Tarantino + 7 at The Hateful Eight Press Conference, Part 2
(from Sag Harbor Express Online 12/31/15)
By Danny Peary
After a successful two week 70mm “roadshow” engagement, during which it played in one hundred theaters in the US and Canada, Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight goes into wide release on Thursday, December 31, including at United Artists Southampton 4 Theatre. On Monday December 14, I was at the Waldorf Astoria Towers in New York City to attend a press conference for Tarantino’s brutal, funny, towering, genre-jumping Western. A brief synopsis: In Wyoming, not long after the War Between the States, John Ruth (Kurt Russell) tries to take vile criminal Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) by stage to Red Rock, where she will be hanged for her many crimes. He is joined along the way by African-American bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and former Rebel soldier Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), the new sheriff in town. Warren and Mannix do not trust one another and verbally spar with each other, accusing each other of atrocities and bigotry during the war. And the tension builds further when the four of them must wait out a blizzard with several dangerous strangers at a stage stopover. Certainly at least one of them is planning to help Daisy escape.
On the 26th, I posted Part 1 of the press conference, featuring Tarantino and seven of his nine stars, Russell, Leigh, Michael Madsen, Tim Roth, Demian Bichir, Bruce Dern, and Goggins– Jackson and Channing Tatum were not present–answering questions from the moderator. Here is the link:http://sagharboronline.com/tarantino-7-at-the-hateful-eight-press-conference/
What follows is Part 2, when the press asked the eight participants, mostly Tarantino, questions about the film. I note my one question.
Q: Mr.Tarantino, I want to get this out of the way right away. There is a group calling for a boycott of this movie, telling members of the police unions across the country not to see it.
Quentin Tarantino: I hope that doesn’t happen. Just because some union mouthpieces are calling for a boycott doesn’t mean that all the different officers on the street are going to necessarily follow suit. I have to say it’s kind of a drag because the statements I’ve made I believe are very true, and I intend to go maybe further with that as time goes on. I think you can actually decry police brutality and still understand that there is good work that the police do. I think I’ve made that pretty clear. And I also know that there’s a whole lot of police out there who are real big fans of my work and I just hope that they’re not going to take Patrick Lynch’s word for what I said. What I said you can actually look up. Since then, there has been just a little bit more clarification on my part without my walking it back at all, because I still stand by what I said.
Q: You said earlier that you were not done with Westerns yet, so will film number 8½ also be a Western?
QT: We’ll see. I think if you were to call yourself a Western director today you need to do at least three Westerns. Back in the 50s, it’d be like 12, but today it’s three if you really want to put your Westerns on the shelf with directors like Budd Boetticher, Anthony Mann, and Sam Peckinpah. The third Western could actually be for TV. There’s an Elmore Leonard book called Forty Lashes Less One. I’ve owned the rights for a while, I get them and I lose them and I get them and I lose them, but there’s something about the piece that demands that I make it. I would really like to do Forty Lashes Less One as kind of a mini series. I’d write it all and I’d direct it all, and maybe it will be 4 hours or 5 hours or something like that and that would fit right along the lines of The Hateful Eight and Django Unchained. It’s a really good book that deals with race and takes place in Yuma Territorial Prison and I’ve wanted to tell the story. I’m hoping I’ll do that eventually.
Q: If you make it for television, would you shoot on film?
QT: Oh yeah, absolutely. I’ll never shoot on digital.
Q: Where did your inspiration for The Hateful Eight come from?
QT: I watched a lot of episodic Western shows from the ‘60s like The Virginian, High Chaparral, andBonanza. And I found myself watching episodes that had really cool guest stars like James Coburn, Robert Culp, Claude Akins, and Vic Morrow. When they were special guest stars, they always played strangers who came into town, and you never really knew who they were other than they had a past about them that was revealed at some point in time. Often you didn’t know if they were a bad guy or a good guy until the end of the episode. And you didn’t know if Doug McClure or Michael Landon would end up being their friends or kill them. I thought, “Those are really interesting characters. What if I took eight characters like them and trapped them in a room together and just let them hash it out?” That actually was my starting point, what got me to sit down and put pen to paper.
Q: Did The Magnificent Seven come to mind?
QT: Not really. When I think of that film I think of a team working together. This movie suggests that in title but not in execution.
Q: Quentin, where did you get the idea of doing the “country-house murder mystery” as a Western?
