Even with Brad Pitt in the lead role, Austrian-born Christoph Waltz may have emerged as the star of “Inglourious Basterds.” The thesp, who took home best acting honors at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, plays Colonel Hans Landa in the Tarantino film and is already receiving a shot of Oscar buzz for his performance. Waltz discusses why he admires his agent’s impersonal touch, how he looks to his son for Hollywood news and when it helps to be an outsider.
You’ve been on a world tour promoting “Inglourious Basterds.” How’s that going?
It’s really interesting. I know from my experience in theater that the crowd is different every night; the reactions, the tension. But it’s true for film as well, going from country to country and culture to culture. The difference between California and New York responses, for example. It’s really fascinating.
Back in May, you won the best acting award at Cannes. Now that the “Oscar machine” is approaching, do you feel the pressure?
No, not at all. I view all of the awards talk as a compliment, nothing more. I don’t really understand it as a concrete, directed discussion or a goal. It’s completely outside of my reach so I just I’m flattered and honored to be on the menu.
How did you get the part?
A casting director in Berlin suggested a meeting with Quentin; it was very traditional. They sent me a script, I read it and then we eventually met. To be honest, I wasn’t fascinated by the role initially (laughs), but after meeting with Quentin and the more I read, the more intrigued I was.
You studied acting in Vienna as well in New York?
I did. I had a little money at the time after working odd jobs and I didn’t want to buy a sports car and so I thought, “Maybe I should invest this in me.”
Did you have any specific goals in mind?
Not really so specific. For a while, I couldn’t decide whether or not I should pursue singing in the opera or acting. And I’m glad that I chose the latter because I wasn’t a very good singer.
Quentin’s notorious for using longer takes. Did your experience on stage prepare you for this?
Absolutely, yes. I can’t speak for the other actors but it was fantastically helpful to have that experience. It helps me understand my place in my job in the whole scene. It’s a lot more fun.
When you read for Quentin, did you know Brad Pitt was involved?
My son filled me in, yes. My son is very internet adept, so he gave me all the bits and pieces one morning.
Your character in this film is more of a detective than he is a soldier. Did you model your role after someone specific?
Definitely not. I try to avoid that with great effort. Everything that leads away from your character takes you on a detour, in my opinion, so I wanted to stick with what Quentin had created, what he had wrote.
Did you do any historical research?
I grew up in Austria, so this moment in history is featured very prominently in our education. And I’m interested in this time anyway, so my level of knowledge was not really basic anymore. And, as you’ve said, this is more of a detective part, not really a soldier.
What has the reaction been so far in Austria and Germany?
Overwhelmingly enthusiastic. I’ve been asked this question before, but the moment Hitler is killed, the sigh of relief that goes through the theater is greater in Germany and Austria than anywhere else.
The film was shot almost entirely in France and Germany. Describe the atmosphere on set.
Quentin and I talked about it in the beginning to keep me separate from the group. To stay a little bit on the outside because he doesn’t want everyone to become very comfortable with each other and I really agreed with that approach. And while it makes it difficult socially, in the end it really does benefit the work.
You have a new agent: Adam Schweitzer at ICM. Did you two hook up before you got the role?
Adam approached me before the shoot and I loved it because he didn’t even know that I had been cast; he simply had read the part. He said, “Whoever gets this role will have great potential to work with because it’s so special.” It was by the part, not by the person and I really admired that. Not “Oh, he’s a nice guy, let’s see what we can do.”
What’s next? Are you two eyeing any new roles?
We’ve got our eyes on three different parts at the moment. But unfortunately, I can’t reveal them to you. Not even with your finest detective work! (laughs)