For Quentin Tarantino, getting his Nazi-bashing epic “Inglourious Basterds” set up and financed wasn’t the problem. “The movie was ridiculously easy to get going,” he admits sheepishly. The make-or-break challenge was casting.
The ensemble-friendly auteur knew that if he couldn’t find the perfect lineup of multilingual actors to bring his revisionist thriller to life, he didn’t have a movie. So instead of hiring one casting director, as is usually done, he set up offices in every country he needed to find native-language speaking actors. “If you were German but you wanted to read in Los Angeles, it was like, ‘Sorry, my head ain’t there right now. I’ll see you in Germany,’ ” he explains.
Tarantino also insisted he be the one to read with the actors. “If you’re acting opposite me, I can maybe point you in the right direction,” he explains, “because my dialogue can be tricky. It’s like, ‘Oh, Quentin’s hitting the jokes harder. This is supposed to be funnier. OK, got it.’ ”
Brad Pitt came easy, though chance played a part. “He’s got a situation with his wife where she does one and he does one, and it could have easily not been the right time,” he says. Considering the narrow time frame, “I couldn’t have waited for anybody.” Fortunately, it was Pitt’s turn to act.
But when it came to casting the right thesp to play his key character, the cunning Col. Hans Landa, Tarantino knew it would be a tricky part to fill, calling for someone who could speak German, French and English, while putting a charming face on Landa’s lethal true nature.
“So far in my career, I’ve been very lucky. That dude has always walked through the door, thank God,” he says. But at one point, the candidates were so far from what Tarantino needed, he nearly lost hope and scrapped the project altogether. And then an Austrian named Christoph Waltz auditioned. “Frankly, if Christoph’s mother had never met Christoph’s father, I don’t know if that dude would have walked through the door.”
Tarantino’s unconventional methods paid off, not only at the box office, but with his filmmaking peers as well. “I bumped into Steven Spielberg, and he goes, ‘Quentin, not only do I think it’s one of the best-cast movies you’ve ever done, it’s one of the best-cast movies I’ve ever seen,” recalls Tarantino. “That was the best compliment ever.”