QT: You know, I just thought it would be a good idea for the story, I thought it would be very interesting. This story kind of lends itself to it at a certain point, but also, frankly, it was that I like mysteries and they haven’t done mysteries in a long time. I didn’t what exactly was going to happen, at least in the first draft of the script. I just kind of dealt with everything as it went along. So I was writing the stagecoach part and it was just that. Then we get to Minnie’s Haberdashery and there’s four people waiting. I didn’t even know who those four people were yet; I wanted to be as in the dark about them as the audience would be and as the characters who arrive in the stagecoach would be and then just have the reveal themselves to me little by little by little. And introducing that mystery aspect, I just thought that would be a lot of fun, Especially when you haven’t seen a mystery at the movies in a long time it could be a really entertaining experience. I remember after I gave Sam Jackson the first draft of the script, I go to him and ask, “So what’s your favorite part of it?” He goes, “Well, I like when I start figuring shit out and I turn into Hercule Negro.” [Laughing] And that’s what we called his character through the whole shooting.
Q: Since this was such a lovefest among you and the actors when making the film, how did you ratchet up the anger and nastiness between their characters? Was it strictly the script that created the tension?
QT: There is a lot of it in the material. There’s a similarity between The Hateful Eight and Reservoir Dogs to some degree. In terms of dramatic structure, I don’t think I even understood one of the reasons why Reservoir Dogs worked so well when I wrote it and when I made it, but after hearing people talk about it I kind of figured it out. And since then I’ve kind of worked on that same principle, in particular with the basement scene of Inglorious Basterds, so now it’s like something I do. I believe that suspense can be like a rubber band, where you just keep stretching that rubber band. Using the basement scene as an example–that could be a 5-minute scene, or a 6-minute scene or a 7-minute scene and that you know, that would be good. But if I can stretch that rubber band to 25 minutes and it still holds, it doesn’t snap, well then it should be better. Well, I’m now taking that very idea to its conclusion by making a movie this long and if that rubber band doesn’t stretch, maybe it’s kind of a boring movie. So I think part of what’s going on is: that stretched rubber band is the threat of violence that is just hanging over the movie and hanging over the characters. Violence doesn’t even need to happen, but you’re prepared for it to happen and you don’t know where in the story it’s going to come. You know it’s going be horrible whenever it does come, but exactly when and how and who, you’re not so sure about. And, frankly, if I don’t pull that off and if these actors don’t pull that off then maybe the movie’s not so good, maybe it is dull. I’m betting we’re pulling that off.
Kurt Russell: John Ruth carries that ball. He’s the only one that carries that ball. The rest of them are pretending who they’re pretending to be, whoever that is. I think the most extreme example of [building tension] actor to actor is in all honesty when I walk over and talk to Michael Madsen [who is sitting alone at a table] and he’s Mr. Blonde [his character in Reservoir Dogs] and I’m Snake Plissken [Russell’s character in John Carptenter’s Escape from New York] and there’s going to be some fucking problems. Michael is a fantastic energy, he’s a force as a human being. I’m more of just an actor. I’m not Snake Plissken. I don’t even like snakes, OK? I didn’t want to let Mike down and I certainly didn’t want to let Quentin down, but that was challenging for me. That wasn’t easy with my personality to go over and just be so bombastic and seriously confident. It was my first experience in a long, long time to relish working with actors that all I had to do was talk to them. I could just go be my guy. I didn’t have to do anything for them. I didn’t have to pull for them as actors. You guys know what I’m talking about when you start pulling for other actors? “Come on, man, come on, bring it.” That wasn’t a problem when you’re talking to Michael Madsen. You just got to go hold your own, you’ve just got to go do your thing. That was exciting as hell. That was awesome to do that with every character and every actor in this film.
QT: Before we did the script reading, we did a three-day rehearsal. I wrote John Ruth for Kurt and I wrote Joe Gage for Mike, but that was the first time they got to do that scene and when we read that scene it was just like, “Oh, whoa! Snake Plissken is challenging Mr. Blonde–holy shit!”
Q: You mentioned a live read. Did you have the experience of getting an audience’s response to the script before it committing it to film, and if you changed actors or anything else in the film based on that?
