American filmmaker Quentin Tarantino is regularly cited as one of the best contemporary directors, responsible for the creation of multiple masterpieces like Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. Tarantino’s work exists inside a network of popular culture allusions and is designed with hyper-stylised visual as well as narrative techniques.
In 2009, Tarantino released another strong addition to his already impressive filmography – Inglourious Basterds. Presented as an alternative historical imagination of the horrors of the Second World War, the film follows intersecting narratives which lead up to the spectacular elimination of despicable Nazi horrors. Although Tarantino had finished the script in 1998, he wasn’t sure about the ending, which pushed the project back further.
Inglourious Basterds boasts of a stellar cast, featuring the likes of Brad Pitt, Michael Fassbender and Diane Kruger, and the film was a huge commercial success and picked up eight Oscar nominations including the Best Picture and Best Director categories. Out of all the stars, there was one particular performance that moved Tarantino so much that he labelled the character as his favourite of all time.
That iconic role was played by Christoph Waltz, starring as the antagonistic SS officer Hans Landa who was nicknamed ‘The Jew Hunter’ for his ability to locate and torture Jewish refugees during the Holocaust. For his brilliant rendition of the personification of Hans Landa, Waltz received an Oscar, a BAFTA and a Golden Globe, among other prizes.
To perfectly capture the shock and terror that Waltz’s performance induced in others, he prevented the actor from attending team rehearsals. Instead, he asked Waltz to rehearse only with the director himself. The result was incredible, as is evident from the fact that Waltz did not just shock the cast and crew but the audiences as well.
“I got together with Christoph before we got to the big script reading with the cast,” Tarantino said. “I told him: I’m not doing this to be perverse game playing…everybody is so curious about who is playing Hans Landa. I don’t want you to be bad at the script reading, but I want you to hold a lot back.”
Adding, “I do not want them to think that they are getting a glimpse of who you are really going to be. On a scale of one to 10, be a six. Be good enough, just good enough. I do not want you to be in a competition with anybody, and if you are in competition then lose. I don’t want them to know what you have or for them to have a handle on Landa.”
“I really had considered that I wrote a character that was unplayable,” Tarantino later admitted. “And so to actually see somebody ride that horse, and do it perfectly, I mean absolutely perfectly, I was gob smacked.”
See a clip of the performance, below.