From the earliest days of American motion picture production, Vienna has shared a unique relationship with Hollywood. Twentieth century personalities like Fritz Lang, Billy Wilder, or Hedy Lamarr became Hollywood household names, and in recent years Austrian cinema has been widely recognized internationally: In 2008 “The Counterfeiters” won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film at the 80th Academy Awards, while Michael Haneke’s, “The White Ribbon,” won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at this year’s award presentation.Moreover, Mr. Haneke’s cameraman, Christian Berger, was nominated for Best Cinematography.
Christoph Waltz as Col. Hans Janda in "Inglorious Basterds". Universal Pictures.
The accolades for Austrian cinema culminated in Christoph Waltz’s Oscar selection as Best Supporting Actor at the 82nd Academy Awards in 2010. Mr. Waltz joined the ranks of Austrians trained as professional stage actors and actresses who played some of Hollywood’s finest film roles, from Maximillian Schell (“Judgment at Nuremberg”) to Luise Reiner (“The Great Ziegfield,” “The Good Earth”) among others.
His story is uniquely Austrian, celebrating extraordinary talent, followed by the longstanding tradition of professional training in the performing arts. Christoph Waltz won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his pivotal role portraying charismatic SS colonel, the “Jew Hunter” Hans Landa, in Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglorious Basterds.” In the movie, a group of Jewish-American soldiers are tasked with spreading fear in the Third Reich by killing and scalping Nazis in occupied France.
As the ultimate Tarantino creation based upon the live figure of SS member Hans Landa, the role required playing a multifaceted villain, a genial sadist, an oppressively polite interrogator and a hyper-articulate polyglot whose verbal dexterity is his most frightening weapon. Waltz, who auditioned only hours after Tarantino had told his producers he was ready to quit the project if he couldn’t find the actor to play the part, was a true discovery.
Christoph Waltz with Oscar. APAHe was an actor who had long been overlooked within the German-speaking world and was a totally unknown outside. Tarantino has remarked that “he knew that whatever actor he cast to play, the part had to be as much of a linguistic genius as the person of Landa in the script, because Landa seduces his prey with his words and speaks fluent German, English, French and Italian.” Other actors “could do the poetry in English, but they couldn’t do the poetry in the languages required. And they had to be able to say the poetry in every language,” Tarantino said.
Christoph Waltz had those abilities, and as Waltz himself admits: “I come from a small country where we sometimes need to employ another language to get things. So it’s not that big a deal to speak various languages.” Tarantino acknowledged the importance of Waltz to his film by stating: “I think that Landa is one of the best characters I’ve ever written and ever will write, and Christoph played it to a tee… It’s true that if I couldn’t have found someone as good as Christoph I might not have made “Inglourious Basterds.” The New York Times has called him “Tarantino’s secret weapon.”
But during the actor’s press rounds in the days leading up to and shortly following the film’s release in 2009, Waltz’s answers have been incredibly humble. In person he is said to be wryly funny and notably devoid of an actor’s pretensions. He expresses a critical voice when speaking about the profession that comes from his years as a foot soldier in the acting industry.
Much has been written in the media about Mr. Waltz’s brilliant portrayal, which is indicative of his “very traditional Viennese training,” and as he states, was grounded in the theater. Born in Vienna, he belongs to the fourth generation of a family of set designers and actors, and studied singing and opera at the prestigious Max-Reinhardt-Seminar in Vienna, and at the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute in New York. He has had an impressive stage career since the 1970s working in theaters in Zurich, Cologne and Hamburg.
But Mr. Waltz has also been busy outside the theater, and his filmography already includes over 100 works. Federal Chancellor Werner Faymann noted the “the truly well-deserved distinction for an exceptional actor from Austria,” while Minister of Science and Research Beatrix Karl pointed out that “the award turns the spotlight on…..the high quality of training and the teaching staff of Vienna’s University of Music and Performing Arts.”
For the country of Austria, this year’s nomination and Oscar win continues the tradition of recognizing the professionalism of Austrian artists in the 21st century. In the meantime, Christoph Waltz is certain to remain busy and later this year he will portray Dr. Sigmund Freud in David
Cronenberg’s “The Talking Cure.”
Christoph Waltz with Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann. APA