Oscar for Best Supporting Actor
Christoph Waltz. Out popped the name winning the best actor prize at last year's Cannes Film Festival. Not many in the audience that balmy summer's evening at the French Riviera had the vaguest inkling about who Mr Waltz was. For, it was merely days earlier that he had been introduced at the Festival by American cult director Quentin Tarantino in his latest work, Inglorious Basterds, a World War II Jewish fantasy that sparkled. And it sparkled largely because of one brilliant performer, Christoph Waltz, a virtually unknown entity, till then.
"You gave me my back my profession", Waltz told Tarantino as he accepted the Palm d'Or at Cannes. Undoubtedly so. An Austrian, he appeared mostly on stage and in television plays for 30 years, before Tarantino made him SS Colonel Hans Landa, a seductively wily Nazi, in Inglorious Basterds.
Termed the Jew Hunter, for his uncanny knack of smelling out the tribe (the actor compared himself to Sherlock Holmes) during Hitler's era of viciousness, Landa is one the greatest villains I have ever seen on screen. In an interview at Cannes, Tarantino was effusive in his praise for Waltz. "It's true that if I couldn't have found someone as good as Christoph, I might not have made 'Inglorious Basterds'...Hans Landa is one of the greatest characters I have ever written, and one of the greatest characters that I will ever write".Waltz, now nominated as the Best Supporting Actor for the Academy Awards, lived up to this. He was extremely erudite and witty, but calculating and sadistic. In the opening scene of the movie, where he asks for milk (and drinks it) from the dairy farmer instead of the wine that he is offered at first, and, later in the film, the cold brutality with which he kills a gorgeously beautiful woman (Diane Kruger) and relishes it all
He has never before essayed a villain, though he says he was once asked to do the part of Richard the Third. The production did not happen, but the role could have been in "similar territory".
Waltz was born in Vienna to movie set designers Johannes Waltz and Elisabeth Urbancic. His grandparents were also actors, and his great-grandparents worked in the theatre. Christoph is fluent in German, French and English, and speaks all three languages in Inglorious Basterds. He also lisps Italian, though he does not speak that. Divorced with four children – one is studying to be a rabbi – Waltz lives between London and Berlin.
Gautaman Bhaskaran has been writing on the Oscars for many years