A child of the theatre, raised in television, Christoph Waltz remains in cinema lovers' minds as the cynical SS colonel Hans Landa in Quentin Tarantino's feature film Inglorious Basterds, which introduced him to cinema goers and for which he received the Best Actor award in 2009. At 57, the actor has since proved the breadth of his talent with Roman Polanski (Carnage, 2011), and then again with Tarantino (Django Unchained, 2013). He discusses his understanding of his craft.
What made you become an actor?
I think that all of us dream of becoming a film actor at some point in our lives. Constanly playing diffrerent roles is what we spend all our time doing as children. A child's natural progression into adulthood means that we all become detached from this role-playing and look towards other horizons. As for me, the desire to be a film actor never left me. It even became an obsession. I would probably need several years of psychoanalysis to know what the subconscious reasons for me choosing this career are! But after a few decades in the business, it is no longer a question I need to ask. It becomes part of a routine. In fact, maybe someone ought to convince me that it's time to stop.
Before cinema, you worked in theatre, then in television. Is it difficult for an actor to go from one to the other?
The way you interpret a role is different but the transition from one to the other usually doesn't pose any problems. Of course, an actor who has spent his life on stage sometimes needs a few days to adapt when he tries working in cinema. It is never a problem for long.
How do you prepare for your roles?
I simply make sure that I know my lines well in order to be ready when the day comes. You aren't born an actor. In my opinion, it's a lot of work, even if every actor puts all their skills to work. It isn't a heroic or semi-esoteric task. I hate ideologies and practising acting isn't one. That said, I am not a follower of all these learning methods .
But you nonetheless studied with Lee Strasberg and Stella Adler…
That's true. I stayed two years. It was a fantastic experience. But that was thirty years ago and I have gained in confidence. Today I l know exactly where I am going and what I need. It is important to get some perspective on what you are taught in order to create your own way of doing something. It's a bit like going to see a film at the cinema despite what the critics say in order to form your own opinion.
Christoph Waltz © FDC / GT
Do you sometimes improvise?
I don't like improvisation. I am not a writer and creating a script is a writer's job. Mine is to interpret it. I wouldn't like it if an author came up and told me how I should play a scene. That said, I think I also don't like improvisation because I am not very good at it!
What types of script make you want to be in a film?
My answer is going to seem stupid, but I would just say a good script! I get very excited about projects that put me in danger. I like to put myself in danger in order to test my limits.
Which part of you, the man or the actor, has most influenced the other?
The man, undoubtedly. There isn't another choice. You can't be just an actor. In theory perhaps, but not in practice, unlike a person. We cannot claim to be what we are not. Saying that an actor can transform themselves is ironic. Perhaps the audience sees transformations, but that is not really the case. In my opinion, an actor has no choice other than to put something of himself into his roles. There is no escape. You are forced to be yourself, even on the stage.
In 2000, you went behind the camera to direct a TV film. Would you like to do the same for cinema?
Absolutely. I am constantly working on this possibility. For the moment, there is always something stopping me from going forward and financing a film is very complicated. But I haven't given up on the idea of one day succeeding in getting the project underway. I have ideas for films but it's difficult for an actor of my age to move into directing films for cinema. I'm not as young as I was and I don't want to make a small film. I have certain expectations that I am not prepared to change.
What are you working on at the moment?
I am preparing for the shooting of a film by Tim Burton called Big Eyes. Filming starts in July.
Interview by Benoit Pavan