Inglourious Basterds: Tarantino’s War Epic–Casting

The WWII fable actioner, “Inglourious Basterds,” written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, world-premiered at the 2009 Cannes Film Fest.  The Weinsteins Co. and Universal will release the picture on August 21.


Casting “Inglourious Basterds” required the skill and patience of a team of casting directors in Paris, Berlin and Los Angeles.  The production would cast actors from each character’s corresponding country.  “I think it’s groundbreaking, but I know that the international audience is ready for it,” co-producer Henning Molfenter, who is part of the production team at Berlin’s Studio Babelsberg, says.  “It’s a new step towards an international cinema, and I think it will be greatly appreciated.”


Brad Pitt


Pitt was the first actor to join the ensemble cast as Lieutenant Aldo Raine.  Tarantino flew to France during pre-production to meet with the actor.  Tarantino says of Pitt: “He’s wonderful.  We’ve wanted to work together for a long time and this was just the right one, completely.  I really didn’t consider anybody else.”


The movie allowed some actors who had worked with each other previously to reunite.  Diane Kruger, whose first day on set involved Pitt hoisting her bloodied body onto a veterinarian’s observation table, starred with Pitt in Troy.  “It’s fun to see Brad again.  We really didn’t have any scenes together in Troy.  A couple of years have passed and I think I evolved as an actress.  It’s fun to work together.”


The director and Pitt had a certain rapport with each other as well.  “They were like two peas in a pod,” Bender recalls.  “The thing that was great about Brad was he always played Aldo Raine.  He was always playing that character on the set.  It was fun to watch. He’s a terrific guy.  You could see that Quentin really respected and enjoyed directing him and working with him. They made a great combination.”


Tarantino agreed.  He loved working with Brad, offering, “He doesn’t really break character.  When you talk to him about other stuff, he talks in Aldo’s voice.  And because I created the character, it’s great to have the guy around all the time.”



Diane Kruger


Kruger, who grew up in Germany and lives in Paris, found that the multi-national cast marks a refreshing change for world cinema.  “Being from Europe, I really appreciate it.  I think it’s great that Quentin has the guts to do it.  It adds authenticity.  Different languages have different melodies, and it’s funny to hear and people not understanding each other.”


Although Bridget Von Hammersmark was among the last roles cast, Tarantino clicked with Kruger instantly.  Executive Producer Erica Steinberg comments: “Diane gets Quentin’s sense of humor.  When she read the script, she got him.  It wasn’t something that she had to learn.  She completely understands his dialogue.”


Kruger embraced her character’s place in the film’s unusual “fictitious history.”  “Bridget Von Hammersmark is a very cool character to play,” Kruger says.  “She is a German movie star of the 40s, in the vein of a big UFA movie star, like Marlene Dietrich or Hildegard Knef.  What is special about her is that she decided to stay during the war, and she was very much loved for that by the Germans.  She’s familiar with the Nazi regime, but she’s actually a spy for the Brits.” 


Daniel Brühl.


Daniel Bruhl describes the character of war-hero-turned-movie-star Fredrick Zoller: “He’s sweet and he’s handsome, and he’s a cinema lover.  He has to fight hard to get Shosanna, and he does so throughout the film.  He can’t take it that this girl treats him so badly and doesn’t have any respect or feelings whatsoever for him.”


Tarantino admits that Brühl’s character “is based a little bit on [well known WWII vet] Audie Murphy.  And just like Audie Murphy, Daniel Brühl’s about to become a movie star.”


Brühl traveled to Paris to read with a group of French actresses who were up for the role of Shosanna. 


Mélanie Laurent


Lurent, an actress and director who was nominated for the Golden Palm for Best Short Film at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival and won the 2007 César for Most Promising Actress.


“Shosanna was always a main character,” says Tarantino.  “One of the biggest changes in my conception of the film from way back when until now—in fact, hands down the biggest thing—is that, in the original version of this script, Shosanna was kind of a movie character.  She was a badass.  But I did that already with The Bride in ‘Kill Bill.’  So I started making her more like a real girl in this situation.”


Christoph Waltz


Despite their initial, almost immediate successes, Tarantino remained apprehensive about finding an actor to play Col. Hans Landa.  Christoph Waltz immediately set Tarantino’s mind at ease.  “He starts his audition, and Quentin’s reading with him,” Bender recalls.  “Quentin and I looked at each other, and I could see in his eyes, and he could see in my eyes that we found him.  It was just so amazing that Quentin was so concerned, and literally hours later the guy walks in that can do it in English, French, and German.  He was just killing it.”


Til Schweiger


Scweiger plays Hugo Stiglitz, and had been a longtime fan of Tarantino He even named his first production company, Mr. Brown Entertainment, after Tarantino’s character in Reservoir Dogs. 


Eli Roth


Tarantino told Eli Roth that he had the writer-director-actor in mind for the role of Donowitz before Roth got through his draft of the script.  “I was reading the final version of it, and it just blew me away.  Quentin said to me, ‘I’m thinking that you would be really good as Donowitz.’  I figured, ‘Oh, it will be like Death Proof, and this will be one of the guys in a small part.’  Then I read it and thought, ‘This is a major character. This is one of the leads in the film.’”


