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Christoph Waltz played one of the greatest villains of all time in Inglourious Basterds which earned him the Oscar for Best Supporting actor, and now Mr. Waltz is playing another baddie in The Green Hornet - a role that was originally offered to Nicolas Cage. While on the set of the film, we spoke to the Academy Award-winning actor who was rather coy about his character, but was incredibly cool to come in on his day off to chat with us about his first project after "Basterds."
Q: So we hear you blow up Anvil.
Christoph Waltz: There is that.
Q: Not a fan, huh?
Q: It sounds like they very much welcomed you into the process when you became part of this.
Waltz: Fabulous. I agree. It was lovely. 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.
Q: We've been hearing that you had a lot of input into the dialog. What sort of things?
Waltz: Who said that?
Waltz: No, 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 it 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.
Q: In a way, 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. Everyone is kind of inventing it here. It's not business as usual for anybody.
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. And every project becomes interesting and exciting once you move beyond that routine. So you always aspire to that. It's not that this improvisational mode is the only mode that facilitates that.
Q: Let's talk about your character a little bit. What drives him? What is his story?
Waltz: Well, I am hesitant to say the least. Loathe to be more precise to 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 that 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]
Q: 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?
Waltz: Not at all...
Q: I know that it's completely different, but on the same scale. Bad... Does that make sense?
Waltz: Well, it does, but I cannot try to 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.
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. But I don't know why.
Q: Is there a level of hyper-sensed Bond-esque villain... is it less reality driven than maybe your role in "Basterds"?
Waltz: Well, yeah. Sure. Sure it is. 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. 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 talk to him." 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 Neal Moritz, and he, actually, kind of shot out the catchphrase for me. He said, "This is a villain in his midlife crisis." And I loved that. [laughter] I said, "OK, well, sure, why not." Now coming back to talking about leaving the comfort zone, I said 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 felt I make up a little bit for my ignorance in terms of the subject, or rather, the genre.
Q: Did you look into the genre a little more after this? And also, there is a notion that these types of movies often live or die by the villain?
Waltz: Absolutely. You need the villain. If you don't have a villain, the good guy can stay home. [laughter] It's clear. 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 and I said I stick with my ignorance because that would make it maybe unusual. If I jumped straight into the cliché, everybody will have seen it before. If I stick to my ignorance a little bit, maybe, maybe it will turn out, you know, different. Or maybe a slightly new aspect to a comic book villain.
Q: Well, since doing "Basterds," you've obviously been introduced to a broader range of the American audience. Has doing this film kind of whet your appetite for wanting to do big Hollywood projects? You mentioned a Bond villain-esque quality to your character. You know it's inevitable that you'll be offered a Bond villain. Every European actor is offered a Bond villain.
Waltz: Absolutely...I'm not sure about the Bond villain. To tell you the truth, I'm not even sure about the villain. I don't 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 is the most interesting part. But it still has to be a smart thing. Just dumb cliché villains, you know with the 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.
Q: We actually heard that you had a scene with sticks in your eyes, and you weren't a big fan of that. What sort of action have you filmed?
Waltz: Now we come back to the thing of being told. You know, they wreaked havoc. They drove this half car through the bullpen. Utter destruction. They were shooting rockets. Then there's this big fight and all the bad guys come in and shoot... bang bang bang... Sorry, I'm coming back to that. My absolutely favorite part in the whole shoot was the first rehearsal with the big gang of bad guys. They're all 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, forty of them. I don't know. But during rehearsals, you don't shoot bullets, you know, blanks. No explosions. So they all run in, very dangerous, "Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang, bang!" [laughs] And they all jump back. 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 actually shoot the guns, but I never want to miss another rehearsal! [laughs]
Q: 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.
Waltz: Yes. Exactly. But infinitely more fun, let me tell you. [laughter]
Q: 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.
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--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 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 all worlds.
Q: Does it help you in terms of how you're going to make your choices about what you do?
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.
Q: So you don't feel any added pressure to take a role just because it would be good for your career?
Waltz: Well, 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?
Q: Has it helped having a European filmmaker to kind of ease you into that working on a big Hollywood film? Has it made you feel a little bit more like somebody that can relate to being in my shoes?
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 about it or a remark or 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 I'm thinking. I have my brain switched on and I might be thinking something else, but we come to an arrangement. That kind of sort of play is maybe easier with someone who also thinks that way. But that's 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.
Q: We've all heard about Tarantino and the giant penises if you fall asleep on set...
Waltz: I never fell asleep on set! [laughter]
Q: Anything like that on this set?
Waltz: I don't sleep on sets! [laughter]
Q: That's a good rule of thumb then!
Waltz: I'm awake! And if I'm not, I pretend to be! You mean here?
Waltz: No, you know, I'm so serious, and so professional and so concentrated. [laughter] I really, really like Seth. He is 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!
Q: Seth and Evan are a really are an interesting team, like two halves of the same brain.
Waltz: Absolutely. They're fantastic. They are fantastically smart and surprisingly experienced, and surprisingly mature [laughs] in producing these somewhat immature things. 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, so intelligent and so likable... I really genuinely like the guy.
Q: Was there any adjustment to the script in terms of senses of humor, kind of understanding what made you laugh and what makes them laugh?
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. But that took about, oh, seven and a half minutes.
Q: Did you have to do any sort of weapons training for this role?
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's a whole car chase with cement trucks. I don't like these things, but I'm not an idiot. I can do it. So then it's a famous stunt and special effects family, Armstrongs, from England. They're all in it. There must be like thirty-seven Armstrongs on this movie. [laughter] And Scott Armstrong, who does most of the car chases--Vic Armstrong's son--he put me in this SUV and he said, "We equipped this with a special break, an air pressure thing. You have an air bottle in the back and an extra pedal so you can spin the car." And I said, 'No, no!' [laughter] And he said, 'Try it, try it: You know what? It's addictive!' [laughter] They rented this huge parking lot somewhere down there [and] we were spinning this car. You learn it pretty quickly with that brake. That brake really locks the back wheels and you can spin this... you can sort 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.
Q: 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?
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. It's not what people are doing. Because if people are doing comedy, it's not 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. So what I do is completely, completely straight-faced, of course.
Click 'Next' to read our interview with director Michel Gondry!