On the Set of The Green Hornet, everyone knew that Christoph Waltz was going to be an academy award winner, but – in December of 2009 – he had yet to be nominated. His performance was just that good. It was undeniable. But at that point Waltz had just started getting work from the heat of that performance, and so in some respects – even with a body of work that spans decades – he was a newcomer. An irony Waltz himself appreciated. The Green Hornet role came from Inglourious Basterds, and as Rogen said he thanked Tarantino for the gift his film had been given.
Christoph wasn’t shooting that day, but came to the set to talk to us, regardless, which is a great show of professionalism. With Waltz, he had to keep some secrets so he daintly danced around some probing questions about his character, and talked about making the film, Basterds, the award season, his newfound celebrity, and more. My interview with Christoph Waltz after the jump.
(note: this interview was conducted with a few other online reporters)
Question: So we hear you blow up Anvil.
Christoph Waltz: There is that.
Question: Not a fan, huh?
Christoph Waltz: [laughs]
Question: This is a great look. [indicates his beard]
Christoph Waltz: Thanks you. You know, it grows on it’s own. You know. [indicates questioner's beard] But mine is gray. A difference. We were after a difference from the last thing.
Question: It sounds like they very much welcomed you into the process when you became part of this.
Christoph Waltz: Fabulous. I agree. It was lovely. They welcomed me with open arms. They were excited. I couldn’t believe it. I thought maybe they were talking about someone else. They’d confused me. [laughter] They didn’t confuse me.
Question: Nope! Everyone pretty much loved BASTERDS.
Christoph Waltz: [laughs] Yeah, so did I.
Question: We’ve been hearing that you had a lot of input into the dialogue. What sort of things…
Christoph Waltz: Who said that?
Christoph Waltz: They were fantastically open in considering my suggestions or ideas. In a way it felt like it was not quite all nailed down to the floor, you know, when I joined. And I felt it was on purpose…this is something that I’ve never done before. This is a group of people who come from stand-up comedy, and they have a completely different approach. I’m very bad with improvisation. I hate it. And that’s their forte. That’s their modus operandi. And mine is not. Mine is studying script and being very academic and trying to be important. [laughter] And they are very easy and quick and, you know, witty. So it took a little adjustment on my side. But then I sort of caught on to it.
Question: In a way this is sort of…this entire collaboration is a group of people working outside of their safety zones. This is not Michel’s (Gondry) safety zone. This is not what Seth (Rogen) and Evan (Goldberg) are known for, traditionally. So it’s…everyone is kind of inventing it here. It’s not business as usual for anybody.
Christoph Waltz: Well, yes, you’re absolutely right. But to be fair, on a good project, no matter whether it’s improvised or scripted or meticulously prepared, or all up for grabs, it’s always, always beyond the safety zone. Every project becomes interesting and exciting once you move beyond that routine. You always aspire to that. It’s not that this improvisational mode is the only mode that facilitates that.
Question: Let’s talk about your character a little bit. What drives him? What is his story?
Christoph Waltz: Well, I am hesitant to say the least. Loathe to be precise…explaining my characters. Because, you know, most of it happens when you watch it. It’s not done when I do it. It’s done when you see it. And when you see it again, you discover it wasn’t done the first time. So I hate to give instructions how to view what I do. I also don’t like to read novelizations of movies. [laughter] Would you like to miss out on a dinner and have it told to you? [laughter]
Question: Well, your character in Basterds was incredibly evil and did some really terrible things. How does the villain in this film compare to the things that he did in that film?
Christoph Waltz: Not at all…
Question: I know that it’s completely different, but on the same scale. Bad…does that make sense?
Christoph Waltz: Well, it does, but I can’t wiggle out of it. [laughter]
Q; I’ve heard some actors say that when they play villains, they don’t like to think of them as such. They like to find what motivates them and just play them as a character rather than a villain.
