I’ll tell you; it isn’t easy keeping a phone conversation with Christoph Waltz to the allotted time, especially when you’re discussing a new storytelling format like “Movies in Chapters” on Quibi. Waltz leads one of the first Quibi original feature films. In Most Dangerous Game, he plays Miles Sellers, the head of a company called the Tiro Fund. Miles offers to help Liam Hemsworth’s character, Dodge, out of a very tough spot, but not by giving Dodge the loan he requests. Instead, Miles suggests Dodge could make enough money to support his family by allowing himself to be hunted for sport.
With Quibi and Most Dangerous Game making their big debut on April 6th, Waltz took some time to hop on the phone to discuss his first impression of Quibi and the pros of the storytelling format that he discovered while making the film. On top of that, he also spoke about the groundswell of support for an Alita: Battle Angel sequel, offered up a very brief tease of the next Bond movie, No Time To Die, and revealed what he’s busy watching while we’re all practicing social distancing. Check out the full chat for yourself below:
CHRISTOPH WALTZ: Well, they explained it to me first, which means it sort of triggered immediate skepticism. Because, first of all, I’m skeptical anyway, but when I heard a new streaming platform that only does up to 10-minute chunks and that’s it, I thought, ‘Come on, really? Is that all you can entrust an audience with anymore? The attention span has dwindled to that?’ Those are the skeptical snob’s comments of course, and I am a skeptical snob, so I said, ‘Look, we do this no matter what it is. Let’s look at the script,’ because all the other discussions are more or less academic, and this is about what it actually is. And so they sent me the script and I couldn’t stop reading.
I mostly started to understand it as I was reading through the 16 episodes. I kind of started to see, which in the end was more than firmly established in my mind, that this is not a diminution or a scaling down, a reduction of proper format. This is unique and a thing in its own right. It is a new form of television. Inasmuch, it can turn into a new form of dramatic narrative. Serials, yes, we’ve had that and a serial television series, a whole season of 45- minute [episodes], we’ve had that. This is not serialized television in smaller chunks. This is a new form of television. And that I found exciting. I saw the script. The script was constructed that way dramatically, and that immediately kindled my enthusiasm.
I’m not sure how many chapters you’ve watched so far, but if you’ve watched it, did you find any particular benefit to this format of delivering a story that you didn’t expect?
WALTZ: Yes, definitely. You give it, I don’t know, eight minutes dramatically speaking, not from the audience’s point of view. Dramatically speaking, you give it eight minutes before you turn it around. So you’ll have a different classical three-act structure where you develop – this is all nice! I’m not criticizing that at all. On the contrary, I’m a great advocate of classical dramatic structure and storytelling. This is a new way of telling a story, because you turn it at least every eight minutes or so. And that’s what fascinated me, the way it was written when I read it first because everybody knows what a cliffhanger is. You have one 16 or 20 times in this whole story, and that’s something that’s a new form of storytelling. That makes it that much more exciting and that justifies, by the way, the length of the individual portion. I avoid on purpose the word “episodes” because they’re not. I mean, at least in our case, it’s one movie. You could do this as one theatrical movie, only in the theater you have a completely different situation where probably a cliffhanger every seven or eight minutes would drive you nuts. Not in this case.
Are there are any differences on the production side when it comes to filming a movie in chapters?
WALTZ: No, not at all. You wouldn’t shoot individual chapters anyway, so it was like one big movie being shot and it was being shot like a big movie and with all the effort and all the input and all the expertise and only first-class professionals at it, and it was great. I wish a lot of other movies that I’ve been on would have been shot that way.
And you’re working with one of the best of the best with Phil [Abraham] as your director. With a resume like his, you probably get the sense that he could do just about anything, but was there anything about his skill set that really surprised you?
WALTZ: No, it didn’t surprise me. I’ve known his reputation. No surprises there. This is a top notch man, and a lovely person to spend time with and a very cultured and well-read and eloquent real-deal director. It was exactly what one can hope for but doesn’t dare to in most cases.
One thing that really struck me in the first four chapters – and also in a lot of the work you do for that matter – is how tense you’re able to make a one-on-one conversation. As a master of that, what do you think the key is to achieving that?
WALTZ: Well, to be very thorough, very precise, to be thoughtful and insightful, take the thing seriously, and take the character seriously. As I said, it’s what you would want to wish for in everything you do, to give it the attention and give it the care and to take what you do more seriously than yourself. This is what real professionals do. Phil is really a stroke of luck to work with.
