Exclusive Interview: Samm Levine Is An Inglourious Basterd
Pretty much any actor would jump at the chance for a bit part in a Quentin Tarantino movie, and plenty have-- some of the most memorable, important performances in Tarantino's movies take place over only a few minutes of screen time.
And when it came to taking his role as PFC Gerold Hirschberg in Inglourious Basterds, Samm Levine knew he wouldn't just be visiting the set for a few days. His role as one of the Jewish-American soldiers known collectively as the Basterds required several months of shooting in the woods in Berlin, hanging out on the set with the likes of Tarantino and Brad Pitt, and getting the chance to try his stuff against European actors like Christoph Waltz.
Though many of Levine's lines were cut from the final film, he's full of great memories about working on the film, and enthusiasm about Tarantino's vision for the project as a whole. I talked to him on the phone last week about getting the part, making a movie about Nazi killing in Germany, and the legacy of Freaks & Geeks (he played comedy fiend Neal Schweiber) 10 years later.
Inglourious Basterds opens this Friday.
You're a big Tarantino fan, right?
Oh yes, I am a monster fan.
So you heard he was casting, and you jumped in on that?
Before he was casting he was just doing these general meetings with actors, and I said 'What's the criteria for getting a meeting?' and it was 'Oh, you have to be a Jewish twentysomething here in L.A.' And I thought, are you kidding? If I don't spearhead that market, there is a crime going on in Los Angeles. So I called my people and said, look, there's never been a more perfect fit-- get me into that room.
I have to assume that there was a lot going on that didn't make it into the movie. What did we miss from your character?
Unfortunately there was a bit. There's a whole bunch of scenes I'm in the movie where I'm just not saying anything. I had a bit of dialogue that is mising from those scenes. I understand why, a lot of my dialogue didn't really further the story along. I think that's why most of the Basterds stuff is on the cutting room floor. It more or less gave more insight in how these guys acted with each other, and what they all were really after by being in this unit. I'm hoping it finds its way onto the DVD.
It seems like filming this was kind of like going off to war, being in a foreign country with all of these people. Did you all feel like part of a unit?
We shot the movie mostly in Berlin, so it was strange. I had never been to Berlin before, I had never been to Germany really. Mostly the Basterds were all in this one hotel. We'd shoot all day, and most nights we'd all go back to our hotel, and we'd all go down to the lounge for a drink. It's this routine we got into with each other. It was a very unique experience. I don't want to say it was like we were in the army, but we were definitely a unit.
What's the best part of being part of the group, and being on set with Quentin Tarantino, Brad Pitt and Eli Roth?
Working with Brad was incredible, working with Quentin was a dream come true for me. I've been a diehard fan of his as long as I can remember. I was 11 or 12 years old when I first saw Reservoir Dogs. I remember after I saw that film, I kept renting it from the video store because i wanted all of my friends to see it. Getting to work with Quentin, getting to say his words, getting to work with him on a scene is an experience I will never forget.
Filming this in Berlin, and making a mvoie that's revisionist German history, there's a lot of potentially charged elements. Was there ever any trouble with that when you were filming?
No, the Germans loved this movie. A lot of German people have even said to Quentin, 'We're so glad you're making this movie, because this is a movie we could never make. 'The truth of the matter is it's now three, almost four generations of German people who are horrified at what happened in World War Ii. They were very enthusiastic to see a movie like this, which really put Nazi Germany in its place.
Doing press for this movie, you've had to field a lot of questions about Brad Pitt. Has that been weird for you?
It became clear pretty quickly right away that that would be one of the most common questions. And the truth of the matter is, I can't say nice enough things about Brad. The guy is phenomenal. He is the epitome of what an A-list actor should be. I can't buy into any of that tabloid stuff I read anymore, because he's a real guy to me.
What was the main thing you learned working on this film?
I think the thing I learned most is when you're working with European actors, you have got to up your game. All of the European actors we worked with were amazing, especially Christoph Waltz. He is unbelievable. I couldn't be happier for him. He won the award for Best Actor at Cannes. I don't want to jinx him, but I think he's jinx-proof-- I think he has Oscar nomination written all over him. I really do.
You must be asked about Freaks and Geeks a lot. What's it been like ahving that be your legacy, even after you've been working for 10 years since then?
It's been wonderful. I look back on it with nothing but fond memories, and I'm so eternally grateful to Paul Feig and Judd Apatow. It provided an amazing springboard once the show was off the air. I was able to get my foot in a lot of doors in Los Angeles that I otherwise would have been completely unable to. Since it's been out on DVD, any time I'm going to meet a new director or casting director, it's great when I walk into the room and they say, oh, we're such big fans of Freaks and Geeks. As it happens Mr. Tarantino is a big Freaks and Geeks fan.
Is it weird for that to have been seen more than anything else that you've done, since you were so young when you did it?
No, i don't think so. It doesn't really bother me, because I think, regardless of my age, it's work that I'm extremely proud of. I'm always, always happy, it always makes me smile when someone tells me they're a fan of the show.
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