Christoph Waltz: Well, yeah, yes. I mean, that’s self evident. But in this case, it’s comic book quality. I’m not really all that familiar with comic book culture. Not because I’m such a high brow intellectual and bloody European…[laughter]…but I am. No, I’m not. [laughs] But it’s just something that I was never into. Not because of any superiority. I don’t know why.
Question: Is there a level of hyper-sensed Bond-esque villain…is it less reality driven than maybe your role in Basterds?
Christoph Waltz: Well, yeah. Sure. Sure it is. And that’s exactly what I’m driving at. And that was interesting because it was, in a way, unfamiliar. It was new but it was unfamiliar. I have never played a part like that, and that was one of the reasons I was interested. And I first read it and I didn’t get it. And then I spoke to my agent who had read it at the same time and he said, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah…you know what? When I read it, I thought, he’s not going to get it.’ [laughter] So we were on a wavelength there. And then he said, because he’s a genius agent, he said, ‘Look, I’ll put you on the phone with Michel Gondry.’ And I talked with Michel Gondry [in a 'Michel Gondry' voice] ‘It became a totally different thing!’ [laughs] And really, that sound gave it a totally different spin for me. And I thought, oh that sounds good. And then I spoke to Neil Moritz, and he, actually, kind of shot out the catch phrase for me. He said, ‘We’re looking for…this is a villain in his mid life crisis. And I loved that. [laughter] Well, sure. Why not…coming back to talking about leaving the comfort zone, I thought well, OK. Let’s leave the comfort zone and just risk it. Why not? Because, exactly as you said, in a way, by taking that risk, I make up a little bit for my ignorance in the subject, or rather, the genre.
Question: Did you look into the genre a little more after this? And also, there is a notion that these types of movies live or die by the villain…
Christoph Waltz: Absolutely. Well, you need the villain. If you don’t have a villain, the good guy can stay home. [laughter] I don’t know whether or not I should disclose this little secrecy, but I just declared my ignorance to my advantage. I turned it around. I stick with my ignorance because that would make it, maybe, unusual. If I jumped into the cliché, everybody will have seen it before. If I stick to my ignorance a little bit, maybe, maybe it will turn out different. Or maybe a slightly new aspect to a comic book villain.
Question: Well, since doing Basterds, you’ve obviously been introduced to a broader American audience. With this movie, are you kind of prepared for…has doing this film kind of whet your appetite for wanting to do big Hollywood projects? You mentioned a Bond villain-esque style to your character. You know it’s inevitable that you’ll be offered a Bond villain. Every European actor is offered a Bond villain…[laughter]
Christoph Waltz: Absolutely…I’m not sure about the Bond villain. To tell you the truth, I’m not even sure about the villain. I’m not sure I want to be the one with the subscription for ‘the villains’. If it’s a funny part. If it’s a good part, you’re absolutely right. The villain is usually the most interesting part. But it has to be a smart thing. Just dumb cliché villains with a Russian accent and big muscles and a mean face, I don’t know. My Russian accent isn’t that great, and the muscles aren’t that big and the mean face is not enough. You know what I mean? It gets very boring. Tedious stuff.
Question: Are you reading a lot now?
Question: Romantic comedies, I’m assuming?
Christoph Waltz: [laughter] Well, that you for mentioning. Not enough, to tell you the truth. [laughter]
Question: Julia Roberts needs you. She’s somewhere right now going, ‘Where is that guy?’
Christoph Waltz: [laughs] Thank you. Could you send her a note?
Question: We heard you have a scene where they throw big sticks at your eyes, and you weren’t a big fan of that. What sort of action have you filmed?
