How Many Languages Did Moe Berg Know? Did Paul Rudd Know Italian and German?

Morris “Moe” Berg becomes a part of the Office of Strategic Services due to his ability to speak several foreign languages in Ben Lewin’s biographical war film ‘The Catcher Was a Spy.’ His fluent Italian and German help him immensely while he is in Europe to determine whether Werner Heisenberg is indeed building an atomic bomb that will threaten the United States. In reality, as the movie depicts, Moe was a polyglot. Paul Rudd, who plays the protagonist, had to learn several languages to authentically portray the former baseball catcher who puts his life on the line as a spy for his country!

The Polyglot

Moe Berg became a polyglot during his time at Princeton University. He graduated from the institution with a B.A., magna cum laude in modern languages. He learned seven foreign languages while attending the university, which are Latin, Greek, French, Spanish, Italian, German, and Sanskrit. Not only did he learn these languages but also excelled in almost all of them. “He [Moe] did well with each, except during an unaccountably moribund second junior semester when he nearly failed German and dropped Spanish. To that point, both had come easily to him, so perhaps his mind was elsewhere,” Nicholas Dawidoff wrote in the biography ‘The Catcher Was a Spy: The Mysterious Life of Moe Berg.’

Image Credit: The New York Public Library

Even while excelling as a baseball player, Moe didn’t stop learning new languages. According to sportswriter John Drohan, Moe, who was known among his colleagues as “Lingwee,” even studied Gaelic and Japanese. “Drohan adds Hungarian and Italian to Berg’s tally before confiding that the player some of his teammates call ‘Lingwee’ is now learning Gaelic. That won’t take long, he thinks, if Berg’s Japanese study is any indication; on his trip to Japan the previous year Berg ‘picked up the Japanese language so well in three weeks, he could speak it like a native,’” Dawidoff’s book further reads.

Like Moe, his girlfriend Estella Huni knew several languages, mainly Italian, German, and French. Since French was Moe’s “best” foreign language, the couple might have spoken the language together, especially considering that she signed her love letters to him “Etoile.” When Moe finally met his target Werner Heisenberg, the former baseball player spoke German with a Swiss accent but the latter was not suspicious about it. “Berg’s Swiss-accented German aroused no suspicions in Heisenberg. In fact, if it is possible to ignore someone while maintaining a conversation with him, Heisenberg managed it,” Dawidoff added.

At the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) headquarters in Langley, Virginia, there is an exhibit center that is home to a glass case devoted to the Office of Strategic Services. Two baseball cards belonging to Moe are placed in the case with a placard that partially reads, “He [Moe] spoke a dozen languages fluently and often autographed pictures in Japanese.”

Paul Rudd’s Preparations

To play Moe Berg, Paul Rudd learned all the important languages the former spoke. “Paul took that very, very seriously. He learned the necessary languages, or enough of them, to do the role, and make it seem totally convincing, as if he was naturally fluent in those languages. That was hard work. That’s what an actor has to do. He kind of confronted it head-on,” director Ben Lewin told Metro. “Italian, German, French, Latin, Japanese, so how many was that?” he added. Although Ben mentioned only five, Rudd revealed in another interview that he learned seven languages for the movie. The other two can be Greek and Spanish.

Before filming ‘The Catcher Was a Spy,’ Rudd shot the neo-noir science fiction film ‘Mute,’ also starring Alexander Skarsgård and Justin Theroux. The actor practiced German during the production of the movie, especially since his co-stars, two German girls, couldn’t speak English with him. “They were lovely. Didn’t really speak English ’cause they were German and I would try and test out my very rudimentary German with her. She could teach me some things and sayings,” Rudd told GQ about the experience.

Read More: What Happened to Estella Huni? Did She Marry Moe Berg?