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A big step up for Waltz

Sun., Aug. 23, 2009

Christoph Waltz has mastered Quentin Tarantino’s linguistic legerdemain in four languages.

Waltz won the best-actor prize at the Cannes Film Festival and is an early prospect for a supporting-actor nomination at the Academy Awards for the World War II saga “Inglourious Basterds.”

The Austrian-born performer hurtles through Tarantino’s rapid-fire dialogue in German, French, English and Italian.

Waltz says his multilingual talents are simply part of life in Europe.

“I’ve been in places in Europe where you need a different language if you go out for dinner,” he says.

“I worked in southern Germany, and we went into France for dinner. You just go across the river, different language, different culture, different food, different everything. So it’s nothing extraordinary.”

Waltz, 52, is a respected TV and stage actor in Germany but a virtual unknown here. A small role in the James Bond flick “GoldenEye” is his only previous credit in a big international production.

Tarantino auditioned top German movie stars for Col. Hans Landa, a brilliant, gleefully cunning Nazi officer. While they were fluent in English, he says, “they couldn’t say my poetry. Because there is a poetic quality to my dialogue. …

“But when Christoph came in, halfway through the audition, I knew we’d found our Landa.”

Waltz’s Landa is a roll-with-the-punches Nazi who excels at his job as the Third Reich’s foremost “Jew Hunter” but concocts an intricate exit strategy for himself as the tide turns against Germany.

What Waltz hopes to get out of “Inglourious Basterds” is a chance for more acting opportunities beyond TV and theater work back home.

Born in Vienna, he settled on acting at 19, coming from a four-generation family of theater performers and designers.

It’s a bit ironic that a role as a Nazi should be the one to put Waltz in Hollywood’s spotlight. When he was starting out 30 years ago, he made a brief foray to Los Angeles to scout his prospects, meeting with veteran agent Paul Kohner.

Kohner told him, “You will have to ask yourself a question: Do you want to cross through the background for the rest of your life yelling, ‘Heil Hitler!’

“So I decided there and then, no, thank you, that’s not what I intend to do, and went back to where I got the good stuff.”

The birthday bunch

Actress Vera Miles is 79. Satirist Mark Russell is 77. Actress Barbara Eden is 75. Actor Richard Sanders (“WKRP In Cincinnati”) is 69. Singer Linda Thompson is 62. Country musician Woody Paul (Riders in the Sky) is 60. Actress Shelley Long is 60. Singer-actor Rick Springfield is 60. Actor Jay Mohr is 39. Singer Julian Casablancas (The Strokes) is 31.


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