Christoph Waltz: Yes. Sticks…you know, they wreaked havoc. They drove this half car through the bullpen, utter destruction. They were shooting rockets…then there is this big fight and all the bad guys come in and shoot their…bang bang bang…my absolutely favorite part in the whole shoot was the first rehearsal with the big gang of bad guys. Big muscles, mean faces…I don’t know about their accents. [laughter] They were armed to the teeth. Fantastic. So of course you have to rehearse it. So they all storm in. There are about thirty of forty of them. But during rehearsals, you don’t shoot bullets or blanks. No explosions. So they all run in, very dangerous, yelling, ‘Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang!’ [laughs] And I couldn’t believe it! These tough guys like little boys on the playground! ‘Bang, bang, bang…’ So I don’t care about the take where they shoot the guns, but I never want to miss another rehearsal! [laughs]
Question: So now, I’m sure you hate talking about this but we have to ask. Did it help your decision at all to come do this and play a little bit and have fun and do something different, knowing there would be all this buzz around your role in Basterds and awards season and all that fun stuff?
Christoph Waltz: Yeah. Yeah. [laughter]
Question: Kind of gets your mind off of all of it?
Christoph Waltz: Yeah, it’s really fun. It has to be said. With all the explosions and half-cars dropping from the ceiling…I mean, literally dropping from the ceiling. They were throwing an earth-mover across the yard. I mean, throwing it. And dropping another thing. You saw it in that clip for a split second. Dropping that whole…that huge Caterpillar thing, onto another car. You know, they pull it up about this high and blow up the cable…boom, falls onto a car. It’s something that you do not see every day. So that is something that is absolutely geared or equipped to take your mind off anything…they throw cars around. They go a hundred feet through the air, crashing into buses and the whole thing explodes…and actually, it does. It’s not digital stuff. They actually do throw this car and the thing does explode, and all that. Yeah, you have very little time for thinking about something else.
Question: So what about Comic Con? Are you ready for that?
Christoph Waltz: Comic Con?
Question: [laughter] Oh no!
Christoph Waltz: No, I know what it is. How about it? I don’t…I wasn’t there.
Question: You will be!
Christoph Waltz: I will be, I assume. I don’t know. That’s OK. I catch up with my…with the huge gap in my education.
Question: Just picture this (gestures at journalists) times about four hundred thousand. [laughter] And we’re the normal ones.
Christoph Waltz: [laughs] Well, we’ll all go together and you’ll protect me!
Question: To follow up on her question, obviously you’ve had an amazing year. A year that every actor would dream of having. So, when you first read the script for Basterds, when you came across it, did you have any idea that it would change your career? That it would open up these opportunities for you?
Christoph Waltz: No, no. None. [laughs] And I’m glad I didn’t, because had I had a vague notion of what was coming, I would have been scarred shitless. [laughter] I would have been burdened, you know? That was…I really could just look at the part and do my job.
Question: Are you pleased now, or overwhelmed?
Christoph Waltz: Both. Both. Yeah. It is overwhelming. It’s something that…as one of the camera operators said to me, ‘You’re an overnight success after thirty years!’ [laughter]
Question: That’s something I was talking to Seth about. You bring this incredible body of work that you’ve done in your German career and your European career to these films. So it’s not…American audiences may see you as a new face, a new presence, but you have a huge history of things you’ve done. So for you, this is not a new process. It’s just on a new stage.
Christoph Waltz: Yes. Exactly. But infinitely more fun, let me tell you. [laughter]
Question: But for somebody like Seth, it feels like they won the lottery, because they get a new face, but with the experience, so it’s like the best of both worlds.
Christoph Waltz: Yeah, well, exactly. For me, personally, there is one really interesting thing. You’re all a bit too young for that, but when you get to a certain level of experience, accumulation of experience, let’s put it that way…not that there are regrets…well, there are plenty of regrets too, but you’ve heard, or maybe even you start slowly to once in a while get a whiff of the feeling, I’d love to be twenty years younger but with what I know and have experienced at this point. But you know, what I’m going through is exactly that. It’s completely unbelievable. I have, I am in a way, exactly as you point out, like twenty-five years…earlier in my career with what I know today. And so you’re absolutely right. It’s the best of both worlds.
Question: Does it help you in terms of how you’re going to make your choices about what you do?
