A true late bloomer in Hollywood, Christoph Waltz was one of many actors whose genius was overlooked for decades until someone was willing to take a chance on his talent. Quentin Tarantino - himself a fan of the somewhat obscure actor - was just the man to resurrect Waltz's career. A highly regarded stage, television and film actor in Europe since the mid-'70s, Waltz's career finally took off when the irreverent American director tapped him to portray the charming sadist Colonel Hans Landa in his highly-anticipated World War II thriller "Inglourious Basterds" (2009). His layered performance as the multi-lingual, deceptively suave, cold-blooded "Jew Hunter" earned Waltz a coveted Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Suddenly, the Austrian actor was an international star, working with directors like Michel Gondry in the superhero romp "The Green Hornet" (2011) and Roman Polanski in the dark comedy-drama "Carnage" (2011) before rejoining Tarantino and winning a second Academy Award for his role of a bounty hunter in "Django Unchained." Roles as varied as notorious art-world fraud Walter Keane in Tim Burton's "Big Eyes" (2014) and iconic Bond villain Blofeld in "Spectre" (2015) followed. After more than 30 years of steady film and television work in Europe, Waltz's considerable talent was finally recognized by a late-to-the-party Hollywood, and American audiences wanted more.
Christoph Waltz was born on Oct. 4, 1956 in Vienna, Austria to set designers Elisabeth Urbancic and Johannes Waltz. Acting was truly in his blood; his grandparents were actors and his great-grandparents also worked in theater. At 19, Waltz began appearing in plays and small-budget films. To gain life experience, Waltz began traveling all over the world, eventually finding himself in New York City in 1979. There, he studied with renowned Method acting teachers Lee Strasberg and Stella Adler at the Lee Strasberg Theatre and Film Institute. After two years honing his craft in Manhattan, offers from several European theater companies started pouring in so he returned to Germany. At the time, he felt that he needed more training outside of acting, so he studied singing and opera at the famed Max Reinhardt Seminar in Vienna.
After all the effort put forth, Waltz became a prolific stage performer, appearing at prestigious venues like Schauspielhaus Zurich in Switzerland, where he made his stage debut in 1982, at Vienna's Burgtheater, and at the Salzburg Festival. He found steady work in Europe as a member of several theater companies, staying a year or two with each one before moving on to the next. In the mid-1980s, the classically trained actor - who was then married with children - shifted gears and branched out to onscreen acting. Television provided Waltz a regular paycheck, but not much else in terms of having a creative outlet. He was a fixture on British and Austrian television, appearing on numerous crime dramas and comedy series. He co-starred in the decidedly humorous British miniseries, "The Gravy Train" (Channel 4 TV, 1990), which followed the misadventures of Hans-Joachim Dorfman, the newest member of the European Economic Council. Waltz played the idealistic, bumbling pawn caught in the middle of an evil plot hatched by its ambitious economic director (Ian Richardson). In 1991, he reprised the role in the sequel, "The Gravy Train Goes East," appearing in four episodes. Waltz also guest starred on the popular Austrian-made police television drama, "Kommisar Rex" ("Inspector Rex") (1994- ), where he played a creepy doll shop owner who murdered women in his spare time.
While much of his work on television was routine, Waltz displayed his versatility on film, appearing in countless comedies, dramas and suspense thrillers. He worked alongside renowned directors like Krzysztof Zanussi, a Polish feature and documentary film director, in the German version of the film "Leben Fur Leben" ("Life for Life") (1991), about the groundbreaking theologian, Father Maximilian. His earnest portrayal of the controversial priest who was murdered in 1941 for his evangelical work earned Waltz praise from film critics and further established him as a bona fide movie star in Europe. In 1998, he starred in the romantic comedy of errors "Das Merkwuerdige Verhalten Geschlectsreifer Grossstaedter Zur Paarungzeist" ("Love Scenes from Planet Earth") as Charly, a depressed writer who borrows his publisher's new car and soon attracts the attention of two women. The versatile actor also starred in the contemporary thriller "Falling Rocks" (1999), where he portrayed one of five German tourists in South America who get entangled in a murder mystery. Waltz was also an accomplished director; in 2000, he directed his first film, the TV production "Wenn man sich traut" ("A Question of Confidence") about a thirty-something couple whose perfect, lighthearted relationship ended when they got married.
With a decades-long career in television, on stage, and in feature films, the veteran actor was no doubt highly regarded in Europe. But he was virtually unknown in American cinema until his breakthrough performance in Tarantino's violent fantasy, "Inglourious Basterds." Set in Nazi-occupied France during World War II, the film followed a group of Jewish-American soldiers known as the "Basterds," led by the merciless Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt). The killing brigade was chosen to strike fear throughout the Third Reich by viciously killing and scalping Nazis. While Pitt was the leader of the Nazi-killing machine and was the film's biggest star, it was Waltz who owned the film. He brought to life a character unlike any Nazi ever seen before on film: an impossibly polite but very evil interrogator who seduces his victims with words, spoken in fluent German, English, French and Italian. Waltz made Hans a very despicable yet eerily likeable character that literally entered character's homes and charmed them with words, all before politely explaining how their life was about to end.
