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CONTENDER Q&A

A smooth Waltz in Hollywood

November 18, 2009|Michael Ordona

Christoph Waltz had racked up nearly 90 credits, mostly in European television, and won his share of awards before the role of Col. Hans Landa, the "Jew Hunter" Nazi detective of Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds," found him. Despite the whirlwind of a Cannes best actor prize and "overnight success" in Hollywood after more than 30 years in the entertainment business, the thoughtful Austrian actor remains philosophical, especially about playing Landa.

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You've said that Landa was "operating on a higher level of consciousness" when considering questions of good and evil. Is his an entirely practical view, or is the question entirely irrelevant to him?

I don't think it's irrelevant; I think he knows the difference very well, perhaps better than a lot of other people who are quite self-assured that they would know the difference. Not overburdening that question is a matter of choice. In order not to raise that question -- consciously -- you have to know what that question really means. Otherwise, it wouldn't be a free choice not to ask; it would be a matter of ignorance. "I know exactly what 'good' is, I know exactly what 'bad' is. I choose not to make that an issue."

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The dialogue in your scenes strikes me as theatrical rather than cinematic -- not only is there a lot of it, but much of the tension relies on it. Did you find that to be true?

The first scene, for example, could exist in the theater, but that doesn't mean it's not cinematic. Why is the dialogue so good? First of all, there's a fascinating idea behind it, meaning the contents. [Tarantino's] emphasis is entirely on his characters. If a character is so multidimensional and well thought out and so beautifully developed, whatever this character says, as a result, must be great dialogue because it comes from a great source. So Quentin departs from his characters. And they take on a life of their own before they actually speak or act. That's the point of departure: the perfectly crafted character.

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Other actors have talked about how they feel Tarantino knows where their characters were before the movie and after the movie.

Yes, these characters as we see them are just one section of a whole life.

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You're already shooting "Green Hornet." Has there been a change in the opportunities you've seen in Hollywood?

The change is from naught -- I wasn't in existence before; now I am. That's a wild thing. It's still difficult to comprehend. The possibility of being on the map here, on the radar screen a year and a half ago was -- I didn't even fantasize about it. I was doing what I was doing, and not that I resigned myself to anonymity because I wasn't [anonymous in Europe], but here. . . .

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Are you having any sort of adjustment pains, any culture shock?

Yes, completely, culture shock. The image that exists over there of Los Angeles equals Hollywood -- meaning film business, meaning money, eccentricity, exuberance, big studios -- it's rubbish. It's not even a nice myth; it's just a myth. I'm starting to believe it exists more to feed the inferiority complex that exists over there than to heighten the myth over here. Or maybe it's a justification for settling for the mediocre [there]. You come here and you find down-to-earth, straightforward, hardworking people who try to make it happen, really put everything they've got into it. I like that experience. Not everything shows a fantastically interesting result, but that's just the result. People are very busy with the process.

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