Christoph Waltz: Definitely. Because I have no qualms about saying look, I’m very flattered that you consider me the right person to participate in this, but sorry.
Question: So you don’t feel any added pressure to take a role just because it’s good for your career?
Christoph Waltz: Well, no. I’d sort of acquired somewhat more mature perspective on what my career is and I don’t…not anymore…consider fame and fortune my career. I’m not a star. I’m an actor. So in a way, what I want to do as an actor, I would consider good for my career. Does that make sense?
Question: Yeah. You’ve touched upon this a little bit when you spoke about how Michel kind of convinced you to do the project, but considering that this is your first, really big Hollywood production, yes, you worked with Tarantino who is one of the great American film makers, but this is your first big Hollywood movie. Has it helped having a European film maker to kind of ease you into that at all? Has it made you feel a little bit more like someone can relate to being in my shoes?
Christoph Waltz: Well, actually, you do have a point. In terms of silly jokes. He understands my form of irony. But maybe that’s because he’s Michel. I don’t say things straight into the other person’s face. I kind of like to make a joke or a remark and make it digestible or just give a little comment that voices my concern, but is not meant to be a critique, but just a comment so that he understands that I am thinking. I have my brain switched on and I might be thinking something else but we’ve come to an arrangement. That sort of play is maybe easier with someone who also thinks that way. But that is not necessarily a national thing, but maybe a little bit of a cultural thing. That’s true. So there is a kind of an understanding in there, or mode of communication that is a little easier. He doesn’t have to make an effort and I don’t have to make an effort.
Question: We’ve all heard about Tarantino and the giant penises if you fall asleep on set…
Christoph Waltz: I never fell asleep on set! [laughter]
Question: Anything like that on set?
Christoph Waltz: I don’t sleep on sets! [laughter]
Question: Good rule of thumb then!
Christoph Waltz: I’m awake! And if I’m not, I pretend to be! You mean here?
Christoph Waltz: Nah, you know, I’m so serious, and so professional and so concentrated. [laughter] I really, really like Seth. He’s such a smart kid. And you know what? The other day, I discovered that I am only one year younger than Seth and Evan together! [laughter] That was a shock!
Question: Seth said it was really Evan you sat down and worked with…
Christoph Waltz: No, Seth is always breezing by and sticking his nose in. [laughs] [does a perfect imitation of Seth Rogan's distinctive laugh to the delight of all the journalists]
Question: They really are an interesting team, like two halves of the same brain.
Christoph Waltz: Absolutely. It’s fantastic. I mean, they are fantastically smart and surprisingly experienced, and surprisingly mature [laughs] in producing these somewhat immature things. You know? That’s important, because if you had two immaturities, it would be unbearable. But they are so smart and Seth is so funny and so quick and so intelligent and so likeable…I really genuinely like the guy!
Question: We you able to lock down the script in a way that you were comfortable with?
Christoph Waltz: Yeah! We played and then Evan sort of put it on the screen. Not on paper. They don’t work with paper. [laughs] And then we looked at it again, and if there were enough [laughs like Seth again] then it was OK. [laughter]
Question: Was there any adjustment in terms of senses of humor, kind of understanding what makes you laugh and what make them laugh? Would that me the same thing?
Christoph Waltz: Well, yeah, you have to tune in, but that was pretty quick. You have to understand. You have to…they wanted to understand how I take it, and I certainly wanted to understand how they take it. And that took about, oh, seven and a half minutes.
Question: So what has been your funniest or craziest fan encounter in the US, since people started recognizing you?
Christoph Waltz: I would be hard pressed to come up with anything. Not all that funny. You know. [laughs]
Question: Did you have to do any sort of weapons training for this role?
