The 'charming' Nazi

The charming Nazi

Actors dream that a big break will come along that will catapult them into that kind of Hollywood A-list fame that will ensure they'll never again have to worry about their next job. For most actors, the call never comes. But for Christoph Waltz, who garnered awards and praise the world over for his portrayal of a Nazi in Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds, which was just released in Israel last week, that call did come. Twice. The Austrian-born Waltz, who won the coveted Best Actor Award at last year's Cannes Film Festival for his work in the movie, has had a 30-year career in film, television and stage in Germany and Austria. The role in Inglourious Basterds was a career breakthrough for him. But just last week it was announced that he was stepping into the film The Green Hornet. Waltz will play the villain, a role that had originally been given to Nicolas Cage, who suddenly announced he was dropping out. The film, which stars Seth Rogen and Cameron Diaz, is a big-budget movie that has already started shooting in Los Angeles. Waltz, who visited Israel with Tarantino to promote Basterds, will fly to the US in just a few days to step into his new role. Asked how he feels about working on The Green Hornet, he admits, "I'm nervous. It's exciting, much higher profile... It's so sudden and so unexpected. I just have to pick up and go." The problem is not learning the lines or preparing, but just getting used to the idea of working in a major, popular film. Acting in Hollywood films "was never a dream I had, because I didn't think it was possible," Waltz says. Asked how it was to have a film in competition at Cannes, he says, "You always want to have a film at Cannes. And winning the Best Actor Award there was extraordinary in the true sense of the word." Waltz speaks English with an unclassifiable accent (at times he sounds almost Irish). He has lived in England for two decades (although he does most of his work in German-speaking countries) and studied acting in New York years before that. When Tarantino went looking for a multilingual German actor to play the character nicknamed "The Jew Hunter" in his film, Waltz, who speaks German, English, French - and even a few words of Italian in Basterds - was the obvious choice. WALTZ, WHO has managed to support four children through his acting work, says, "I've been lucky. There haven't been too many dry spells. I've never had a day job." Coming from a theatrical family (his grandparents were actors and his parents worked as set designers), acting, he says, "was the obvious [career] choice. I grew up in the theater. It was the exclusive orientation of the household." Preparing for the role of the dastardly but extremely clever Col. Hans Landa was easy for Waltz. He just read the script. "I didn't play a Nazi. I just wore the uniform and that took care of it. Quentin wrote an incredible part. A Nazi is something I don't actually know how to deal with. A Nazi is a generalization and you can't play a generalization." He did not go out and speak to former Nazis as research. "It's not part of that [German and Austrian] culture to communicate openly. It's not a storytelling culture." Asked about the conception of Col. Landa, who is the most charming character in the movie (and gets most of the best lines), he says, "That's not a question for an actor. It's a question for producers and authors. You know, Hitler loved children and was an extremely charming dinner guest. One part of the personality doesn't contradict the other. That's what makes it interesting." Waltz, who has visited Israel before for pleasure, said he strongly opposes any kind of cultural boycott like the one proposed by Jane Fonda and other high-profile filmmakers at the Toronto International Film Festival to protest a program of films devoted to Tel Aviv. "Free speech has a constructive place, but they [the boycotters] are so self-righteous and full of it... This anti-Israeli circus is just plain and utter stupidity." With these last words, he heads off to enjoy an afternoon in Tel Aviv before embarking on his next Hollywood adventure.