Inglourious Basterds, Quentin Tarantino‘s unique take on the Second World War, blasts into cinemas on Friday. Following our interview with the maverick director last week, RT sat down for exclusive chats with Brad Pitt, Diane Kruger, Christoph Waltz, Eli Roth, Melanie Laurent, Til Schweiger, Daniel Brühl and Michael Fassbender to learn more about their characters and the Tarantino experience, with additional comments from the director himself. Join us as we discover Tarantino’s original plans to play Pitt’s character himself, Diane Kruger’s desire to record a song in character and how Eli Roth came to replace Adam Sandler.
Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt)
I did True Romance, which he wrote, and we were in each other’s periphery from time to time. I was told he had this thing that he’d been writing for eight years, and he originally wrote the part for himself. Somewhere along the way he decided that I would make sense in it, and he put it my way. [laughs] I always had a feeling we’d work together!
So he came out to see me and we cracked open a bottle of wine — because I was in the south of France — and had a laugh and talked about film from A to Z, as you enjoy doing with him. I’m not sure how much of the movie we got through that night, but it’s one of the best scripts I’ve read.
Brad Pitt and I wanted to work together for a long time and this was just the right time, completely. I didn’t really consider anybody else — he was one of the first people to read the script. After I finished it, two days later I sent him a copy. And it was cool, because he was waiting for it.
Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz)
If I hadn’t have found the right Col. Landa I would have pulled the plug on the movie. I just wouldn’t have made the movie, because Landa’s a linguistic genius.
I walked into the audition and we did a reading together. No cameras, no pressure, we were just playing, and Quentin’s so great at making you feel at ease, because that really is the basis. You need to feel safe, and then things can develop. We started playing, like two kids in a room, and we went through the whole script. That was there the ball started rolling.
After I walked out of the first session, I said to the casting agent in Berlin, ‘Look, if that’s it, it will have been more than just worthwhile. Thank you!’ And when Quentin called me back for a second audition, I said, ‘I feel exactly the same, only now it’s 200 per cent better.’ And a few days later I got the call.
Bridget Von Hammersmark (Diane Kruger)
When I took the role, I thought, I’m sure it’s going to ruffle a few feathers! But I felt that — because it’s a farce and a fairytale, and because it’s Quentin Tarantino — if anyone can get away with it, it’ll be him. And I thought it was funny. That’s why I wanted to do it.
I’m German. Trust me, I get offered a World War Two movie once a week! And I like to think that, if I’d been Bridget Von Hammersmark, I’d have brought down the Third Reich too. We did some mock-up movie posters, with me as Bridget, but you don’t see all of them in the movie because they were only able to use a couple. Quentin came up with all these film titles, like Auf Wiedersehen Doesn’t Mean Goodbye. I tried to convince him to let me record a song. I can’t sing for a shit, but in those days, all the movie stars sang, whether they could sing or not. So I was trying to persuade Quentin that I should maybe record one as Bridget. [laughs] He was not too impressed.
One of Diane’s inspirations for Bridget was Hildegard Knef, but my jumping-off point was a Hungarian actress called Ilona Massey. MGM first brought her out to replace Jeanette MacDonald with Nelson Eddy, and later Universal got her and they were going to try to turn her into their Dietrich. She was a minor star, but it didn’t work, so she ended up having to do all these Universal movies, like Frankenstein movies, Invisible Man movies and Sherlock Holmes movies. And my whole point about it was: if Bridget had gone to America when Dietrich went, that would have been her career.
Sgt. Donny Donowitz (Eli Roth)
Donny carries a baseball bat. He doesn’t want to shoot Nazis, he doesn’t wanna scalp Nazis or slice their throats. He wants to feel the violence. He wants to feel the sensation of beating Nazis to death with his bare hands.
Originally the part was going to be written for Adam Sandler – in December 2004, when Quentin first told me about Donny, he said, ‘I’m thinking about Adam Sandler for this.’ As he was writing it, I kind-of became his Jewish sounding board. At that point he had the basic storyline, and he was working it all out, but there just certain moral character choices that he wasn’t sure about, and he wanted to be authentic. And after a while he said, ‘You know, Eli, while I’m writing this character I’m just hearing your voice in my head.’ And when it came time to make the movie, he said, ‘Pick up the script — you’re going to Germany.’
The Cannes premiere felt like we were shooting a scene from the movie. It was like we had one last mission, and the mission was, we were going to infiltrate the Inglourious Basterds premiere. And here’s the plan: we were all going to dress up like movie stars, and because Aldo looks the most like a movie star, we’d dress like him and follow him up the red carpet. When he put on his sunglasses, we’d put on our sunglasses. When he took them off and waved, we’d take them off and wave. And that’s how we’d sneak into the Inglourious Basterds premiere. And then we’d blow up the fucking theatre.