Christoph Waltz: For this? No. I’m not into weapons. I’m not into cars. I’m not into explosions. I’m scared of all of that. I had to learn how to drive a cement truck because there is a whole car chase with cement trucks, so I had to learn how to drive a cement truck. I don’t like these things, but I’m not an idiot. I can do it. So it’s a famous stunt and special effects family, Armstrongs, from England. They’re all in it. There must be like thirty-seven Armstrongs. [laughter] And Scott Armstrong, who does most of the car chases…he put me in this SUV, and he said, we equipped this with a special break, an air pressure thing, an air bottle in the back and an extra pedal so you can spin the thing. And I said, ‘No, no!’ [laughter] And he said, ‘Try it, try it.’ You know what? It’s addictive! [laughter] It’s fantastic! They rented this huge parking lot somewhere…and we were spinning this car. You really learn it quickly with that brake. That brake really locks the back wheels and you can spin this…you can really dance this around the parking lot. They put these little cones and you can drive up really fast and spin, and sort of hit it with the butt…it was fantastic.
Question: See, that’s how they’ll end up getting you to do a Bond movie. [laughter]
Christoph Waltz: [laughs]
Question: What are your lasting impressions after working in a very different film culture for thirty years and then coming and working on a big full blown Hollywood spectacular picture? What are the impressions you’re taking away from this? And what’s the impression in the European film community of the way they make movies here? Is it, like, those crazy Americans dropping cars off buildings?
Christoph Waltz: Well, that’s a lot of the impression. There are plenty of people over there who understand the difference. And there are plenty of people over here who understand the difference. It’s still one world and it has been for a long time. Let’s not forget that film is coming from over there, you know, and it was perfected here. So there is a constant exchange. But in the everyday practice of it, there is a huge difference. There is quite an important director in Germany who I think in the early fifties over here, and then went back, and he said something that’s absolutely true. And it’s more important to repeat that today than it ever was. Not for you, but for us over there it is important. He said, ‘In America they make movies like art, and sell it like commodities. We make make movies like commodities and sell them like art.’ And that’s a profound idea, because yeah, the reputation, especially in Los Angeles, Hollywood, California is blah, blah, studio, tinsel town, la dee dah bullshit. You know, glitz, glamour. What it really is and what I now have experienced is that, people who take enormous pride in what they’re doing – not in their person – that their work ethos is as high as nowhere else. Nowhere else. That they love their jobs, they love to do their jobs properly as best they can. And coupled with the financial umph, you know, you get decent results.
Question: Now that you’re in this place in your career where you’re on the radar of film executives in America and you’re getting all these great opportunities, do you actively see stuff in the trades, like, this book got optioned or these guys are doing this that you have your eye on? Now that you’re in a place where you could actively go out and get those roles? Is there stuff that you’re interested in doing?
Christoph Waltz: Well, the greatest thing about this development is that I have fantastic people who do that for me. [laughter]
Question: So they’re actively looking?
Christoph Waltz: Oh, yes.
Question: To get back to your character, since this is an action comedy, does your character have some funny quips, or are you the straight-faced guy and you’re leaving that all up to Seth’s character?
Christoph Waltz: Well, one does not contradict the other, you know? Straight-faced is the basis of all decent comedy. So comedy is the result of what’s happening, not what people are doing. Because if people are doing comedy. It’s embarrassing. The individual elements have to be straight-faced, serious, realistic with a firm basis. What makes it comedy is a somewhat shifted way to put it together. You know? So what I do is completely straight-faced, of course.
Question: So you don’t find yourself in any big rush to book another big American movie? If you wanted to go off to Europe and do a couple of pictures and come back here in a year, you’d be OK with that too?
Christoph Waltz: I go with the most interesting thing that comes my way, you know? Where that is…I don’t expect it to come from India to tell you the truth, but if it did, fine by me.
Question: Do you have your next project lined up?
Christoph Waltz: Well, you know, it’s kind of lining itself up right now. But it’s not really lined up yet, but in the near future there are a few very interesting things happening. A lot actually! [laughter]
The Green Hornet is scheduled for release January 14, 2011.
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