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Actor Christoph Waltz: from the German stage to Hollywood

Most actors on the German theatre stage never achieve their ambition of success in television too, let alone dare to dream of making it on the big screen and in the international film industry. Christoph Waltz, a German-Austrian, has not only made the breakthrough into television and cinema, but is also a veritable Hollywood star, thanks to his role in the Quentin Tarantino film 'Inglorious Basterds'.

Christoph Waltz is not exactly your typical Hollywood film star. English is not his native language and he spent decades playing almost nothing other than minor roles. He is no heartthrob, keeps his private life out of the public eye and was over 50 years old when he had his first Hollywood hit. He does not play heroes, but clumsy, opaque, sad or evil figures. Despite this, or perhaps precisely because of it, he is now one of the few award-winning film stars in demand around the world who began their career in German theatres.
The actor of both German and Austrian nationality was born in Vienna in 1956. He comes from a theatrical family, his parents having worked as stage and costume designers and his grandparents having been actors at the famous Burgtheater in Vienna, so acting was in his blood. The fact that he went to New York to take acting lessons at the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute after completing his acting studies at the renowned Max Reinhardt Seminar in Vienna may indicate that he was already dreaming of a career in the international film industry back then.

Nonetheless, it was on theatre stages in Frankfurt am Main, Hamburg, Cologne, Salzburg, Vienna and Zurich that Christoph Waltz first appeared, before increasingly establishing himself in television at the end of the 1970s. He played roles on the small screen in numerous episodes of German crime series, such as 'Derrick', 'Tatort', 'Der Alte' and 'Ein Fall für zwei', as well as in TV and cinema films.

Typical roles for Christoph Waltz: depressed pop star, ruthless kidnapper

He achieved fame in Germany through two TV films directed by the Austrian Peter Keglevics. The first was  'Du bist nicht allein' in 1996, a biography of German pop singer Roy Black, followed by 'Der Tanz mit dem Teufel – Die Entführung des Richard Oetker', a 2001 film which sees Waltz play the ruthless kidnapper of Richard Oetker, well-known son of a leading industrialist. Waltz picked up the Adolf Grimme Award, one of the most prestigious accolades in German television, for his performance in the latter.  

He was involved in numerous international film and television productions during the 1990s, for example working with Polish director Krzysztof Zanussi, and appearing in a two-part German, Austrian and U.S. co-production for television about Catherine the Great, who is played by Catherine Zeta-Jones.

Christoph Waltz: From nobody to superstar

Although he is an excellent actor, Christoph Waltz was never a star, and so he probably never imagined that his work with U.S. cult director Quentin Tarantino on 'Inglorious Basterds' would have the impact it did. The film tells the fictitious story of a group of Jewish-American soldiers who kill Nazis in occupied France during the Second World War, with Waltz playing the cold-blooded SS officer Colonel Hans Landa.

Video: Christoph Waltz receiving an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in 'Inglorious Basterds'

In addition to winning an Oscar in 2010, he also received the Golden Globe and the British Academy Film Award, and was named best actor at the International Film Festival in Cannes (2009). No one believed that he would achieve the major Hollywood breakthrough after almost 30 years in the acting business, least of all Waltz himself. Speaking to a German celebrity magazine, he said: 'Of course I didn't expect there to be such a fuss. After all, I'm Christoph Waltz, not Lady Gaga.'

Having been inundated with offers ever since, he has appeared alongside Jodie Foster and Kate Winslet in the Hollywood production 'Carnage', based on Yasmina Reza's successful play, and has starred in 'Water for Elephants' with Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon. Waltz worked with Tarantino again on the film 'Django Unchained' and his performance earned him his second Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor in 2013.

Christoph Waltz seems to be enjoying his new-found fame, while still keeping a level head. When asked how he copes, unaccustomed as he is to such hype, he replied: 'You can get overexcited from drinking too much coffee too. When that happens, you just need to drink less of it. I'm also someone who is used to being thrust before the public regularly. I'm quite good at dealing with it.'

January 2013

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