Actor Christoph Waltz

The Oscar-winning actor discusses his latest film Carnage and explains why he was in awe of the film’s director, Roman Polanski.

After working steadily for nearly 30 years in European stage productions, TV and films and amassing an impressive roster of credits, it was one memorable performance that put Christoph Waltz on the superstar list. His turn as the multifaceted, multilingual villain in Inglorious Basterds swept the supporting actor awards category for the '09 season, and his Hollywood career took off. Born into a theater family, Waltz started his career on stage in his native Vienna and studied method acting in New York. His 2011 releases include the new dark comedy, Carnage.


Tavis: Christoph Waltz is an Oscar-winning actor, taking home an Academy Award just last year for his role, of course, in “Inglourious Basterds.” Starting December 16th you can see him in the new film, “Carnage,” which is based on the very successful Broadway play “Gods of Carnage.” The film also stars Kate Winslet and Jodie Foster, and so here now, some scenes from “Carnage.”


Tavis: When you have that many Academy Award winners, Christoph, in the project, this had better be good. (Laughter)

Christoph Waltz: Yes. That –

Tavis: No pressure, but when you have that many –

Waltz: Thanks.

Tavis: – Academy winners, this had better be really good.

Waltz: Yeah, no pressure. I’m relieved now.

Tavis: Yeah. (Laughs) What did you make of the filming of the project?

Waltz: I must admit I didn’t count the Oscars and nominations and all that before we started, otherwise I would have been intimidated. The first day or two was spent in awe. Then thankfully everybody was kind of agreeing to get on with the job. The level of professionalism, in the best meaning and best sense of the word, was wonderful.

Tavis: I suspect if I asked this question of Ms. Winslet or Ms. Foster or Mr. Reilly, I would get a different answer from each of them, but when you say the first day or so it was spent kind of in awe, what specifically was Christoph Waltz in awe of?

Waltz: Roman Polanski.

Tavis: Yeah.

Waltz: Really, Roman – I’ve seen the first Polanski movie when I was a kid. He’s been making movies before I was born, since then, and I followed Roman Polanski, more or less, consciously and aware of his status as a filmmaker and his importance in film history from the moment I got interested in movies as a kid, “The Fearless Vampire Hunters” was the first thing that I saw.

So to then be, after 40 years, be asked, “Would you like to work with him?” I said, “What? Me?” (Laughter)

Tavis: I want to get this question out the right way. So I get your fascinating with Polanski as a filmmaker. How much, then, does the script play in making a decision to work with a director who you have been in awe of your entire life?

Waltz: Well, technically speaking, a lot, because the script is really what it’s supposed to be.

Tavis: Polanski could have asked you to act in a piece of crap but that he’s still directing.

Waltz: Yeah, yeah.

Tavis: Yeah.

Waltz: I still would have done it.

Tavis: You still would have said yes.

Waltz: Absolutely.

Tavis: That’s my point, that’s my point. (Laughter) That’s what I wanted to get to, how much the script had to do with this.

Waltz: No, no, no. Oh, with the decision, with the decision, I have to differentiate a little. With the decision it didn’t have that much to do. But with my enthusiasm to play this part in this play, everything was, like, piled on. It was like one bonus after another. I felt like a Wall Street banker, bonus after bonus after bonus, and I questioned what for – why me? (Laughter)

Tavis: That’s a great analogy. Of course, they’re not asking the latter part, though. They take the bonus.

Waltz: Yeah, yeah, right, right.

Tavis: Nobody’s asking on Wall Street, “Why me,” though.

Waltz: Yeah, no. “Why him?” they ask.

Tavis: Yeah, exactly. I saw the play, “Gods of Carnage,” and when I saw that it was being turned into a film – and again, nothing amazes me in terms of Hollywood and what Hollywood can do, but I was really interested to know how well this is going to come off on screen, because there’s not a whole lot of scenery to work with if you’re true to the play. You’re, like, stuck in an apartment, basically.

Waltz: Yeah.

Tavis: But you think it got pulled off pretty well, though.

Waltz: I think that it needs a master like Polanski, but I don’t really think that confined space contradicts the idea of film. That on the contrary, if someone like Polanski really knows the cinematic implications, he can actually derive more drama from a confined space than a panorama shot in Cinemascope.

Tavis: But it also seems to me, though, when your space is so confined, as is the play, “Gods of Carnage,” you really do have to have really great actors to make you forget about the fact that this movie hasn’t moved out of this room. But I’m getting this.

Waltz: Well, I’m sure you’re right, but my angle is you do need to have great actors anyway, period, in anything.

Tavis: Yeah, that’s a good point. We jumped into this so quick. I do this sometimes, particularly when I’ve seen something, and it’s really not fair to the audience. For those who have not seen the play and don’t know the storyline, I’ll let you do justice to what the story’s all about.

