Christoph Waltz is an Austrian-born actor who found success in the movies somewhat late in life. Not long ago, our Seth Doane caught up with him on a foreign stage, in an unlikely role:
Usually it's the music that draws opera-goers. Or maybe it's the set, or the performers. But at this staging of "Falstaff" by the great Giuseppe Verdi, the biggest name is the director.
Doane said, "You just love music."
"Well, yes. Who doesn't?" replied Christophe Waltz. "You know, as someone said once, 'Life without music is wasted.'"
It's not music that makes Waltz recognizable, or his work at this opera house in the Belgian city of Antwerp. Rather, it's his acting resume -- notably, his Oscar-winning portrayal of a cunning Nazi SS officer in Quentin Tarantino's
Tarantino called the character the "best he'd ever written" -- and it was one that changed everything for Waltz: "Career-wise, yes, absolutely."
Waltz picked up another Academy Award in another Tarantino film, where he played a bounty hunter -- a role written specifically for him. He was also a notorious Bond villain in "Spectre."
Doane said, "You often play the bad guy."
"That's on account of my mug."
"You think you look like a bad guy?"
"No, but it sort of lends itself to the bad guy?" Waltz suggested.
How? "Well, it's not, let's say, 'beautiful.'"
Nor, he says, is much of the world he sees around him, which fuels his choice in roles. The latest example is his role in the film "Downsizing," out this week.
Waltz stars along with Matt Damon in this satire in which technology is developed to shrink humans in order to combat ills of the world -- including over-consumption and over-population.
Waltz said, "Our hubris needs to be downsized, thinking that profiteering on Earth, on whatever level -- environmentally, economically, culturally -- is unlimited and everybody should get as much as he wants or she wants. Humans need to be shrunk again to their actual size."
"Though, in the film, even though they're smaller people, they still have a lot of the same problems," said Doane.
"Exactly. so physical downsizing won't really solve it."
Lately, he's seen outsized-issues his own industry needs to solve. Disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein was an executive producer of several of Waltz's films.
Doane asked about those accusations of sexual assault against Weinstein and others: "Do you feel that a reckoning is overdue?"
"Absolutely. Absolutely," he replied. "But we can't stop with Harvey Weinstein. That's just the tip of the iceberg. What do we do with it?
"Well, my tendency is to look at my life, look at what can I do. I think housekeeping is the first thing."
"To take the news and, say, do a little soul-searching?"
"Otherwise it has no value for us."
He did not become a Hollywood star until "Inglourious Basterds." Waltz was in his 50s when Tarantino did a casting call in Berlin and discovered the Austrian-born actor who'd been working for decades in German films and TV.
"The exposure to the rest of the world doesn't happen on German stages," Waltz said.
He says finding celebrity later in his career changed his view of fame.
"I am almost neurotically private, myself," he said. "Because I think it's an important distinction to make between privacy and public sphere."
He also guards his acting process, though we saw some of it revealed in the intensity with which he directs his actors … pushing them and picking up on the tiniest detail.
Doane asked, "Are there times that you want to get on stage and just do it yourself?"
"Is that frustrating?"
"At times, it is."
So, he's directing himself in an upcoming film, "Georgetown." Annette Bening (whom he says he adores) is his co-star.
"She knows about details," Waltz said. "She knows about specificity."
"She acts in the way you like to act?"
Waltz grew up in the very precise world of music -- his stepfather was a composer. He's accompanied by his wife, Judith Holst, designed the costumes for this performance.
And he sees everyday actions as musical: "You listen, you look, and you try to find the harmony that you now improvise in," he said.
"You think a lot about music?"
In some ways, as he shapes this performance of "Falstaff," Christoph Waltz's professional life has rarely been in more perfect harmony: "Sometimes I do stuff where people say, 'Why did you do that?' And you know, it's very simple. I do it because I've never done it before."
"Sometimes it's looking at different roles to challenge yourself? Sometimes it's playing different parts altogether in terms of directing a film, directing an opera?"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah -- it's all one. It's not the same, but it's all one. It's sort of being secretly hopeful that there is progress and development after all."
For more info:
- "Downsizing" (Official Facebook site)
- "Falstaff" by Opera Vlaanderen, in Antwerp and Gent, Belgium (through January 20, 2018)