Carnage - Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet
Alan Cowan (Christoph Waltz) and Nancy Cowan (Kate Winslet) © 2011 Sony Pictures Classics

Christoph Waltz became an international star with his performance as Nazi Colonel Hans Landa in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, for which he received an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Recently he has been seen in Water for Elephants, The Three Musketeers and The Green Hornet.

In his new movie Carnage, based on the popular and acclaimed play God of Carnage, directed by Roman Polanski, Waltz portrays Alan Cowan, a businessman who along with his wife Nancy (Kate Winslet) have been invited to the home of Michael and Penelope Longstreet (John C Reilly and Jodie Foster) following a fist fight by the couples’ two sons at the local playground.

Waltz shared his opinions on movies, extras on DVDs and cell phones with us!

As an actor was this a joy to do, because you shot it from beginning to end like a play?

Carnage - Christoph Waltz
Alan Cowan (Christoph Waltz) © 2011 Sony Pictures Classics

I like working in movies, I don’t have to have the excuse of pretending to do a play in order to enjoy it. But there were certain similarities to theatre work, especially in the rehearsal, because we rehearsed like in the theatre, with the luxury of the finished set and costumes.

We rehearsed for two weeks and we even did run-throughs.

The rehearsal was almost indispensible with this project. It wasn’t just so we could get used to each other. It gave us the time to experiment, to try this and that, to reject things that weren’t appropriate.

On a regular shoot you never have the luxury of time.

Was any of that process filmed?

No, why? It’s a rehearsal. If it had been filmed it wouldn’t be a rehearsal.

Maybe for the Blu-ray or DVD?

Carnage - Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet
Alan Cowan (Christoph Waltz) and Nancy Cowan (Kate Winslet) © 2011 Sony Pictures Classics

If I had a say in these things, I would do away with all this behind-the-scenes rubbish, it’s nobody’s business.

Why would you poke your nose in our rehearsal? Where do we then have our safe space where we try and make fools of ourselves just to fathom what it is that we need to do?

It’s a huge drag, and I try to avoid making the epks. ‘Can you explain your character?’ Why would I do that? I’m playing it, you explain it to me, because you’re watching it, I’m playing it, I’m not explaining anything!

Did you see the play and if you did, did another actor’s performance have any impact on you when you were doing this?

I hope it didn’t have any impact. I’ve seen it, but I saw it many years before. There’s this misconception that Broadway was the original production. Let me tell you, it wasn’t. It was five or six years after the original production.

I had seen the original, but that long ago and even though I was impressed with the actor who played the part that I play in the movie, I still have my [good] points!

The dialogue really felt like a living, breathing conversation that would happen with people who are real. Was that the result of the rehearsals or is it Roman Polanski’s direction?

Carnage - Kate Winslet and Christoph Waltz
Nancy Cowan (Kate Winslet) and Alan Cowan (Christoph Waltz) © 2011 Sony Pictures Classics

Maybe that’s just what we do for a living. I take it as a compliment and thank you, but I think that’s how it should be done. That quality should be in every movie. It not always is. All these things come together, but that takes us back to the safe space.

You need to have a safe space, and if it’s constantly invaded by outside observers, ‘Let’s have a press day on set, because journalists love it,’ That day is lost, not to the journalists, fair enough, but for the movie the day is lost.

What do you get from Roman as an actor?

Precision. Exactitude. Concreteness. All the qualities that I adore and that I really strive for, and that I’m grappling with and fighting with. He’s a hero. I adore the man.

Alan is never off his cell phone in this movie. What are your personal feelings about cell phone etiquette?

Carnage - Christoph Waltz and Kate Winslet
Alan Cowan (Christoph Waltz) and Nancy Cowan (Kate Winslet) © 2011 Sony Pictures Classics

I wonder how I existed without one. It’s difficult to say because I was in a situation before I came here. The day before [I left] my flight was not booked, I didn’t know what time to leave [for the airport], so they sent me a note, ‘It’s being arranged, we’ll tell you.’

I was invited to dinner, so I kept my phone on. Normally I would have turned it off, but because I didn’t know what time to get up the next morning in order to make the plane that would take me here, I kept it on. And [the studio] was constantly telling me what the current status was.

Everybody at that dinner had seen the play (he laughs) They were laughing. I said, ‘I’m sorry. I need to know!’

I think any part you play would be interesting because you’re doing it. But there has got to be something that you look for in a role, because this is a great character. Are you thrilled when these come around, because there are not that many great characters?

No, that’s true and that’s a great pity. If I wanted to be very polite about it I’d say, ‘Yeah, there is a tendency to reduce human characters to archetypes.’ That’s polite. I don’t quite get it and I don’t read everything that’s out there, not that you have to. But I think the interest in humanity is waning a little bit.

I think [it’s important] to leave the comfort zone in the depiction of a character rather than make somebody likable, because the audience will identify [with him].

The audience might admire the hero, but can’t identify with an immaculate character, because even though you might be terribly conceited and self-assured, not everything is perfect, especially once you’ve had a few years of experience in relation to the world around you.

There’s a wonderful line in one of Leonard Cohen’s songs, ‘The crack, that’s where the light gets in.’

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.