The Austrian-born Waltz speaks three languages fluently -- German, French and English -- and can fake Italian pretty well, as "Inglourious Basterds" (Aug. 21) proves. But when the 52-year-old actor went in to read for a ruthless German "Jew hunter" in Tarantino's alternative-history World War II epic, he wasn't sure in any dialect if the audition was for real.
"I couldn't quite believe that's what they were considering me for," Waltz says from Berlin, adding that he assumed the part once rumored for Leonardo DiCaprio would be aimed at an actor with more than just a smattering of American productions. "It was too massive and important a part. I was actually thinking I was being called for something smaller."
But for authenticity's sake (even if Hitler's movie fate isn't quite what you read in history books) Tarantino wanted native speakers playing the film's German, French, English and American parts. Waltz was suddenly sharing craft service snacks with Brad Pitt, France's Melanie Laurent and Germany's Til Schweiger.
In the film's Cannes premiere, Waltz's creepily cool performance -- he's nibbling on strudels and whipped cream one moment, snuffing out the enemy the next -- earned him the festival's best actor honor. "I don't think anyone can top that," he says.
It's hard to be discovered after 30 years of acting, but Waltz seems ready to defy that precedent. He's landed an American talent agent in International Creative Management and now, he says, "we are going to start reshuffling our deck of cards."
-- John Horn