On Most Dangerous Game, Christoph Waltz embarked on his first American project made for the small screen, earning his first Emmy nomination for the series, which had initially sparked some skepticism on his part.
Created by Scott Elder, Josh Harmon and Nick Santora, based on a classic short story by Richard Connell, the action-thriller centers on Dodge (Liam Hemsworth), a Detroit everyman up to his eyeballs in debt, who is looking to secure the financial future of his wife and unborn child, before he succumbs to a terminal illness. After meeting a mysterious businessman named Miles (played by Waltz), Dodge finds the opportunity to just that—by agreeing to participate in a 24-hour game, in which he’ll be hunted for sport.
The enigmatic puppet master who orchestrates Dodge’s game, Miles is the latest memorable villain Waltz has taken on in his illustrious career, following roles in such films as Inglorious Basterds and Spectre. But while the two-time Oscar winner is undoubtedly drawn to villainous types, there’s no catalogue of defining moments that defines the parts he wants to play. “You wouldn’t get very far with your catalogue. I mean, it’s not like you’re doing market research for a brand, and everything that doesn’t fit into the brand, you drop,” he says. “You could do it that way, but you’d be limiting yourself, and you’d make your life very drab.
“This is all about, ‘What is it that I can contribute with what I have at my disposal?’ first of all, but also, ‘Can I venture out into something unknown, something that I haven’t done before?’” the actor adds. “And for that, the other collaborators are immensely decisive.”
Below, Waltz breaks down his experience with the Quibi short-form series, as well as his ambitions, looking ahead. Additionally, he discusses an exciting slate of upcoming projects, two of which have unfortunately had their releases delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.
DEADLINE: How did you get involved with Most Dangerous Game? What would you say drew you to the series?
CHRISTOPH WALTZ: At first, I heard about Quibi and I was a little skeptical because I thought, “Well, I am sort of a very traditional movie watcher.” I like to go to the cinema and sit there and see one story from beginning to end. I don’t even like series that much. But [Quibi founder] Jeffrey Katzenberg, with whom I’ve had a working relationship before, I admire him greatly as a real savant of the medium. The man really knows what’s going on, so when I learned that it’s coming from him, of course, I immediately wanted to look into it.
Then, my skepticism notwithstanding, I thought, “Well, a story in 15 parts may be just too choppy and too artificially partitioned. How can you possibly keep the interest up over 15 little chapters, [so that] people are not bored right away?”
And to my astonishment, I found exactly the opposite at work here—that it was a new form of storytelling, that it was immensely well crafted by Nick. The way they bounce your interest in the suspense from the end of one episode to the beginning of the next, while maintaining the narrative arc overall, I thought it was really well constructed. The characters were interesting, and the twists and turns. I was really taken by it, and that’s how I got involved.
DEADLINE: What kinds of conversations did you have with Nick Santora before you set out on the project?
WALTZ: I didn’t discuss with him very much, because it was pretty clear in what he’s written, and I don’t usually question a script. Of course we met, but we read through the thing and it’s a great script. Look, if a script is really good, you don’t waste time questioning the writer. You use everything, every moment. You’ve got to understand properly what he did, and what you want to do with it, and that’s where the director comes into play. I’m not a producer or a co-writer here. I don’t like too much if a writer comes and interferes with what I do either. So, I think separation of work is a great way to collaborate.
DEADLINE: How would you describe the approach you took, in tapping into the character of Miles?
WALTZ: That’s something that I never talk about—never, ever. I can go into a lengthy explanation why not, but it’s all about you, what you see. It’s not about me, what I intend. One of the best definitions of acting that I’ve ever heard or read was Harrison Ford, who said, “My job as an actor is not to show you what I think about my character. It’s to show you what you think about my character.” And I am a devoted follower of that philosophy.
DEADLINE: Looking back on your career to date, have villainous characters been something you’ve pursued? Or an unexpected byproduct of the way your career developed?
WALTZ: One is very closely connected to the other. I’m interested in these characters. I have a penchant for complexities and contradictions within the same character, and I do believe in the so-called “real world” that things coexist at the same time, even though in superficial storytelling, they may be viewed as contradictory. But I guess that’s why I get these offers, because I enjoy doing it.
