Q&A with Christoph Waltz

We had a chat to Christoph Waltz on the set of the Legend Of Tarzan
How much exposure did you have to Tarzan prior to becoming involved in this film?  What are your earliest memories of the character?  
It was all about Johnny Weissmuller.  Tarzan, to me, in my little world, was always a black and white movie from the ‘30s.  As a kid, I thought it was incredibly fascinating, and then, later on, I thought it was hysterically funny.  And that was about that.  When they redid Tarzan in the ‘80s, I thought, ‘Well, that’s interesting.’  They didn’t quite pull it off, but it was still interesting to have this other Tarzan perspective.

You’ve created so many great characters for the screen.  Did director David Yates welcome your collaboration in shaping Leon Rom, whom you play in The Legend of Tarzan?  
He was immensely open to my suggestions, and that was one of the lures for me.  It was originally going into a different direction and they very generously let me participate in it.  And I can do that responsibly; I always put story first.  So, that was very gratifying, to be able to participate to a certain degree and have the feeling of being heard.  It was really wonderful.

You don’t like to talk about the characters you play.  Is that because you want the audience to discover and interpret him for themselves?
Yes.  And, also, I think the very purpose of a story – especially a story like this, which is half-fantasy, half-real, half-folk tale – is that it ties into some form of the collective subconscious. It’s known all over. It’s very close to some form of mythology already. Mythology and stories of that kind – and stories altogether – create meaning. They’re designed for the listener or viewer to make sense of the world. I just want to assist in facilitating that on screen for the spectator to project himself into.  That’s why I don’t talk about the characters I play.  I don’t want you to see what I thought about the character. I want you to see what you think about the character.

You’ve obviously worked with Samuel L. Jackson in the past.  Did you get to spend any time together on this film?
That was one major regret – I didn’t have any scenes with him.  I want to play a whole movie with Sam – every scene of that movie with Sam.  He’s got the right stuff.  He’s a true actor.  When you watch his performance in this film, there are a lot of heavy situations, but never once does he get even remotely close to heavy-handedness.  He really has the swing and the feel and the rhythm and the right touch.  It is never burdened; there is always a sparkle. You can see the sense of the humor, even when there is serious stuff going on – which is the true sense of humor, by the way; the rest is joking.  So this is really just fabulous.

What was it like working with Alexander Skarsgård as John Clayton / Tarzan?
I’m always trying to be very discreet, to say the least.  When an actor is working more or less every day, like Alex is in this film, you want to only touch him with kid gloves because he’s got so much on his shoulders.  And we didn’t really have that many scenes together either; we had a few scenes, a few crucial ones.  But I usually try to adapt and be supportive.  If you are just one of the day players – when you’re coming in and then leaving again and then coming in at a later time again – that is a different mode than the leading actor, who has the whole thing to carry.  So that defined my relationship with Alexander a little bit.  Not so much with Margot.  

Tell me about working with Margot Robbie as Jane.  Was it fun?
Yeah, and I have infinitely more scenes with her than with Alexander.  Margot is just one of the loveliest creatures on Earth, and she’s just lovely to work with.  She can play in the movie with Sam and me [laughs].

What was it like working with David Yates, and what qualities do you think he brings to this film as a director?

David had a very specific movie in mind.  It’s his movie, so everything is subject to his vision.  And his vision is developing in the months and weeks before, so you have to find out what that is all about.  And I like doing that.

On the first day, he took me around the studio and showed me the extent of the operation, I thought:  ‘Hmm.’ 

The huge sets, all the moving parts…

Immense!  And he has to connect all the loose ends and bring all the strands and strings together and tie them into a beautiful knot.  So I do everything I can within my limited possibilities to support that.  And, at the same time, I happily support my own work as well.  So that’s kind of a negotiation.

But, as the captain of a ship of that size, David is so considerate, soft-spoken, the sweetest, most sensitive and circumspect person that you could ever imagine. He gets everything he wants that way.  And that is monumental.

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