Waltz said. “Why would someone want to be a detective? You learn that kind of quickly, not the craft of being a detective. Like with any other craft you would probably need a few decades to become a master detective, unless you're a genius. But so I found old books from the beginning of the 20th century about criminology. It was really interesting how far advanced they were in psychology and sussing out motivations and reasoning 100 years ago. I found that interesting. Whether I learned something from it that was valuable or not from the part, I don't know. It's hard to tell.”

The film opens with Landa investigating a farm house suspected of sheltering Jewish refugees. It is an extended dialogue that lasts more than the entire first reel, showing how Landa uses politeness and humor to manipulate his goals.

“In Germany, a journalist said, 'Well, this is a man who likens Jews to rats without a blink of an eye.' No, no, no, this is missing the point entirely. He says, 'The Germans are like the hawk, the Jew is like the rat.' And then Goebbels says the same thing, but then where our conclusions differ is that I do not consider the comparison an insult. That's the lead, not the rat comparison, that he doesn't consider it an insult. And that actually is the most valuable clue to this character of all. That he does evaluate, he does not judge, he follows what it is. So this is, if you want, a truly modern character.”

Inglourious Basterds Inglourious Basterds

Inglourious Basterds Inglourious Basterds

Waltz has several extended dialogue scenes in the film, and he welcomed Tarantino’s script. “That's something that I understood in the much poo-poo'ed Death Proof, which I think is a fantastic movie. Seeing Death Proof made me understand that I was quite happy and enthusiastic at the moment that it finally clicked. It clicked when these girls were talking and talking and talking and talking and talking. And the more they were talking, the less I knew what they were talking about, and the less I cared. I was fascinated. I sat there at the edge of my seat watching these girls go on and on, and I couldn't care less what it was. I loved it. To use what everybody knows, sort of our every day vocabulary and turn it into art. So when I read the first scene, I was completely, completely blown away by the fact that not only does he use the genre in this case, oddly enough kind of a spaghetti Western genre, and lifts it onto the level of art but also masters that art. How he does it I don't know. Fantastic. Unbelievable. He's a true, true artist. 200 years ago he would have been one of the great dramatists.”

The part and Waltz’s performance were so memorable that he won the award for best actor at Cannes. “I still don't know if it's true or not. Cannes is all about cinema and to be awarded that prize, being knighted by the Queen is kindergarten compared to that. Someone asked me, 'Has a German-speaking actor ever won that award?' And I didn't know. I went into Wikipedia to look it up and I saw the list of names of all the people to have received that award, and at the bottom was my name. I'm sorry but I still can't make that connection.”

Inglourious Basterds opens to theaters on August 21st.

For the posters, trailer, photos and more movie info, go to the Inglourious Basterds Movie Page.

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Fred Topel
Sources: Image property of TWC

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