Tarantino’s Band of Basterds

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Published January 5, 2009

Universal and the Weinstein Company announced last week that Quention Tarantino’s endlessly-awaited new film, Inglourious Basterds, will open August 21. It’s a World War II flick about an American unit of Jewish soldiers out to kick Nazi ass. (The misspellings in the title are Tarantino’s own; no word on why no one has deferred to Spellcheck on this one.)

Shot in France and Germany, Basterds reportedly has more speaking roles than any Tarantino film to date. That’s a lot of chit-chat. Here’s a breakdown of the ensemble cast, which includes:

 The Commanders

Brad Pitt: In his first collaboration with the director since his stoner turn in Tarantino-scripted True Romance, Pitt plays the organizer of the all-Jewish, Nazi-killing hit force.

Diane Kruger: As a German undercover agent, the German actress is reunited here with Troy co-star Pitt.

Mélanie Laurent: A big step up for the razor-browed French actress, who had small roles in French films The Beat That My Heart Skipped and Days of Glory.

Christoph Waltz: Assuming you’re not a regular viewer of German TV, you’ve probably never before seen this Austrian actor, who plays the film’s main Nazi baddie.

Daniel Bruhl: Had a role in The Bourne Ultimatum, and acted with Kruger in the French-German WWI drama Joyeux Noel (2005). The Grunts

Eli Roth:  Tarantino pal and auteur of the Hostel movies, wrote and directed the fake “Thanksgiving” trailer in Grindhouse. He also had an extended cameo in Death Proof.

B.J. Novak: Best known as intern-turned-supervisor Ryan Howard on “The Office.”

Til Schweiger: Plays the most maniacal (and only German-born) member of the film’s Jewish retribution squad. A big deal in Deutschland, Schweiger has only had blockbuster bit parts stateside.Samm Levine: The “Freaks and Geeks” alum rounds out Pitt’s team of avengers.Christian Berkel: This German actor is the international go-to guy for WWII films: Downfall, Miracle at St. Anna, Blackbook, and, most recently, ValkyrieThe Special Forces

Mike Myers: A British general in a prudent 180-degree change from last year’s The Love Guru.

Samuel L. Jackson: The narrator. Jackson’s long working relationship with Tarantino (Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Kill Bill) probably has more to do with this casting than his narratorial work in the straight-to-video spoof Farce of the Penguins.

Maggie Cheung: The Hong Kong superstar scored one of the film’s key roles (a cinema owner and resistance fighter) after it was reportedly being offered to Catherine Deneuve and Isabelle Huppert.

Cloris Leachman: The one-time Mel Brooks regular has a cameo in a flashback sequence

Julie Drefyus: After having her arm memorably hacked off as Lucy Liu’s translator and henchwoman in Kill Bill, Volume 1, the French actress again sides with evil, this time as a Nazi collaborator.

Rod Taylor: The 60s Hollywood star (The Birds, The Time Machine) appears as Winston Churchill, wreathed in cigar smoke, in a war-room scene with Myers and Michael Fassbender.  Tarantino screened Taylor’s 1968 film The Mercenaries, in which the actor battled a former Nazi in the Congo, at his annual Austin film festival in 2001.

Photo by François Duhamel. Brad Pitt on the set.