Roman Polanski's latest movie "Carnage," based on an award-winning play by Yasmina Reza, is about two New York yuppie couples who meet after their sons are involved in a schoolyard scuffle that leaves one injured. Alan (Christoph Waltz) and his wife Nancy (Kate Winslet) visit the Brooklyn apartment of Michael (John C. Reilly) and his wife Penelope (Jodie Foster) to smooth over any ill feelings from the incident, but as the night evolves, their veneer of civility slips, added in part by a shocking breach of decorum and liberal amounts of alcohol, revealing them all as venal and mean-spirited. Penelope, a tightly-wound do-gooder, is left in sobbing hysterics. Alan, the cynic of the bunch, on the other hand, spends much of the time on his cell phone in part as a gesture of contempt at the efforts at conciliation.
Critics have noted that Waltz's character, Alan (who has some of the best lines in the movie) seems like a mouthpiece for Polanski, the film's famously misanthropic director. Waltz clearly enjoyed playing the sleazeball lawyer, and his performance is the standout of the movie.
I talked with Waltz over the phone about Polanski and the movie. Though he was extremely polite and genteel in an Old World sort of way, he was also maddeningly cagey.
Jonathan Crow: So how did you get involved in the production?
Christoph Waltz: People talked and intentions [were] voiced and blah, blah, blah, the usual thing. Someone said I could meet with Roman, but he was still under house arrest in Switzerland. I said, 'Well, that's curious because I happen to be in Switzerland right now.' That's how we met and started to talk.
JC: What was that meeting like?
CW: Wonderful! We both don't believe in entourages, so it was just two of us. He made lunch. It was really very brief, but lovely; it was a real experience.
JC: And that meeting started the conversation about making this film?
CW: Exactly, exactly. The result of that conversation was that he agreed to work with me. There was never a shred of a doubt that I would want to work with him.
JC: You've worked with some major directors. What's Polanski like and how is he different from, perhaps, Tarantino?
CW: Well, not only would it be unfair to compare, it would be completely ridiculous. How would you compare ' Rosemary's Baby' to ' Pulp Fiction'? Well, you wouldn't, because it doesn't make any sense. How would you compare a football game to a bottle of wine?
JC: Right. My point is that you have worked with a couple big-name directors…
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CW: I can tell you what I really liked about working with Roman: It's his precision. He places the camera not exact to the inch, but to the millimeter, and that's no exaggeration. He looks through the camera and if he's not happy with it, he'll place it again. To an outside observer he might end up in what seems like the same spot, yet it isn't. It's like half an inch over to the left or something like that, and it makes all the difference in the world.
JC: How do you see your character? In some ways, he's the most honest character of the four.
CW: I don't really talk about my characters too much. I am sorry to make this difficult for you, but I don't want to interfere with the spectator. I have very clear intentions, but you have to have your own version of the character. I don't want to interfere with that. So I never talk about my characters. I agree with you though that he is the most clear, straightforward, and down to earth of the four.
JC: What did you do to prepare for the role?
CW: What I did to prepare for my role was learn my lines. It's not a great secret. I am not of the mystifying school of acting. I just think it should be a very straightforward thing to do and that's how I try to keep it.
JC: So you wouldn't call yourself a method actor then?
CW: Definitely not.
JC: We have four very, very strong actors in this movie. What was it like acting opposite Jodie Foster, John C. Reilly, or Kate Winslet?
CW: John and Jodie and Kate, they are not concerned with their stardom; they are concerned with doing their job, and getting to the core of their parts. I loved every day that I had to go to work, and it's hard to come up with another movie where that is the case.