Rome Film Fest: Christoph Waltz on Why He Finds Marlon Brando Cringeworthy

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Christoph Waltz

The Austrian-German actor explained the downside of finding fame in villainous roles.

Christoph Waltz on Thursday made a brief stop in Italy to participate in the Rome Film Fest’s first “Close Encounter” with the festival audience. “I hate selfies and I hate social media,” said the Austrian-German actor at the start of his talk after an overeager young fan tried to climb onto the stage to meet him.

After showing clips of his two Oscar-winning roles in Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained, Waltz shared that the thing he most loved about working with filmmaker Quentin Tarantino was his scripts. “The origin, the genesis, the poetry, everything is in the writing,” he said.

But the actor explained that the one downside of gaining fame in America after working with Tarantino was that he has often been typecast as the “bad guy,” in films as far-reaching as Big Eyes, Spectre and The Legend of Tarzan.

“The worst thing about playing villains is being constantly asked to play villains,” Waltz said, lamenting that many people can't imagine him outside of those roles. He did admit, however, that it is “infinitely” more fun to play an antagonist because there's a whole spectrum of possible actions, rather than the “good guy” who has just one path to do the right thing. He also said that by definition, villains are responsible for driving the drama in a story.

Waltz, who worked for 35 years in Europe before he crossed over to Hollywood, said that he has not always been the villain. But “like everything else, I think, that at its base are economical reasons,” he explained, “movie financing is not achieved by interest in art.”

Paraphrasing a financier attempting to repeat that Tarantino magic, Waltz quoted, "Oh, I’ve seen him as a villain, so I want him as a villain. And if he’s in there as a villain, I’ll give you some money."

When asked what actor he tried to emulate early in his career, Waltz responded, “I'm kind of embarrassed. When I was about 20, I thought Marlon Brando was the greatest thing ever,” he said as the audience began to clap. “Well, hold your applause for a second, because now most of the stuff that Marlon Brando did, I can’t watch. I cringe.”

Waltz noted one exception — The Godfather. But otherwise, he said he finds the legendary actor largely unwatchable. "My point is, not only does your point of reference shift with your development, the actor whom you choose to be your point of reference does not always do great work,” he warned. “Your admiration should never turn into an ideology.”

Before Waltz departed, the actor also criticized the star-making machine in Hollywood today. “I am convinced that acting and being a star are two different professions. You can be an actor who is always true to himself, true to the work, true to the writer,” he explained, while noting that you can still be relegated to the background. “Others who are reckless and irresponsible become stars. They don’t become stars for their work. They become stars because they have the potential. They’re being made stars. There is a whole mechanism.”

But, he added, just because an actor or actress hasn’t found success may just mean they haven’t found the right part. “I don’t believe in good actor/bad actor,” Waltz concluded. “There is a role for every actor where he can be sensational.”  

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