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The Actor Who Kept Tarantino From Pulling The Plug On Inglourious Basterds

Few filmmakers in Hollywood are as passionate about movies as Quentin Tarantino. Likewise, few filmmakers boast as colorful a cinematic oeuvre, with Tarantino bringing his singular style and flair for language to virtually every genre under the sun, save for horror. With (arguably) nine feature-length films under his belt, it's safe to say Tarantino's legacy is one that will endure beyond his supposed looming retirement. 

Of those flicks, few were as universally beloved as Tarantino's history-twisting 2007 WWII drama "Inglourious Basterds," which follows a crack unit of U.S. soldiers (led by a never-better Brad Pitt) who track high-ranking Nazis and have their violent ways with them. And of those Nazis, none were quite as memorable as the vile, charismatic "Jew Hunter" Hans Landa, portrayed by Christoph Waltz in a towering performance that transcends the term "scene-stealing." And it turns out that the casting of that character was so vital in the obsessive mind of Quentin Tarantino, he nearly called off the movie amid what became an exhaustive casting search. As covered by The Times of Isreal, the director detailed the struggle during a 2016 press event, citing the need to find an actor who could play to the character's specific linguistic needs as the central issue.

"The character was so vivid on the page. You bought everything he did on the page. But if you had to wait for an actor to learn [the language] stuff, he would never be the Landa that was on the page. There'd be a hesitancy on the screen." Further complicating matters was Tarantino's insistence that a German actor play the part. "I didn't want a Dutch guy playing the German Nazis. I didn't want the Swedish guy playing the German Nazis. I wanted Germans, playing Germans, speaking German."

Christph Waltz not only saved Inglourious Basterds, but he became an overnight A-lister to boot

Tarantino further claims that after an extensive yet fruitless casting search, he was so disheartened he almost shelved the movie altogether rather than hire the wrong actor for the part. "I was getting to be kinda worried. And unless I found the perfect Landa, I didn't want to make the movie. I mean World War II isn't going anywhere. I could put it on the shelf, take it down four years from now," further noting he was "literally emotionally preparing myself to pull the plug."

Luckily, Tarantino gave himself one more week to find his man. As fate would have it, in that time an unknown actor from German television, ahem, waltzed into the casting room. In the director's own words, Christoph Waltz nailed the audition and then some. "And it was just obvious he was the guy. He could do everything we wanted. He was just amazing. We were ecstatic when he finished. We were just vomiting all over him, 'Oh my god, you were amazing, you were fantastic. Oh my god. Thank you, thank you, thank you.' I've never given a man a b*** job, but at that moment, at that time, if anyone deserved it, it was him."

That's as high praise as any actor has ever earned from Tarantino, though Waltz was no doubt equally happy with the Supporting Actor Academy Award he netted for his show-stopping "Inglourious Basterds" performance. Ditto for his overnight status change from virtual unknown to in-demand A-lister. Anyone who's seen Waltz at work as the nefarious Nazi colonel in Tarantino's crackling, hyper-violent epic knows the director was right in being so picky, as it's virtually impossible to envision "Inglourious Basterds" without Waltz's scene-devouring shenanigans. And it's equally impossible to imagine another actor in the role.