Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Everyone's calling Christoph Waltz these days

LOS ANGELES — It has been a glourious year for Christoph Waltz.

The Austrian actor, for three decades an unknown presence toiling mostly in German television, is suddenly, well, waltzing off with a pile of statuettes for his turn as voluble, deadly and quick-witted Nazi Hans Landa in Quentin Tarantino's World War II fable Inglourious Basterds (out on DVD).

On Saturday, Waltz won the Screen Actors Guild Award for his performance. Earlier this month, he picked up Golden Globe and Critics' Choice awards. He's nominated for a British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Award, and he's on the short list for an Oscar nomination.

"It's lovely to be appreciated to that degree, and I'm extremely grateful," he says. "This is the most incredible part written. It's the best thing I've ever done — I don't mean the result, but the process. It was the most rewarding for me."

What's it like being an overnight sensation at age 53?

Waltz has one word for it: "Fantastic."

His "name recognition is up 99.999%," he says.

Tarantino found Waltz through a casting director in Germany when he was despairing about being able to fill his pivotal and multi-lingual role. Waltz has been profuse in thanking the director in his acceptance speeches. Initially, when his name is called, "for a split second, your mind is blank. When you use the expression 'blown away,' your mind goes there, too. The first emotion is utter bafflement," Waltz says.

He calls himself "100% superstition-free" and doesn't carry any talismans or lucky charms with him on the red carpet. "I take nothing for granted," Waltz says.

Before Tarantino came along, Waltz felt disillusioned after years of working in mediocre projects. Now, he's reveling in finally being recognized for his work and meeting with some notable directors about future roles.

"I'm so energized when I come here. I can't emphasize that enough. It's not the dazzle and glamour and glitz that I'm attracted to. I'm attracted to this energetic drive to excel. It's so much what I wanted to do all my life."

Even his pals have noticed a difference in his demeanor.

"One very good friend of mine has talked to my wife and said, 'What's wrong with him? He's happy,' " Waltz says with a twinkle.