It's not that Christoph Waltz is unwilling to discuss his movies, it's that he's cautious about too rigidly framing them for those who haven't seen them yet. It's of particular concern with material as complex as Quentin Tarantino's new "Django Unchained."
"Everybody has a different reason to see what they see in a movie. Everybody should very much listen to that inner voice when seeing any movie, but this one in specific," says the articulate, thoughtful Austrian actor, an Oscar winner for Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds." "I would really encourage everybody to open their ears and their eyes and especially their minds, wide, and sort of hand themselves over to this experience."
"Django" is, after all, a funny, clever and unflinchingly brutal fantasy in which a horribly oppressed group gains a measure of bloody vengeance. In that way, it's a companion piece to "Basterds," with that film's Nazi-terrorizing Jews, but the new movie takes on one of America's ugliest chapters, slavery, and does so in the form of a spaghetti western. It's tricky stuff.
"That's what makes it so difficult. I don't mean 'difficult' as a negative thing. On the contrary, it's a difficulty that promises great reward, and you have to expose yourself to it," says Waltz.
"It's not just popcorn fare; it really isn't. Quentin's dialogue is so wonderfully musical and meaningful. It's entertaining, yes. But what it tells is not fast or easy or light in terms of content. So it takes attention, and it deserves attention. And I've only seen it once. I'm not even trying to digest it yet. I'm just trying to come to terms with the impression."
Among the accolades Waltz has already received for his role in the just-released film: plaudits from various critics' groups and a Golden Globe nomination. A star in Europe before his big splash stateside as "Jew hunter" Col. Hans Landa in "Basterds," he has had roles written for him before, particularly on stage, "but it's the first time someone has written such a role for me," he says of Tarantino's crafting of "Django's" King Schultz.
Schultz is a German dentist turned bounty hunter who rides around in a wagon with a comically large tooth replica bobbing on its roof. He abhors slavery but employs it for practical purposes. He is a folklore-appreciating humanist who has no objection to killing a wanted man in front of the criminal's young son.
"It really felt it had something to do with me. Me as a person. I have played parts that were written with me in mind, with the actor Christoph in mind. Quentin wrote a role with the person Christoph in mind. It got so much closer to me and so much more immediate. It's also how Quentin sees the person Christoph. In that respect, his point of view is more unique and opens possibilities that I might not even have been aware of."
Toward that end, Tarantino afforded Waltz the opportunity to read pages more or less as they were being written.
"His process is unique — at least, I've never heard of anybody else who does it that way," says the actor. "Quentin creates these characters, and he brings them to life and sets them free. He creates this whole biography that leads up to the moment when the story begins, then he releases the character into the story. He follows them around, recording what they do, what is happening to them. I was the next witness after him, so to say."
Even for the actor who inspired the role, the unfolding of Schultz as the pages came in was a continual surprise.
"With the gaps and the intervals in between, I wondered, 'Will it continue like that? Will it continue like this?' And, of course, it continued in a different way," he says with delight. "I see the depth and I see the contour and the extent of something I don't even know if I have enough substance to live up to. If I can suffice, that would mean a step in my development."