QT: We altered a lot because this live read was just from the first draft. I wanted to do three different drafts of the film.. It was different from what I normally do. Normally I write these big long, unwieldy novels and there’s the beginning and the middle and the middle’s always great because now you’ve committed to writing so much and you know more about the characters than you ever could before you started writing. And then there’s the end and by that point the characters have just taken over so they always dictate the ending to me. I’m doing genre movies so I have an idea where I’m going at the end, like at the end of Kill Bill I thought it was very possible she would kill Bill–but how, why, exactly how you feel about it, all that was very open to question. But that’s one of the reasons that I like genres is that I can like explore a lot of different things, but still kind of have a road that I’m travelling to some degree or another. This one I wanted to do differently. I wanted to spend time with the material. More time than I normally spend, i.e. from the beginning middle and end, even through the process of telling the story three different times. In the first draft, the Lincoln Letter [that Warren proudly carries with him], which is a motif that plays out through the film, was dealt with only once and it was in the stagecoach. Now I knew I wanted to do more with it, but I wasn’t ready and I didn’t have any obligation to have to do it in the first draft. I could kind of find it on my own; then in the second draft, it appeared in the dinner table scene. And in the third draft it appears later, the way you see it in the movie. To give you another example, what happens to Daisy ultimately in the third draft, which is what is in the movie, was where I thought I wanted to go in the first draft, but something stopped me from going there with her in the first draft. I almost felt I didn’t have the right to [give her that ending] because I didn’t know her well enough yet. So I wrote the whole second draft from Daisy’s perspective. Not in a tricky prose way, just in an emotional way so I could really get to know her. I wanted to be on Daisy’s side for an entire draft of the story so I could really feel I knew her. And then after I felt I knew her I could do what I needed to do to her in the third draft.
Q: Mad Movies has called The Hateful Eight a horror film. Do you agree with that?
QT: Mad Movies which is sort of like the French Fangoria, are not the first people to say, “Hey is this your first horror film?” A couple of people have brought it up and there are definitely horrible moments in it to be sure. Tim, Walt, Kurt, and I just got back from the press and the premieres in London and France and it was surprising how it was a theme in France. I mean every interviewer came in and said, “It’s Western but horrifique.” They really kept hitting on this horror film aspect that the film actually does to some degree play into it. I don’t think this movie is influenced by that many other Westerns, but one movie it’s definitely influenced by is John Carpenter’s version of The Thing, which also had Kurt Russell and also had a score by Ennio Morricone. Now that actually makes sense because this movie is very influenced by Reservoir Dogs and that was influenced by The Thing. There’s obviously trappings of it: the characters are trapped in one room, there’s a lot of paranoia going around, nobody can trust anybody, and there’s a horrible blizzard going on outside. But the biggest influence when it came to that was the effect that The Thing had on me the very first time I saw it in a movie theater on opening night. I think that was actually the first time I could break down in a more critical way, the effect of a film. The paranoia was so strong between those characters, and they were trapped in such an enclosed space that the paranoia just started bouncing off the walls until it had nowhere else to go but through the fourth wall and into the audience. So that was the effect I was going for with The Hateful Eight.
Q: The overture suggests an Italian horror film.
QT: That’s for damn sure. I didn’t expect Ennio Morricone to give me a Western score. A movie with Terence Hill called Genius in 1973 or 1974 was his last official Western score and he always said he didn’t want to do Westerns anymore. So even though this is a Western, I wasn’t expecting a score similar to like Two Meals for Sister Sara or anything like that. I was figuring it was going to be dark and this was almost how he described it. He gave me a horror film score and at times even a Giallo [Italian slasher film] score. There are even elements of a Giallo in The Hateful Eight. Giallos are usually mysteries. There’s even a black glove killer in my movie. I just think it’s one of those things where you see the killer with the black glove it’s like, “Ok I can’t wait for them to show more of the characters so I can see who wears a black glove.” And then it’s “Oh, shit, all the characters are wearing black gloves!”
Q: Quentin, how difficult and how important was it for you to get Ennio Moriccone to score this film?
