Quentin Tarantino, one of Hollywood's most influential directors, said his multi-Oscar nominated movie "Inglourious Basterds" would never have been made were it not for a relatively unknown Austrian actor called Christoph Waltz – despite having cast Brad Pitt as the lead.
Tarantino's movie revolves around a hillbilly from the South, Lt. Aldo Raine, played by Pitt, who starts a resistance movement with eight Jewish American soldiers who are dropped behind enemy lines. Waltz plays the charismatic yet sadistic Nazi Colonel Hans "The Jew Hunter" Landa.
Before Tarantino met Waltz, he said he wasn't able to find the perfect actor for the role. The actor had to be not only fluent in at least three languages (the film was shot in English, French and German) but he also had to have a unique mastery of the English language. Tarantino said he got so nervous he nearly pulled the plug on the entire movie until "Christoph, pardon the pun, waltzed into the room," he told ABC News Now's "Popcorn With Peter Travers" last year.
Waltz, who won Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival last May, was nominated in February for an Oscar in the Best Supporting Actor category. He joins Matt Damon for "Invictus," Woody Harrelson for "The Messenger," Christopher Plummer for "The Last Station" and Stanley Tucci for "The Lovely Bones."
"It took me a long time to say the word Oscar, but after the nomination I thought I might as well start," Waltz said in a recent interview with Travers."
Waltz is considered an Oscar shoe-in, having already won the Golden Globe and SAG awards for the same category.
"It turns into this little gang – one of the nicest things of being on this [awards] circuit. We keep on meeting and get better acquainted. One of the overwhelming aspects has been how supportive the others are," he said.
All this national and international acclaim came as a surprise for the talented actor, who experienced the awards whirlwind for a first time.
"It's not only a circuit, it's also a circus and as much fun … The accolades, the appreciation and the acknowledgment is overwhelming but one huge constant compliment – may I confess, I love it!," said Waltz.
Waltz got his extraordinary role through a "very traditional even old fashioned" audition. Usually in auditions, an actor is sent a paragraph, which he reads with no idea of the role or the script. However, with Tarantino, "you get an envelope in the mail that weighs a ton (and has) the full script. You get a handwritten cover page. By pulling the script out of the envelope, you enter into a relationship with the author before even reading it," explained Waltz.
The actor found the acclaimed director to be a "polished gentleman who was polite and accommodating" – a far cry from his "eccentric l'enfant terrible" image.
"I reacted very favorably to that. It deflated all the pressure," acknowledged Waltz.
He met with Tarantino and his producer Lawrence Bender in a big room with a table, where the script lay closed. After chatting with him, the director politely asked Waltz, "Would you mind if we read a bit?" "It was the ultimate high tea," said the actor with a smile. Not only did they read the entire script, but Tarantino asked Waltz to translate the relevant parts into French and German, which he did. "Quentin is able to direct in all the languages even though he doesn't speak them," noted Waltz.
Tarantino, according to Waltz, did not want him to rehearse with the star-studded cast that included Brad Pitt, Diane Kruger as German actress/secret agent Bridget von Hammersmark, "Hostel" director Eli Roth as Donnie Donowitz aka the "Bear Jew", and Mike Myers in a cameo as a British general.
"He told me he did not want to conspire with or manipulate actors, but in this case he said it might be advantageous if you didn't get well acquainted with them," he recalled. Instead Waltz rehearsed on his own with Tarantino, who then "threw it together on the set."
Tarantino emphasized that Waltz was "not a Nazi. His son is a rabbi, but like Landa, he's very erudite and he's very witty."
The actor, prior to the Landa role, had not played a Nazi before. "In real life, I'm extremely particular about the subject. When it comes to movies and narratives, my particularity shifts to the role. I care about whether it's a good role. Should it happen to be a Nazi, so be it. Yet I never found a part worthwhile playing," he said.
The multilingual actor had learnt his craft and languages in his hometown Vienna, where he grew up in a theatrical family. Fluent in English, French and German, he is very proud of how well he barely speaks another language. "I fake Italian in movies and in real life as well – surprisingly successfully … I gave an interview to Italian TV in Italian even though I don't speak Italian – I faked it! I'd had Latin in school. I speak French. You pluck all the Latin roots from here and there like a truffle pig and make it sound like opera," he said. "Quentin says Landa is a linguistic genius. Speaking languages is not genius unless you speak thirty two. Faking a language successfully is genius," he added mischievously.
Waltz's next role is in "The Green Hornet" with Seth Rogen. "I really really like this man. He's smart, funny, not over bearing, a great person," he said about his co-star. In the "Hornet," he plays a villain, a term he would not use in describing Landa. The director Michel Gondry gave him useful advice on how to play his character since Waltz was not familiar with comic book culture. "We want a villain in his mid-life crisis. That immediately laid out a wide scope of possibilities. That was really fun to play," he said. The movie is scheduled to be released December 2010.