I went to the Screen Actors Guild Awards on Saturday and the highlight was spending time with the cast members of “Inglourious Basterds.”
On the red carpet there’s more talk about fashion than film history, but Christoph Waltz of “Inglourious Basterds” stopped midway down the rug on Sunday to ponder his place in the cinematic history of dairy products. I had just told Waltz (who would soon pick up the night’s trophy for best actor) that he and director Quentin Tarantino were responsible for the scene with the scariest glass of milk ever.
“Oh, I don’t know, there was a very ominous glass of milk in a Hitchcock film, let’s not forget.”
Ah yes, of course, Cary Grant climbed the stairs with some glowing, poisoned milk in “Suspicion,” but to my mind Waltz matched that classic moment with his heartbreaking interrogation of a French farmer hiding Jews.
“Well, thank you for saying so,” Waltz told me outside the Shrine Auditorium. “People ask me what the milk means to me in that scene, what’s it about, and I have my opinion but that’s the most important thing.”
Waltz said his goal in the film was to not slip into a “cliched Nazi beast, which would be boring for me and everyone watching.” It wasn’t hard, he said, with the sparkling script by Tarantino. “I just had to do justice to the words written there on page.”
“Basterds” costar Eli Roth said Waltz and Tarantino’s milk scene is “the thing everyone talks about” after the movie. “I love [Hitchcock] but I’ve got to go ‘Inglourious.’ It’s the most chilling thing and then, like two hours later in the movie, there’s the payoff and it’s just excellent.”
I’ve known Roth for a while. I did a Los Angeles Times Sunday Calendar cover story back in 2007 on his directing career and I ran into him the previous weekend at the Golden Globes; it’s been a bit surreal watching him become an unlikely movie star and I think he feels the same way. At the end of the show, I was at the producer’s table on the side of the stage when the last award was announced. It was the ensemble award and the “Basterds” won it. As they walked down the stairs to the wings of the stage I got to be a fly on the wall as they hugged and celebrated.
The most famous face in the movie wasn’t on hand (Brad Pitt was off “scalping people,” according to costar Omar Doom, while B.J. Novak added that text messages with news of the victory were sent to Pitt who responded with an “LOL”) but Waltz, who stole the film as Nazi Col. Hans Landa, was the one who sealed the win anyway, according to Roth. “Let’s all thank Christoph for getting us here,” a giddy Roth said to his fellow actors a moment after they stepped out of the stage spotlight.
The group, still getting used to the heft of their new trophies, clapped Waltz on the back. As the cast made its way through the flashbulb gantlet backstage, Diane Kruger, who played a German movie star/spy, said the win will be remembered as a victory for the words and vision of Tarantino. “It’s all there in the script and as an actor it is so rare to get something so good and so fun.”
The cast was waiting to enter the press interview when we parted ways. Waltz was overjoyed — “to be an overnight sensation after so many years, it’s exhilarating” — and he had an unexpected moment to remember in the backstage corridors of the Shrine when Sandra Bullock stopped the Austrian native and chatted him up in impeccable German. Achtung baby!
– Geoff Boucher
TURAN REVIEW: “Basterds” is all blood and no heart
VIDEO: Watch the “Basterds” trailer
Christoph Waltz and his wife at the Screen Actors Guild Awards (Kirk McKoy/Los Angeles Times). Waltz in “Basterds” (The Weinstein Co.)
FOR THE RECORD: An earlier version of this post misidentified the Hitchcock movie with glowing milk. Ouch, this one hurts. I wrote this on my Blackberry from the show and in the heat of the moment I got my Hitchcock memories scrambled. The poisoned milk was in “Suspicion” not “Notorious” (“Notorious” was poisoned coffee).