QT: It was a dream, it was a dream. We had made overtures towards working with each other, in particular Inglorious Basterds and Django, and it never quite worked out because of the timing and schedules. With this movie, I had a little voice in my ear that said this movie deserves its own score. I take nothing away from the other movies that I’ve done using other scores, I think that those are right for them, I didn’t hear that voice then. But on this one I heard this little voice saying this material deserves its own theme, its own piece of music that is its own personality. And he was very interested and so I took the first step, and the first step was actually just translating the script into Italian and sending it to him. And we sent it to him and he read it, and his wife read it, and his son read it and they all really liked it. His wife really liked it I think that went a long way. And then we got together and I went to meet him in Rome. I went to his lovely, apartment, maybe the greatest apartment I’ve seen in my life. We were there talking about it and I go, “So what is it you see or hear.” And he goes, “Well I have this idea for a theme.” He didn’t hum it or make his sounds and stuff, but he goes, “I just see this driving, driving forward, it’s like the stagecoach moving through the snow moving through the snow, moving forward moving forward, but it also is ominous sounding and suggests the violence that will come.” At first I didn’t think he had time to write more than just the theme. But I ended up seeing him the very next day at the [David di] Donatello Awards, and he goes, “I’m going to write you more.” So 7 minutes of music became 12 minutes of music, became 22 minutes of music, became 32 minutes of music. I think he sat down and got inspired. He actually didn’t see the movie until in London just the last couple of days, so he didn’t score to scenes we’d shot but scored just to the script. He wrote a couple of pieces of music that he thought could be really good for the material itself, but not scene specific. About three suites like that and also some other music that he thought I could use for emotions and he gave it to me and let me take it and put it into the movie the way I’ve always done before. So it ended up being a very, very lovely encounter and now I’m looking forward to having him do a score before I even shoot a movie so we can actually really get down to it, but it’s become a lovely, lovely relationship. I actually cherish it.
Danny Peary: Jennifer, when you said there are many sides to Daisy, you implied that she isn’t 100% rotten. Where in her did you find a reason for your sympathy toward her? Is it just that she has spent her whole life dealing with hateful men?
Jennifer Jason Leigh: No. I don’t want to give away too much, but I’ll just say that Daisy has very strong loyalties and I think she has a very good and big heart. I do feel that about her, I mean as crazy and wicked evil as she is, she has a good heart.
Kurt Russell (laughing): Ahhhh, I really do not agree!
QT (laughing): That’s Jennifer’s job to feel that way!
JJL: I guess it is.
QT: Where I was coming from when I wrote the character of Daisy, and things evolved, is that she was like a Manson girl out west. My starting off point was Susan Atkins. But in that same vain I will point out something and I’ll say it so it can be printed without it ruining any of my surprises. These killers in the movie do some horrible murders–and you see these murders on screen and I think that’s one of the more horrific parts of the film. At the same time they’re the only people that do anything for anybody else in the whole movie. They do it for her. I mean as far as they’re concerned if they have to kill every son of a bitch in Wyoming, that’s what Wyoming gets for trying to hang her. And so there is that dichotomy. I think with every character, there is also an “on the other hand.” You might think the other hand is bullshit, but there is the other hand.
Q: What was your thought process in having Daisy sing a Jack White song?
QT: I had another song in mind all through the shooting, but somebody had given me a mixtape with it on it back when I was doing Kill Bill, and then all of a sudden it just hit me. So I started playing it and I really liked it. I also like that fact that it actually plays like a interior monologue of Daisy’s. If you listen to the lyrics in association to what Daisy is thinking at that point in time, it’s about somebody coming to rescue her, somebody talking to her, don’t worry honey it’s rough, it’s tough, but we’re comin’ to get you baby, we’re comin’ to get ya.
Q: Tim Roth, did you see any similarities between your characters in The Hateful Eight and God of Hell?
Tim Roth: Wow. I think it’s just the duplicitous nature of the two characters.
Bruce Dern: If there’s one thing I want to say, it’s that the man [Tarantino] has a magnet. You’re so drawn to him and the main reason is his reverence for what went before, his respect for the industry. His knowledge of the past is just mind boggling and if you dare question him he will tell you facts about stuff you never knew existed. And that was a delight for me and that kind of thing you don’t get very often.
Walton Goggins: Quentin also visually takes his actors through a sequence of shots that come out of his imagination. This allows for this strange kind of adjustment, like an improvisation that is physical combined with the written word that you just don’t anticipate. You actually don’t want to have the right answers because you like that it could go anywhere.
Q: Quentin, it’s so challenging to shoot winter, so why did you decide to do that?
