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Christoph Waltz: from obscure Austrian to Hollywood star

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Austrian Christoph Waltz, who was a relative unknown even in his own country a few years ago, has now won two Oscars in three years, with his US director friend Quentin Tarantino.

The 56-year-old spent much of his career in German-language roles before Tarantino's Nazi-hunting film "Inglourious Basterds" thrust him into the Hollywood spotlight.

Quiet and perfectionist, he hit the big time with the role of the devilish Nazi officer Hans Landa, which won him his first Oscar for best supporting actor in 2010.

On Sunday he repeated the feat, winning in the same category for his hilariously dry performance as Dr. King Schultz, a dentist-turned-bounty hunter who frees Jamie Foxx's title role slave in Tarantino's "Django Unchained."

Accepting his Oscar, Waltz praised Tarantino, quoting Schultz: "You scaled the mountain because you're not afraid of it. You slay the dragon because you're not afraid of it, and you cross through fire because it's worth it."

Close friend and director Peter Keglevic said it was nearly impossible to cast Waltz in a film until recently. "Just before Tarantino came along, I couldn't get him in my cast. 'Waltz... he's so cynical', people said."

Over a 30-year career, Waltz appeared in some 90 series and made-for-TV movies, earning plaudits for films like Keglevic's "Du bist nicht allein -- Die Roy Black Story" ("You are not alone") and "Tanz mit dem Teufel" ("Dance with the Devil").

But more often, he played only bit parts in hit German TV series and minor films, specializing in psychopaths and bad guys. "His distinctive chin made him unsuitable for romantic roles," noted one Austrian newspaper.

It's thanks to these years of toil that he pulled off the part of the wickedly charming and equally sadistic Jew-hunter Landa.

No-nonsense and intellectual, Waltz lent a wicked sense of humor and glee to his character, seen again in "Django Unchained," where he delights in drily advising Foxx on the finer points of gun-slinging and killing for rewards.

"Christoph will dwell on music, religion, philosophy or art but never ostentatiously," said Keglevic.

The son of a set builder and a costume designer, whose grandfather was also in theater, Waltz says he went into acting "for sheer lack of fantasy," studying drama at the Max Reinhardt seminar in his hometown of Vienna and later at the Lee Strasberg Institute in New York.

The father of four, who now lives in Berlin and Los Angeles -- "I had to go where the jobs were" -- also made a brief foray into directing in 2000 with the TV movie "Wenn man sich traut" ("If you dare").

After his "Inglourious Basterds" success, he became Hollywood's new darling, lining up high-profile projects like Michel Gondry's "The Green Hornet" with Cameron Diaz, and "Water for Elephants" with Reese Witherspoon.

His upcoming projects include a voice part in animated comedy "Epic" with Beyonce and others, a new movie by Terry Gilliam with Matt Damon, and playing last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in Mike Newell's "Reykjavik."

Waltz's partner is costume designer Judith Holste, according to the IMDb film industry website.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130224/christoph-waltz-obscure-austrian-hollywood-star