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Inglourious Basterds - Lawrence Bender interview

Inglourious Basterds

Interview by Rob Carnevale

PRODUCER Lawrence Bender talks about the path to bringing Inglourious Basterds to the big screen, finding Christoph Waltz to save the movie and the casting of Michael Fassbender and Mike Myers.

Q. You’ve worked with Quentin Tarantino from the beginning and this project has been around almost since then. Did you ever despair that it would never get made?
Lawrence Bender: [Laughs] I must say, when he called me on July 3 [2008] I had no idea he was going to be finished with this script. Over the years, he’d been writing it and I’d be encouraging, but it never materialised. Then I saw him on his birthday in Las Vegas at 5am after a couple of drinks, and he told me he was writing it again… but I thought this would be like all the other times [when it didn’t materialise]. But then he called me [on July 3] and said: “Hey Lawrence, I’ve finished the script and want to send it to you.” I wish I’d kept that message. I was like: “What?!” I was quite surprised, but we took off very quickly after that.

Q. Can you talk about the casting of Christoph Waltz, because Quentin reportedly had reached the point of desperation and giving up before he walked in…
Lawrence Bender: When we flew down to Berlin our first day of casting I thought went really well. We cast Daniel Brühl and Til Schweiger and I thought: “Wow, day one and we’ve cast two great actors!” I was really happy. But Quentin was kind of off and the following morning he called myself and others down and said, really seriously: “Look, I might have written a role that can’t be played.” He was really worried and was seriously thinking he’d just have to publish the screenplay and leave it at that. The problem was we not only had to find a great actor [for Col. Hans Landa] but also a linguistic genius, just like the character in the movie.

So I told him: “Here’s what we’re going to do. If we spend one more week casting…” At this point, Quentin was cash rolling the movie. Everything was happening at the same time and so fast, that Quentin had to cash flow the movie for the first month and a half. So, at that point and because he was spending his own money rather than the studios, he could still pull the plug. So I told him to take an extra week to concentrate on the one role, this one character, and if at the end of the week we still can’t find him, we’ll pull up tents and go home. So, that gave us some breathing room.

Q. How soon after did Christoph walk in?
Lawrence Bender: Literally, like hours later… mid-morning on Sunday, in walks Christoph. Most of the auditions find Quentin doing the reading with the actor and sometimes I do some of the smaller roles. So, Christoph starts in French, then English, then German and then Italian… Quentin and I looked at each other and our jaws were down to our knees. Quentin goes: “Thank you so much…” And Christoph said: “Thank you Mr Tarantino, it was such a pleasure to read for you.” And he walked out. But we jumped out and high fived. We knew he’d saved the movie. I then asked Quentin: “Should we give it to him right now?” And Quentin replied: “No, we gave ourselves a week, so let’s spend the week.” But come the end of the week there was no question, and that was a monumental moment.

Q. It’s very refreshing to see European actors speaking in their own tongue. Was it ever considered an option to do it with American actors using accents?
Lawrence Bender: I can tell you 100% that there was never a thought of doing it in English with accents. If you think about Kill Bill, the first scene we shot was in Japanese. It’s funny, Quentin wrote it and even though he doesn’t speak German, he understands the dialogue, and he understands that if you speak his dialogue he’ll be able to direct you in that language. He’s pretty extraordinary in that way. Not even the script supervisor could follow it 100%. But the thing about Quentin is that one of his main attributes is authenticity… especially the authenticity of the character. If you go back to Reservoir Dogs, for instance, there was a code among those guys and they were 100% stuck to it. I think all of his characters have that, so the idea of a German person speaking English doesn’t make sense. And on top of that, language comes into play as part of the movie, so we never thought about that.

Q. Can you talk about the scene between Michael Fassbender and Mike Myers. Why those two actors? And were you ever concerned his comic persona would get in the way for audiences?
Lawrence Bender: Michael Fassbender flew himself in from London to Berlin… there were a lot of people being considered for that role, including some big actors. But he was a powerhouse. He just knocked us out. It’s such a wonderful thing to watch an actor take control of the room. And then with Mike Myers… he was such a fan of Quentin that he’d do anything. Quentin so respects actors and they get that, but it’s the same for Quentin as a director. So, we were never concerned that Mike’s comedy persona would get in the way for that scene.

Read our review of Inglourious Basterds

Read our interview with Quentin Tarantino