LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Christoph Waltz won a best supporting actor Oscar on Sunday for his role as a ruthless Nazi officer in "Inglourious Basterds," claiming his first ever Academy Award.
The Austrian actor was largely unknown by U.S. audiences before his role in director Quentin Tarantino's raucous World War Two film, but his strong performance made him the virtual shoo-in for the Oscar.
"This is your welcoming embrace. There's no way I can thank you enough, but I can start right now," Waltz said, clutching the golden statuette with both hands. "Thank you."
The 53 year-old Waltz plays the cunning Colonel Hans Landa, who is known as "The Jew Hunter" and is the main villain -- besides, of course, from Adolf Hitler.
Ranging across occupied France, Landa is a kind of evil detective who finds Jews hiding from the Nazi war machine, and also hunts the elite American unit called the Basterds that is scalping Nazi troops.
Landa speaks German, French, English and Italian fluently, and his capacity for charm and persuasion is matched only by his ruthlessness.
Waltz comes from a family of actors and theater artists. He studied at the Lee Strasberg Theater & Film Institute in New York as a young man before returning to Europe to begin his career as a stage performer and later on television.
One of his biggest roles came in the 1998 German film "Love Scenes from Planet Earth," in which he played a depressed writer who gets involved with two women after borrowing his father's new car.
Tarantino, the "Pulp Fiction" director known for rediscovering actors Hollywood has overlooked, liked what he saw in Waltz, and cast him for the central role of Landa.
Waltz competed for the best supporting actor Oscar this year against Christopher Plummer for "The Last Station," Matt Damon for "Invictus," Woody Harrelson for "The Messenger" and Stanley Tucci for "The Lovely Bones."
For his role in "Inglourious Basterds," Waltz previously won acting awards at the Cannes film festival, the Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild Awards and a slew of critics' choice contests.
Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Mary Milliken and Sandra Maler