DEADLINE: What was it like working with Liam Hemsworth, in the process of making the series?
WALTZ: You keep talking about the process—the process of the professional individual is work, and that’s what makes it fun. And Liam is one of those. I not only got along with him, I got to really like him. I hesitate talking about people behind their backs, but it was really what I wish for in a partner, and a collaborator, and a person that I spend a good chunk of my time with. As it is in the story, I was more there for him than he was there for me—in the dramatic function, that is— and I find these dynamics very important because I breeze in and out, and I have this and that, but it’s all about him. But grown-up actors take care of each other, and that’s how they grow. That’s how they get to achieve a certain level, and Liam is one of those. I’m very grateful for his understanding and collaborative spirit, his politeness and professional comportment, and his reliability and his inspiration. Since I don’t want to talk about him, I can tell you how I feel having worked with him, and to say the least, it was an honor and a pleasure.
DEADLINE: By now, you’ve won almost every award under the sun for your craft. But what did it mean to you to earn your first Emmy nomination for Most Dangerous Game?
WALTZ: Look, I do the job, and if it’s being appreciated, I feel it was worthwhile. And that’s how I view not just my professional life: I view my life as such. So, does it mean anything? It means a lot. Of course it does. My intentions have been realized, and it has been recognized. What else can you want? This honor and all of that, of course, [I’m] greatly honored. But to me, it means more than honor. It means that it wasn’t only worthwhile for me, but for everyone else involved on both sides of the screen, regardless of how big the screen is.
DEADLINE: Do you feel differently about working in TV after your experience with this series?
WALTZ: If the details align and things fall into place, the medium itself is secondary at best—for an actor, that much more. For a writer, they have certain technical differences, but an actor is presented with a story and the character. And if everything lines up and falls into place, it wouldn’t have too much of an influence on the decision whether or not to do a job.
DEADLINE: The final episode of Most Dangerous Game left the story open for further exploration. Would you be interested in returning for a second season?
WALTZ: I think it would be worthwhile thinking about it. What they decide and what they end up doing is none of my doing, or beyond by influence, unfortunately. I would do it, but they have more criteria to consider than just, “I’d love to do it because it was great.”
DEADLINE: Obviously, production has been, for the most part, shutdown due to the lockdowns imposed by the coronavirus pandemic. How has COVID-19 affected you? Have you managed to stay creatively engaged?
WALTZ: I was directing an opera in Vienna, which was canceled just three days before the premiere, because of the lockdown that happened all of a sudden. Then, I was stuck in Europe a little bit, and then I came back to California, all the while trying to stay active. There’s so much I have to do, other than just shooting, that actually it was, in a way, a welcome gift to be able to use that time.
DEADLINE: You have a number of very exciting projects coming up, including Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch and Cary Joji Fukunaga’s Bond film No Time to Die. Of course, the release of the latter two titles has been delayed due to the pandemic. What was it like working with this trio of auteurs on these films?
WALTZ: Well, that’s what I do. I chose that profession over 40 years ago, and I’m happy and grateful to get the opportunity to still carry on, on that level. So you see, the fact that the corona crisis threw a spanner in the sprockets…not that I’ve seen a pandemic before, but I’ve seen crises before. I’ve weathered dry periods, and I work my way around blockages and over obstacles, in the course of time. So, am I frustrated about the delay and the stalling of operations? Very much so. But I’m also unusually patient, and sort of reluctant to revert to panic and hysteria. You know, let’s just keep our calm. Nobody wanted it; nobody could foresee it. We all have to cope with it, and let’s help each other, and for once, consider the ones who are worse off. That’s what I’m trying to do.
DEADLINE: What are your ambitions as an artist, looking ahead?
WALTZ: Directing more and more, not only opera, but possibly movies. You know, I will never abandon acting. It’s taken me a while to get to where I am, and I’m not only talking about career. I’m also talking about the craft, on a certain level. It takes a long time to get a firm handle on that, and I feel I’m slowly getting closer to understanding what this actually could be, so I want to do that. On the other hand, most actors after a while would want to take the responsibility for the whole thing upon their narrow shoulders, and I’m not any different. But music is an important element in my life. So I will certainly try to do more opera as a director, and study and develop and progress, and find what holds the world together.