Waltz: The story is about two civilized couples (laughter) approaching –

Tavis: I’m laughing at that word. You know what I’m laughing at.

Waltz: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Tavis: The word “civilized.”

Waltz: Well, that’s why I said it.

Tavis: Yeah, okay, go ahead.

Waltz: Approaching the limits of their tether in terms of civilized behavior. It’s about each couple has a son and they play together, and one hits the other with a stick and breaks two teeth. Now the two civilized couples, one couple, he’s like a wholesaler in plumbing and household ware and she’s a writer, and the other couple, she’s an investment broker and he is a corporate lawyer.

And they want to do the right thing and come to an agreement and sort of settle the matter, yet little kinks and cracks appear in their communication, intercourse, so to say, and it ends in disaster. It’s carnage.

Tavis: Carnage, exactly. I assume he did in his conversations with you, but give me some sense of why Polanski wanted to bring this to film, this particular play to film.

Waltz: I’m sure it’s the drama. I’m really sure it’s the clash of characters, and then he saw cinematic possibilities for himself, and he saw that he can actually lift this from the stage to the screen, and I’m sure there – and he’s known Yasmina Reza, the author, for a long time, and I think they tried to work together on several occasions, but on the stage, because Polanski also directs for the stage.

So this kind of – I think it was an organic development between the two of them, and finally they found the topic and the play.

Tavis: I’m going to put you on the spot here, put you right on the spot here. So I’ve had the experience a few times in my life, more than a few times, where there was somebody I was just dying, I’m a huge, huge, huge fan of person X and I’m dying to work with them, dying to spend time with them, dying to interview them.

It finally happens. Sometimes it lives up; sometimes it doesn’t live up to my expectations. But even then, I try to take something from the experience, try to learn something from the person, even if it doesn’t go where I thought it should go.

So here’s a rare two-part question. One, did it live up to your expectations when it finally happened, and number two, what did you take from the experience?

Waltz: One, I just noticed you say “one” with your thumb, too.

Tavis: Yeah, sometimes, yeah.

Waltz: Yeah, so do I, yeah. Because I was taught to do this. Anyway, one –

Tavis: Does that mean I’m going to win an Academy Award one day, too? (Laughter)

Waltz: Possibly, possibly.

Tavis: One. One.

Waltz: Possibly. (Laughter) If you want to be superstitious about it, yes. So one, all right?

Tavis: Yes, one.

Waltz: It exceeded my wildest dreams. I’ve heard these stories about Roman Polanski, and not everybody can take him because he’s obsessed with detail and precision and he insists on your utmost concentration at every given moment, and if you miss your mark by like a half a millimeter, he’s like, “Oh, oh, oh,” stuff like that. (Laughter)

I love that stuff. Not everybody does. Cinematically, as far as I can follow, it was a lesson from A to Z. The way he sets up a shot, the way he demands this precision and concentration from himself, and he’s 78 years old. He’s been making movies for 60 years. He can’t be wrong. It’s impossible.

You might disagree with him, yeah, but sometimes not even that difficult.

But that’s your problem. He’s not wrong – never. So it was – I felt like a schoolboy happy to be in school. That was a unique experience for me, because I hated school.

I felt like, “Another piece of wisdom from your mouth, Master, please.” Really. I’m not exaggerating. So apart from the fact that he has a fantastic sense of humor and is sarcastic, constantly ironic. He more or less communicates in irony. I love all of that.

So that’s just to give a vague description of why I think it exceeded my hopes. And it kind of answers a little bit the second question as well – it’s my concept of fun. I admit if we worked together you would probably need a while to get used to that. It’s not everybody’s idea of having fun. I just happen to be that way and so I had fun. I could have done that another – we only shot six weeks. I could have done it another two, three months, and just to be there in the presence of these great people, and with a master who says, “Now do it,” and because all of us weren’t exactly born yesterday, we could do it.

So it was a constant feeling of gratification and satisfaction that what he wanted could be transposed into some sort of reality right away. Do you want me to go on? I can go on for another week and a half.

Tavis: (Laughs) I think I get it. I was about to turn to the camera, as I will now, and say anybody who had this much fun working on a project with that many Academy Awards on the stage is worthy of going to see their work. The project is called “Carnage.” Mr. Waltz, I’m honored to have you on this program, sir, for the first, hopefully not the last time.

Waltz: Thank you. Thank you very much.

Tavis: I don’t know how we worked it –

Waltz: The honor is all mine.

Tavis: I appreciate it. I don’t know how well we’d work together, but we could go shopping together. I love suede shoes, so we have that in common.

Waltz: All right. (Laughs) Thank you.

Tavis: I’m glad to have you on.

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Last modified: January 7, 2012 at 10:35 pm