Interview with Chrisoph Waltz, star of BIG EYES.
By George Meixner.
Christoph Waltz is real-life’s larger-than-life Walter Keane in Tim Burton’s (‘Edward Scissorhands’, ‘Alice in Wonderland’) latest box office release ‘Big Eyes’. The Austrian plays the entrepreneurial husband of Margaret Keane, played by Amy Adams, claiming with her reluctant consent, to be the painter of the eponymous ‘big-eyed’ kitsch-art sensation of the 1950’s. He explained how much he enjoyed portraying such a flamboyant and unstable character, why in his opinion this is NOT a biopic and his attitude towards success. ShowFilmFirst also got Waltz’s reaction to our assertion that the real Margaret was deeply affected by his portrayal of her now dead husband.
How aware were you of the story before you got the script and do you like the painting?
The great thing about this film is my opinion about the painting is completely irrelevant. Tim [Burton] already warned me: ‘there are only two opinions about it – the ones who love it and the ones who hate it, and nothing in-between’ And I immediately said, well, I belong to the later.
Margaret Keane herself has said your Walter was very similar to real life. How does that make you feel?
I’m touched on a personal level from one person to another. It has nothing to do with what I do as an actor. I’m not a biographer, I’m not a zoologist, I’m not an anthropologist, I’m just an actor. I get a script, that’s what I do, I try from one way of writing “no” to find the right way of saying “no” and the same thing with physical action, I try to translate what’s on the page into action so that the director can film it for his purposes.
Are you at all worried about being typecast as a baddie, or is it fun?
If I were to look at it as you do then I would be worried. I don’t consider a role a bad guy or a good guy, that’s not a criterion. It’s a shortcut to talk about it. I don’t talk about it, I do it.
You are achieving tremendous success in your career at the moment. Is it surprising how things change with success?
If all the success is coming your way at the beginning, I’m not sure you could maintain your sanity because you don’t know, because you can’t place that. I don’t confuse it with a causal sequence. I don’t think “well I did all of that, I did my duty and I worked hard and now I’m being rewarded with success”… I did good work before as well.
Walter is a shifting character with ups and down and extremes. Was that a joy? Was that what attracted you to the project?
Yes, exactly, exactly. Just like various parts over one career need to, for my taste, differ from each other, it’s uplifting to say the least to have that within one part. With us it’s more [a] short term, short attention span culture so I would hate to repeat myself.
Would you look to do more biopics on the basis you follow a character through a lifetime, and see those fluctuations?
No, on the contrary. Thank God this is not a biopic, it really isn’t. It tells a story about a relationship. Yes it happens to be based on a true story, or happens to be a true story but it doesn’t need to be true, it doesn’t need to be true to be sold and it doesn’t need to be true to be told. Interdependency in a relationship is something we all know.
Did you look at the real-life transcripts when you were planning the courtroom scene?
That’s the thing. I don’t.
I take the right of others to formulate their own way of appearing in public very seriously and I’m actually really against the enforced biographies though Wikipedia for example. There was something in Wikipedia about me that I wanted to have changed because it’s not correct and it also comes off as something that I oppose and they said “No, you can’t’. You have to prove with tangible proof that it is false and you have to prove that it is falsified through bad intentions, [and] then maybe you can get it changed. So you see I don’t have control over my biography.
I feel a responsibility towards the person that I’m being asked to portray, I don’t like that responsibility, it limits and restricts me as an actor. As I said I’m not a biographer.
So how much of the character was on the page?
Everything. Everything that you see.
Did you have any sympathy with Walter, with what he was trying to do, to achieve his own form of success?
It’s interesting because it’s pretty much that biopic topic. My opinion is totally irrelevant.
Actually the less I engage in personal opinions the better it is. You should sympathise, or not, because that’s what these movies are made for, you’re supposed to identify and come up with an interpretation and you’re entitled to a judgement, I’m not.
What role does art play in your life?
I think for my personal development as a person I find it more gratifying to look into mastership before it was turned into big business.
What was it like to work with Amy? It starts off as a ‘perfect marriage’ then descends…
Actually Amy is my dream partner and exactly as I like to work, [to] try out, be practical, no high- highfalutin claptrap about this and that, no theoretical discussions of method and pseudo–academic thing that is rampant lately, which is all your fault! [he laughs – but probably only half-joking]
No, actually you’re foregoing the true responsibility of the audience to not identify with the making but identify with the story that’s already being told. Let that be our problem.
I find going to the movies is really slightly problematic that I know so well how it’s being done, yet when it really grabs me and I forget all of that and I just live in the story. Those are the moments that are worthwhile.
What was the last film that made you feel like that?
The last film that made me feel like that, I watch a lot of old movies, so The Miracle of Milan. I just saw last week again and I’ve seen it many times, but it’s really moving because you get out of your world, not only your world, but the limits that you put on your world all of a suddenly bust open into something that is greater and grander than yourself. I mean nothing better can happen.