The 53-year-old Austrian-born actor, long a popular and prolific presence in German TV and film, was basically an unknown in this country until "Basterds" blew into town in late summer. Early on he had picked up a best actor honor at Cannes, but it wasn't until the film opened here that critical accolades began piling up faster than the U.S. debt. By my count, he had 27 "Inglourious" wins before Sunday's Oscar, which may not be an unprecedented number but must be close.
What was so remarkable about his sadistic Col. Hans Landa, besides the demented pride Landa took in the nickname "Jew Hunter," was the precision and restraint Waltz brought to Tarantino's over-the-top world. The slight sneer, the arched brow, the unblinking gaze of ice-cold eyes, the inflection that gave a simple line layers of meaning, all of it pitch-perfect. A more villainous villain is hard to imagine than Waltz's psychopath savoring his mission of murder and mayhem.
It's looking as if we'll be seeing a great deal more of Mr. Waltz. He'll soon have his nefarious way with Seth Rogen in "The Green Hornet," though his Chudnofsky will, no doubt, be a sweetheart by comparison. There are rumors he'll play the paranoid-schizo animal trainer in "Water for Elephants" with Reese Witherspoon, with more U.S.-based projects shaping up. Let's hope there's a good guy in there somewhere for Waltz; some of that charm should be used for good, not just evil.
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