Joining Roth are fellow Death Proof brethren Omar Doom and Michael Bacall.  “It happened very late in the game,” Doom says.  “Quentin didn’t decide that I was going to be a Basterd until two weeks before I had to be here.  It was great surprise but very last minute.”


“I was kind of a ‘Basterd’ in Death Proof,” Doom jokes.


Gedeon Burkhard


German actor Gedeon Burkhard, who plays Wilhelm Wicki, had been waiting years for the opportunity to be in the picture—eight years, to be exact.  “We met about nine years ago in Vienna,” Burkhard recalls of his introduction to Tarantino.  “I met him again in Los Angeles and he said that he was writing a WWII movie and that he was thinking of me for a part of a guy who speaks two languages and who can translate.  I never heard anything again.  Suddenly, I heard he was in Germany and that he was casting and basically I was sitting around, nervously waiting to see if I would be called to the auditions.  I finally did, and I went to the audition, got the part and I’ve been smiling ever since.”


B.J. Novak


Novak, who produces, writes and stars on NBC’s The Office, took a break from the television show to play the role of Smithson Utivitch.  “We had to work out the scheduling [with the show], but everyone knew that this was not just a job for me,” Novak says.  “They knew that this was a dream and an experience, so they went the extra mile to make it work.” 


A physical distinction almost got in the way of winning the part; Novak wasn’t the shortest of the auditioning Basterds, but his character is described as “The Little Man.”  “Quentin said, ‘You know you might not be small enough to play Utivich,’ which was a very bittersweet compliment.  On The Office, “everyone’s like six-foot-five, and they all tease me for being the point guard of the group.  And now Quentin was telling me that I was too tall for something I really wanted.  I think Utivich’s attitude fit really well for me, so that was the part I ended up getting.”


Rounding out the Basterds are comedian, writer and actor Paul Rust and Samm Levine. Says Eli Roth, “The idea is that you hear these stories about the Basterds and you expect these monsters, these huge, dangerous guys, and basically it’s my class from Hebrew school.” 


Tarantino wasted no time getting the boys excited to become “Basterds.”   He told them all: “The Basterds are acting like Apaches in a no-win situation.  That’s what they’re trying to do.  They’re trying to win a psychological, guerilla war against the Nazis.”


As the Basterds were being cast, actors were chosen for the two major French roles.  “Denis Menochet was the first guy to audition for the part,” Bender says of the actor who won the part of Perrier Lapadite.  “He is such a strong actor and although he doesn’t have a lot of words, his eyes say it all. His scene with Christoph Waltz, who plays Colonel Landa, is powerful.” 


Jacky Ido


The other French role of Marcel went to Jacky Ido, Shosanna’s confidante.  “Marcel is this character who’s seeking for purity in the world that has been completely spoiled.”  Ido says of his character, adding that Marcel and Shosanna share an objective:  “Together, they’re trying to reestablish some purity.”


Michael Fassbender


Irish actor Michael Fassbender was tapped to play British cinema expert Archie Hicox.  Again, there was a need for the actor playing the character to be bilingual.  Fassbender had to brush up on his long-dormant German language skills.  “My father is German. We left there when I was two, but we used to go back and forth when I was little,” Fassbender explains.  “I think I was about six where I spent a summer in Germany, and a few things managed to sort of cement in there.  I just had to reawaken them with a stick.”


Fassbender explains his character Hicox, “Hicox is a British commando, but his real passion lies in films.  He’s a film critic, but the fact that he can speak German makes him quite a good tool for the British. 


Mike Myers


Starring in a pivotal scene with Michael Fassbender are Mike Myers and Rod Taylor.  “Meyers is a huge WWII buff and he wanted to be part of the movie.  Quentin and he got on the phone and were totally in sync on this character, Fenech,” Steinberg says of Myers.  “When Mike got here, he went through like hair and makeup and prosthetics and by the time I saw him on set I had no idea who it was.”


Sylvester Groth played Goebbels before in Dani Levy’s “Mein Führer.”  It’s quite exhausting to play this character because he’s from moment to moment he changes, and you can never quite grab him.  It’s impossible, and that’s great.  For an actor, that’s fantastic. But you have to be very awake and able to jump from here to there at the moment, just change.” 


German actor August Diehl plays Major Hellstrom.  “I think that Hellstrom is somebody who wants to be like Landa. He’s a little bit angry about his career.  Hellstrom sees ‘La Louisiane’ as a big chance and as a new story for him.”


Julie Dreyfus


Julie Dreyfus plays the role of Francesca Modina.  “Quentin wrote this part for her,” Savone says of the role of Francesca Mondino, which was tailor-made for Dreyfus.  “She was Francesca from day one.  She’s always the one who’s the most nervous, and she needs to know her lines, and she needs to get her translation, and she works really hard, and she comes on set, and Quentin gives her a hard time because she’s family.”


Once casting was complete, Quentin got the cast together for a large table read.  He explained to the room that all WWII films fall into two categories—war-as-tragedy films and men-on-the-move films.  “He said we’d all definitely be making a men-on-the-move movie,” says “Basterd” B.J. Novak.