Page last updated at 07:08 GMT, Thursday, 20 August 2009 08:08 UK

There's something about Quentin

By Victoria Lindrea
Entertainment Reporter, BBC News

Christophe Waltz as Hans Landa
Waltz, a respected Austrian stage actor, lives in London

"The hype suggests that Quentin is zany, wacky, far-out... an enfant terrible, a genius. That's true, but that's not all.

"The Quentin that is important to me is sensitive, considerate, polite, well-versed. An immensely educated, respectful, enthusiastic artist."

Christophe Waltz, award-winning villain of Quentin Tarantino's latest film Inglourious Basterds, has good reason to sing the praises of the controversial film-maker.

Waltz, a jobbing Austrian actor living in London, has been given the role of a lifetime playing the chilling Colonel Hans Landa.

His stand-out performance as the elegant but deadly Nazi won him the best actor award at this year's Cannes Film Festival - and his card is marked for an Oscar nomination come January 2010.

Overlooked talent

The film, which follows a group of Jewish American soldiers exacting revenge on Nazi troops in World War II France, met with a lukewarm reception from critics at the annual Cannes gala.

Tarantino has been a popular draw on the French Riviera since he won the Palme D'Or for Pulp Fiction in 1994, and the director was eager to debut his much-vaunted war project at this year's festival.

Quentin Tarantino
The dyslexic Tarantino dropped out of high school aged 14
His surname comes from the city of Taranto in southern Italy
He played an Elvis impersonator in an episode of Golden Girls
He honed his film knowledge while working in a California video store
He was named after Burt Reynold's character Quint in Gunsmoke

After years in gestation, Inglourious Basterds - which borrows its deliberately misspelt title from a 1978 Italian film - was rushed into production just four months after Tarantino completed the script in July 2008.

The director secured Brad Pitt for the lead role after a boozy night on Pitt's French vineyard. Come October, the cameras were rolling in Berlin.

General consensus suggests this may not be the masterpiece Tarantino fans have been waiting for, but the director's ability to spot overlooked talent remains unquestionable - and provides the film's high point.

"It's all in Quentin's script," says Waltz, modestly, swiping aside accusations of scene-stealing from Pitt.

"Quentin is not a prolific writer, he is not a fantastic writer - but he is the ideal actors' writer.

"He created this immense universe and invited me to participate.

"After a few years working as an actor, you realise chances that something like this will be offered to you are extremely slim."

Whatever his inconsistencies as a film-maker, Tarantino certainly has a flair for drawing career-making performances from actors. Think Pam Grier in Jackie Brown, or the relaunch of John Travolta's career in Pulp Fiction.

Brad Pitt as Lt Aldo Raine
Tarantino "didn't consider anyone else" to play Lieutenant Raine

"I write really good characters for actors to play, I give them the material to play with," says Tarantino.

"And I'm a really good actors' director. Part of that is just staying out of the way and offering guidance when it's needed - and having a lot of trust.

"When there's an actor who's been around for a while and they have fallen off the A-list, there is a tendency to think of them only one way... but I see someone like Robert Forster [Jackie Brown] and I think 'wow, he would be a really good Max Cherry'. It's about character."

German actress Diane Kruger flew herself to Berlin, where the film was shooting, to convince Tarantino she was right for the role of double agent Bridget von Hammersmark.

"He had someone else in mind when he wrote the part.... he didn't want to see me," says Kruger, who remains best known for the lacklustre role of Helen in the 2004 blockbuster Troy.

"He didn't believe I was German."

Double agent

But despite this unpromising start, she continues: "I walk away from this and I feel a lot more confident.

"Whether or not this movie will be well-received, he opened something inside of me that I didn't know I had. It's a great gift for an actor, it makes you progress in a different way."

Both actors cite his work ethic and slavish attention to detail.

Diane Kruger as Bridget von Hammersmark
Kruger's next film, Mr Nobody, will play in competition at Venice

"What you see is what you get," says Kruger, 32. "He is crazy, but very focused when he works.

"He is obsessed with his characters and he will not let you relax for one second - he expects you to give it your all."

Waltz adds: "His preparation starts months before shooting begins. He shows movies - but not in a didactic way. He inspires people through his energy and conviction."

Tarantino's weekly film club is something of a talking point among his cast, and only serves to reinforce his status as a film "anorak" - but it also reveals an unexpected sense of fun.

"Every Thursday he screens his favourite movies for the cast and crew," explains Kruger. "He has hot dog stands and popcorn.

"They are his prints, he has them flown in specially from America - and he must have seen those movies hundreds of times, but he still sits there laughing."

Inglourious Basterds opens across the UK on 19 August.

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