Quaid here, with more info from our friend in LA, Anna. This time the lucky lass got a chance to interview the cast of Inglourious Basterds at the cast roundtable. Here are her thoughts! Be sure to check back soon for the full interview transcript
Last week I gave you a quick review of Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds. Since then, I spoke with the actors and was dealt a healthy dose of anecdotes and revelations from the Basterd’s set to share with you. Here is a collection of my favorites.
Fair warning of massive spoilers ahead. Should you desire to preserve surprise upon the experience of seeing said film for yourself, STOP! This article might be best experienced after you’ve seen the film.
That said, let’s dive in…
The film kicks off with a scene between a dairy farmer and Col. Hans Landa SS, played by the brilliant Christoph Waltz, a Nazi detective hired to weed out any Jews still hiding in France. He is called the “Jew Hunter.” And before long, we realize just how deserving he is of the title.
It becomes apparent that Landa has not called on the farmer for an interrogation–despite their extensive conversation. By the end of the scene we realize that the detective has known all along exactly where his prey were hiding and exactly how to extract them; the conversation in the interim serves only to exercise his own wit and intrigue.
Landa is a multi-dimensional villain: sharp, calculating, vicious, jolly, and enthusiastic (about both his profession and strudel); a villain who demands an especially crafty actor.
At first we as members of the audience suspect him to be like any Nazi. But Waltz insists Tarantino writes far too interesting roles to settle for a black-and-white cast of good and evil characters.
“I was quite offended when a German journalist wrote that this is a man who likens Jews to rats without the blink of an eye,” says Waltz, referring to a comparison made in the opening scene of the film. “But, I thought, poor idiot, he didn’t get it. Because he says, yeah the German could be a hawk and the Jew could be a rat, and the Nazi propaganda says the same thing, ‘But,’ Col. Landa says, ‘where our conclusions differ, I do not consider the comparison to be an insult.’ That really is a clue for the whole part [of Landa]. Others apply moral connotations, and derogatory and racist and dangerous [connotations], but he, Landa, says, ‘I look at the rat. The rat has fantastic qualities, and the Jews have fantastic qualities.’ He is in full appreciation of what this whole layer of reality entails. That makes it infinitely more interesting….”
So in the end, when Landa makes a surprising negotiation with the Basterds themselves, a handful of Jewish-American scalping-masters out to exterminate the Nazi Regime, Waltz explained: “He was just an opportunist who switches sides.” He added, “I take it seriously, …when he says, ‘I’m a detective, a very good detective. Finding people is my specialty.’ Sure, you know, the employer in this case was dubious, but then, he doesn’t apply judgment. [Landa] doesn’t apply moral categories. He could, but he chooses not to.”
“This is fantastic playwriting, on the highest level,” said Christoph Waltz.
And B. J. Novak would agree. His role as Utivitch, a.k.a. “The Little One,” was equally surprising. Novak said, “Quentin had always told me…he was frustrated with war movies where it’s very clear who’s going to live and who’s going to die. He wanted to play with audience expectations; focus on some people and kill them off, and hide some people and have them emerge. He always thought it would be very funny to have the guy who’s supposed to get killed first make it to the end.”
Indeed, the Little One got to play a very gruesome, powerful role, making it to the end to scalp the last of the Basterds’ conquests. But Novak admitted, “I’m really not a fan of violence in movies. What I’ve always loved about Tarantino is the humor and the dialog and the characters. …So it was kind of odd to find myself in that part of a Tarantino movie, but that was my job and that was my homework.”
Still he took his responsibility to Utivitch seriously. “I had scalping lessons, I looked up scalping on the internet and after a while, it just became like a calculus test I wanted to get an A on. I hated calculus, too, but I was a good Jewish boy who did my homework and that’s who Utivitch was. I don’t think he wanted to scalp, but if that’s his homework assignment from Aldo, he’s damned if he’s not going to get an A.”
Michael Fassbender found his own challenge in the role of Archie Hicox, a British officer assigned to an operation to capture and execute a cinemaful of Nazis. “I was trying to do a comic turn with Hicox.” But, he continued, “I was actually shitting it, really.” Why? Well, he partnered in a scene with a surprising addition to Tarantino’s cast, Mike Meyers, the master comedian himself. “He is a legend! [But] when I arrived, we just hit it off really well, and we just went back and forth all day…just making up little jokes.”
Eli Roth’s greatest challenge was slightly more physical. Not only did the actor put on 40 lbs. of muscle to play “the Bear Jew,” Donny Donowitz, he also had to withstand the menace of being set on fire.
“Quentin doesn’t like to use CGI,” said Roth. “He wants everything to be authentic. So he had this fire, and they had done numerous tests… The fire, they estimated, it was going to burn…up 400 degrees centigrade. [But] the flags caught fire…and they never tested with all the stuff and all the props… And the fire was—it got up to 1,200 degrees centigrade, which is 2,000 Fahrenheit. And you see me on camera, …I got singed. And we had on flame retardant clothing under our costumes, and [we were] covered in fire gel, and there were two people in fire suits with extinguishers below us. And then, [there was] Quentin on a crane in a fire suit. But he had me and Omar firing machine guns. Our hands just start burning! …It was horrible. I never experienced pain like that.” Roth laughed. “I remember…I just watched the shot and poof, I passed out. And when I woke up, I had ice all over me and aloe. …And Quentin said he looked over and said that was as bad as bad he’s ever felt.”
But Roth, disposed to the humor of it all, said, “I was happy, and now if any actor complains on any of my sets, I’ll be like, well, I don’t know what to tell you, ‘cause I was in a 2,000 degree fire.” And of course in the end, the film’s climax could not have looked more spectacular.
Diane Kruger, playing the role of Bridget von Hammersmark, also took one for the team. When her character is strangled to death at the end of the film, Kruger reveals, “that…is actually Quentin who was strangling me.” Not the detective, Col. Hans Landa. “It was my last day, and he came into my trailer and he said, ‘Christoph is just an actor. He’s going to squeeze too hard or too little and we’re going to do it over and over. I just know exactly what we need, so I think I should just strangle you.’” Kruger laughed, “It was like, ‘Are you trying to tell me something? Did I do something wrong?!?”
Kruger portrayed a British spy, and she remarked in her interview how grateful she was “as a woman…in Hollywood…to be given dialogue that is intelligent and nuanced—and you’re not just being treated as an accessory to whatever male story is happening in the movie. It’s empowering. Women should be thanking him for the parts he writes for them.”
I could keep going, but maybe it’s best to give you just the highlights. Make sure to check back soon for the full interview transcripts.
The experience of this film is so overwhelming– so full, so rich, that it demands an encore, and I plan to see it very soon. I’d suggest you do the same.
If you are reading this before seeing the film (and I’d guess that most of you are), know that there’s plenty to see that I haven’t so much as touched upon.