Waltz' critically acclaimed performance in "Basterds" earned him a Best Actor award at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, as well as Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild and Academy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actor. Not surprisingly, Waltz took home the Globe, the SAG Award and the coveted Oscar. But the role that made him a true movie star almost never made it onscreen. Waltz apparently had reservations when he first read the script and thought that he was being considered for a lesser role. Tarantino also found it challenging to cast the right actor to play the charming polyglot Landa and had said in interviews that he considered ditching the film had he not found Waltz to play the pivotal role. The pairing proved to be very successful for both actor and director, with the film opening at No. 1 at the box office and kicking Waltz' career into high gear. After "Inglourious Basterds," Hollywood wasted no time casting Waltz in a variety of projects. He returned to his villainous ways in the superhero action-comedy "The Green Hornet" (2011) opposite Seth Rogen and Cameron Diaz and directed by eclectic French filmmaker Michel Gondry. Waltz played an ambitious Los Angeles crime boss targeted by the eponymous masked vigilante (Rogen) and his exceptionally competent sidekick, Kato (Jay Chou).
More projects followed in quick succession, although with little of the acclaim that had accompanied his work in "Basterds." He played a manipulative circus owner opposite Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson in the romantic drama "Water for Elephants" then did his mustache-twirling best as the despicable Cardinal Richelieu in B-movie director Paul W.S. Anderson's steampunk interpretation of "The Three Musketeers" (2011). More promising was his work alongside actors Kate Winslet, Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly in director Roman Polanski's "Carnage" (2011). His performance in the adaptation of Yasmina Reza's venerated stage play "God of Carnage" - a pitch-black comedy-drama about two sets of parents meeting for a "civilized" discussion after their teenage sons are involved in a fistfight - had already generated substantial awards season buzz before its theatrical release. He moved on to portray August, the charismatic but twisted animal trainer in the adaptation of Sara Guen's "Water for Elephants" (2011), starring Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattison. From there, Waltz was Cardinal Richelieu in Paul W.S. Anderson's adaptation of "The Three Musketeers" (2011) before reuniting with Tarantino as a bounty hunter who enlists the help of a runaway slave (Jamie Foxx) to hunt down two ruthless killers in the director's pseudo-spaghetti Western, "Django Unchained" (2012). For the latter film, he received his second Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. Now fully ensconced as a Hollywood star, Waltz provided a voice for animated hit "Epic" (2013) and played comic villains in films ranging from "Muppets Most Wanted" (2014) to the black-comedy sequel "Horrible Bosses 2" (2014). A starring role in Terry Gilliam's science fiction fantasy "The Zero Theorem" (2013) was followed by a subtle performance as disgraced '60s kitsch sensation Walter Keane in Tim Burton's "Big Eyes" (2014) and a turn as the supervillain Ernst Stavro Blofeld in the James Bond hit "Spectre" (2015).
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At 19, began appearing in plays and small-budget films
Made his stage debut at the prestigious Schauspielhaus Zurich in Switzerland
Played a lead role in the German film "Feuer und Schwert/Fire and Sword"
Co-starred as Dr. Hans-Joachim in the British miniseries "The Gravy Train"
Appeared in the German version of the film "Leben Fur Leben/Life for Life," about the groundbreaking theologian Father Maximilian
Reprised role in the sequel "The Gravy Train Goes East"
Played a depressed writer who borrows his publisher's new car and soon attracts the attention of two women in "Das Merkwuerdige Verhalten Geschlectsreifer Grossstaedter Zur Paarungzeist/Love Scenes from Planet Earth"
Starred as a German tourist in South America entangled in a murder mystery in "Falling Rocks"
Directed first feature, the TV production "Wenn man sich traut/A Question of Confidence," about a thirty-something couple whose perfect, lighthearted relationship ended when they got married
Landed breakthrough role as Nazi officer Hans Landa (aka "The Jew Hunter") in Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds"
Played the villainous Chudnofsky in the action comedy "The Green Hornet" opposite Seth Rogen and Cameron Diaz
Cast as Richelieu in Paul W.S. Anderson's "The Three Musketeers"
Co-starred with Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly and Kate Winslet in Roman Polanski's "Carnage"
Portrayed August, the charismatic but twisted animal trainer, in the film adaptation of Sara Gruen's novel "Water for Elephants"
Played a German bounty hunter opposite Jamie Foxx in "Django Unchained," a Western drama set in Mississippi; film written and directed by Quentin Tarantino
Played the manipulative Walter Keane in Tim Burton's biopic "Big Eyes"
Played Blofeld in "Spectre"
Co-starred in historical drama "Tulip Fever"
Co-starred with Matt Damon in sci-fi drama "Downsizing"