QT: Well I haven’t spent that much time in the snow and the Snow Western is its own little sub genre of very bleak and pitiless movies. Also with the idea of shooting 70mm, you know the mountains, the blizzard, the snow, and especially that stagecoach moving through it would give it a big visual look. And even when you’re inside, the blizzard outside is always going on and to me is like a monster in a monster movie. It’s always outside, raging and waiting to devour the characters whenever they leave.
Q: This is the sixth Samuel L. Jackson movie you’ve made. As a director what’s your opinion on how he has evolved as an actor from when you started working with him, up to now?
QT: I think when Sam came out of his mother’s womb the doctor said, “Mrs. Jackson, you just gave birth to a 2-pound baby actor.” I don’t know if Sam became a better actor as time went on because I think he was always really great, but his stature has risen and his persona has become bigger and bigger and bigger. I love him because nobody says my dialogue quite like how Sam Jackson does. It’s not poetry, but it’s poetic [the way he says it]; it’s not song, but it’s musical and he sings it; it’s not stand up comedy, but it has a comedic rhythm and he nails that fairly well. Also Sam and I are huge Lee Van Cleef fans, so there definitely is this tip of the bat wings to Lee Van Cleef in his characterization and even the way we did the look.
Q: If you were casting this movie 15 years ago, would his character have been quite as large? Do you think it would be different?
QT: It’s interesting you ask that. Thinking about The Virginian, I speculated that if I was doing this movie in 1969 I couldn’t cast some of the characters but I could see Claude Akins being a great John Ruth, Bruce Dern as Chris Mannix or Jody [played by Channing Tatum] to tell you the truth. I think Vic Morrow would be terrific as Jody. I could see Robert Culp as Joe Gage [played by Michael Madsen] and frankly if it was 1969 I would probably cast Bill Cosby as Major Warren [played by Samuel L. Jackson].
Q: Do you enjoy the post production process?
QT: The writing process is my favorite part when I’m doing that and then just as I’m getting tired of it, sick of it, I’m done with it. I don’t really like pre-production because I want to get into it right away, but then I start shooting and then that’s fantastic and just as I’m getting sick of it usually, we’re wrapping it up. And then same thing with the editing. Now that’s my favorite process as I’m doing it and then just as I’m getting sick of it, we’re done. You know I like the sound mix, I like the color timing, but writing, shooting, and editing are my favorites.
Q: Walk about your editor Fred Raskin.
QT: Oh Fred is great. It was one of the tragedies of my life to lose Sally Menke the way I did, and Fred was an assistant on Kill Bill and I didn’t want to start working with somebody I didn’t know before. So we worked on Django and we got along together great and then I worked with him on this and it was just a joy. One of the things about him that I just love is that when he gets my material he laughs and smiles at the same lines again and again and again no matter how many times we hear it. I’m always laughing and so you could work for four months with the guy and he laughs at the same jokes every single time it plays and smiles at the same jokes every time it plays. You can’t ask for any more than that in an editor.
Q: It has been said that this is your most political movie to date. Do you agree?
QT: I don’t know if that was what I was thinking about, when I started putting the pen to it, but it became that. I remember that it really came to me when Warren and Chris Mannix have their political discussion in the stagecoach. When I finished writing that, I was like, “Oh wow, this is kind of relevant to today, an almost kind of a blue state, red state, Western kind of deal. I thought that was kind of neat because one of the things about Westerns is they really, really reflect the decade in which they are made. If you look at the Westerns that were the most popular in the ‘50s, they really reflected an Eisenhower ideal and this perceived sense of American prosperity and of thinking we won the World War II by ourselves, and of there being this rise of the suburbs and the supermarkets and all that. But then if you look at the Westerns of the late ‘60s and through the ‘70s, you’ll see that they reflected a very cynical and jaundiced time in America. Think about how in the movies of the ‘50s we lifted up characters like Wyatt Earp and Jessie James and Billy the Kid and then in the ‘70s we tore them down and showed them for what we were. That almost vindicated our own cynical views of America and that just tells you what the ‘70s were like with Vietnam and Watergate. Bruce Dern did a movie calledPosse directed by Kirk Douglas that is a Watergate Western in every way shape and form. After the script was finished and we started shooting The Hateful Eight I saw that the events that had been happening in the last year and a half that we’d been watching on TV just made everything in the film seem more relevant than it was when we started. So yes, I do think it is my most political movie to date.