How about the opposite side of those conversations? They require Liam to be a very active listener so when you need to lead the conversation in those scenes, what do you look for in your scene partner so that they can also bring the most out of your performance?
WALTZ: You’re talking about pulling off of work. This is what you do. The amount of work does not signify importance or ranking in the scene. Not at all. Everybody who’s in a scene is equal and everybody is there for a reason, and just because one character says more words than the other does not mean that he is in any way or form more important to the story. It’s just the way it’s written. So you’re in it together on completely equal terms.
How about finding the motivation of a character like Miles? Obviously killing for sport is bad, but even with flawed choices, characters can have humanity behind those decisions so how do you go about connecting to something like that?
WALTZ: Well, that’s a nice question, but that’s what you do as an actor. It’s almost the best definition for what an actor does. What you do, it’s not like a checklist. You work on the text and you work with the people and that’s what you do.
One of my favorite qualities of a good movie is when it forces me to answer the question, what would I do in that situation? Most Dangerous Game certainly has that effect so now I have to pose that question to you; if you were approached by Miles with a similar offer, would you ever consider taking it?
WALTZ: That is exactly, let’s say, the very purpose of drama. You’re asking me a very hypothetical question in that you can answer truthfully or not, or imaginatively or not, or empathically or not, or empathetically or sympathetically. All of this would be hypothetical. Drama has the unique advantage over all of these to pose a dilemma in a way where the recipient or, in this case, the audience can put himself into the situation. And that’s an entirely different approach than just asking a question. It is through pity and the terror, through empathy and participation. So that’s a different question than one that you ask hypothetically, and that’s why this story in this format is so fabulous, because they can spread it out. Every time you think you’ve found an answer, it turns, and like a boomerang, the question comes back at you and the question is a very profound and deep dilemma. What would you do exactly? So now you can participate actually rather than having to answer.
Before I lose you I did want to ask about a past project because one of my absolute favorite things of 2019 was seeing the groundswell of support for Alita. Has Robert ever mentioned the possibility of a sequel having grown from that super vocal fanbase and would you like to be a part of one?
WALTZ: Of course! Of course I would! But, you know, I’m as wise as you are. I haven’t heard anything and I’m a little disappointed and surprised that I haven’t heard a thing so far, because I know that it has followers. I know that people liked it and aside from what others said, I loved it and I liked working on it and I liked the result. You know, it was Fox and Fox doesn’t exist anymore. Now it’s Disney. Maybe it doesn’t fit into the Disneyfication, but I have no clue. I have no clue. Maybe they’re working on something and I wouldn’t be the first person to hear, but meanwhile, I haven’t heard anything.
And now for one upcoming project because I just can’t help myself! Can you tell me specifically about the choice to return for No Time To Die? It’s very enticing to bring back familiar characters, but you always want your character to come back with purpose. So are you able to tease anything about the role that made you say, ‘Yeah, it’s necessary for me to return to that character?’
WALTZ: You’ll see when you see it. [Laughs] You’ll see what it is when you see it. It would’ve been out by now had it not been for the virus. So they pushed it into November. I was disappointed too because I didn’t want to dodge questions. But we’ll see. No, it was necessary. It was great and let’s talk again about it after you’ve seen it.
I very much look forward to having that conversation!
WALTZ: Yeah, yeah. Let’s do it!
Lastly, just because everyone’s home sweet home right now, is there anything that’s brightened your day content-wise recently that you want to tell our readers about?
WALTZ: I started watching silent movies. Not all silent movies are great, but there are a few really fantastic ones among them. It’s something that you do rarely take the time for. You want to keep up to date and you want to see what’s going on currently, and so I thought, ‘Well, it’s a good moment to really go back to the beginning,’ and it’s been very, very gratifying.
Shockingly, I have yet to do that! I appreciate you bringing it up because now I’m probably going to give that a go.
WALTZ: Yeah, yeah. As technology developed and all these new forms pop up, they define the content, and because of the feeding frenzy, a lot of the value itself is being deflated through inflation of options and possibility. To remind ourselves that this is actually an art form with an important history, and that it is not just intangible consumption, that it is actually art that touches us and art that depicts our world, is an important thing to remember occasionally. I like to do it more often than not, but this is a time to do it because not much new stuff is coming out – other than Quibi – and you don’t feel you’re missing out on anything current if you now develop a little bit of a historical thing. It’s very, very worthwhile.
Most Dangerous Game is now available on Quibi. No Time to Die opens in theaters this November.