Shosanna Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent)
Melanie Laurent just came in and auditioned. She’s terrific, a wonderful actress. She has a lovely emotions-at-the-ready quality. She completely understands Shosanna, in her soul, and she’s a lot of fun to work with. She’s just… Boom! She’s a great collaborator.
I decided to play Shosanna as very cold, very arrogant, very French. [laughs] That’s my specialty! I think she’s alive, but she’s died inside and she’s just surviving. But she’s a Tarantino heroine, so she’s fragile and strong at the same time, and she can cry sometimes. I think Shosanna is very clever, and when you’re really clever, it’s all in your head. You don’t have to show everything.
Lt. Archie Hicox (Michael Fassbender)
My American agent hounded Quentin practically every day until Quentin said, ‘OK, come over to Berlin.’ My being able to speak German was a massive plus, but I had to do a lot of work to make it sound right. I had to make sure I didn’t sound like an English person speaking German. That’s still there, but I had to really minimise it as much as possible. An English-speaking audience wouldn’t notice, but I didn’t want the German audience to say, “Jesus Christ, we’d know in two seconds that he was English!” The German cast were really good about it, and they were really supportive. [laughs] Well, they actually took the piss quite a bit, which I guess was payback for all the times they have to speak English! When I watched the film with Daniel Brühl in Cannes he said, ‘It sounds a little bit off, but it’s not blindingly clear you’re a total foreigner.’
I knew immediately from the audition what Quentin was looking for there. I knew he wasn’t looking for a super-cool commando, someone like a Michael Caine. And I knew that Simon Pegg was originally attached, so I thought, OK, Simon’s a funny guy, so obviously Quentin’s looking for some humour. Also, the way he read it with me at the audition made me think, OK, he wants me to push it in that direction. He gave me all the ammunition. He said, ‘Archie’s like a young George Sanders.’ I mean, it’s even in the script. So I watched as many of the old Saint films I could get my hands on, and as many George Sanders films as I could, and tried to get that air of a 1940s movie star. The way they talked then was very much different then, like an upper-class character would talk today. So that’s what I tried to zone in on.
Fredrik Zoller (Daniel Brühl)
Zoller’s a war hero. And his affection for Shosanna, even though she doesn’t really return it, is genuine. Everything he’s doing for her, he’s doing with the best intentions. Now, little does he know that he’s fucking her up and starting a whole cataclysmic series of events. But his heart is really in the right place.
I tried to get as much information about the Nazis and see as many movies as I could, but a lot of it is forbidden in Germany. It’s easier to get them in other countries than in Germany itself. You aren’t allowed to watch certain movies, and sometimes you just see parts of it — you can’t see the whole movie. So I tried to see as much as I could, which meant a lot of movies by Leni Reifenstahl.
There’s a great documentary about the last film made by the Nazis, called The Life Goes On, which was never finished; it disappeared. I also looked at films starring Audie Murphy, because he was an inspiration for Quentin for the part; an American war hero who became an actor by playing himself.
Sgt. Hugo Stiglitz (Til Schweiger)
Over the years I’d heard on the grapevine that Quentin was planning a World War Two movie, and I kept calling my agent in America, saying, ‘Get on that! I want to be in that film!’ But that was all I knew, and when I read the script I was blown away. I thought it was his best writing since Pulp Fiction, and I was very impressed with his knowledge of German cinema, with his knowledge of accents. It’s a fairytale. Everybody knows how the Third Reich ended, so Quentin is using his freedom as a filmmaker to create his own world. When I was a kid I used to dream about how cool it would be to kill those fuckers. To go after Goering and Goebbels and Hitler and all those motherfuckers! And when I read the script, I said to him, ‘I’m very jealous that I didn’t have this idea myself!’ It’s a brilliant idea, I think.
General Ed Fenech (Mike Myers)
Mike has just let it be known that he’s an admirer of my work. He’s a big fan, and he’s also a World War Two expert, a real World War Two aficionado. And he’s just a terrific character actor, so I talked to him about playing an older British general, modeled after the older George Sanders. He loved the idea, so we talked on the phone for a couple of hours and just had a great conversation, just free-associated left, right and centre. He came over and, man, he was an absolute dream to work with. He was so much fun; he gave a great performance.
Inglourious Basterds is released in the UK on 19th August, in Australia on 20th August and in the US on 21st August.