Let’s do a little mind experiment. Close your eyes. Picture yourself outside on a beautiful Saturday morning. You’re mowing the lawn, putting the finishing touches on the area between your driveway and sidewalk. As you swoop around to make the last pass, you look up and see your new next-door neighbor, Oscar-winning actor Christoph Waltz, walking out to pick up his morning paper, with a comfy robe on and a fresh cup of coffee in his hand. He smiles at you and waves. What do you do?
Personally, I would scurry inside and lock the door behind me. I would close all the blinds and turn off the lights, as though I am trying to imply no one is home, even though he just saw me abandon my lawnmower and flee inside. I might even call 911, which would be a weird conversation until I say his name and tell the operator that he smiled at me, at which point he or she would probably say something like “Oh my God. Stay inside. I’ll send everyone.” Because Christoph Waltz is the most terrifying man in the world.
It’s not his fault. It’s mostly the roles he’s played in a few movies. He’s such a good villain, and in a much different way than most people are good villains. There’s no growling or yelling. He’s not physically imposing. It’s the opposite, really. The more pleasant and polite he presents himself, the scarier he becomes. That’s why the smile is a problem. I’ve seen him in enough situations to know that his smile is often the last thing you see before you die, or the last thing you see before his face goes ice cold and then you die. He gets this twinkle in his eye when he does it, like he has a naughty little secret. And guess what: The secret is that you are doomed.
The best example of this is Inglourious Basterds. Waltz plays Hans Landa, the Jew Hunter, who, as that nickname implies, tracks down Jewish people for the Nazis. We meet him in the film’s opening scene, in which he walks into a cabin, asks for a glass of milk (the most terrifying beverage in the situation because, like, what kind of maniac drinks milk?), and then delivers a speech about who he is and what he does. But again, perfectly calm, matter of fact, letting the ominous nature of the situation build on its own. Watch it again. Watch his face the whole time.
He won an Oscar for that role, a much-deserved award made all the more impressive by the fact that it was his first major role in a major film. It led to a number of other roles, including one in Quentin Tarantino’s next project, Django Unchained, in which he also played a quiet man with wonderful manners who would kill you so fast your funeral would be over before you realized what was happening. He also played Ernst Blofeld in Spectre. Watch him play Ernst Blofeld in Spectre.
The only bad thing about this performance is that it took 50 years and 24 Bond movies before it happened. Admittedly, some of this was out of the producers’ hands, as Christoph Waltz had just turned six years old when Dr. No was released and, as intriguing as the idea of a tiny evil Christoph Waltz doing battle with Sean Connery and Ursula Andress is, I suppose it might not have worked. Still. Christoph Waltz is a perfect Bond villain. They even gave him one of those scenes where he invites Bond and a beautiful woman to his secret compound and sets them up with luxurious accommodations and a closet filled with clothes in exactly their sizes. He was like a giddy concierge at a four-star hotel. Until he started torturing them.