Tarantino + 7 at “The Hateful Eight” Press Conference

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By Danny Peary

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On Monday December 14, I was at the Waldorf Astoria Towers in New York City to attend a press conference for Quentin Tarantino’s newest epic, genre-jumping Western, The Hateful Eight, which opened Christmas Day. Two stars, Samuel L. Jackson and Channing Tatum, were not present, but Tarantino brought along his seven other stars: Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Michael Madsen, Tim Roth, Demian Bichir (afterward, I got to tell him how much I missed his TV series, The Bridge), Bruce Dern, and Water Goggins (before the conference, I got to tell him how much I missed his TV series Justified). Since these seven actors, as well as Jackson and Tatum, play individuals who have already done hateful acts during the Civil War or will do hateful acts during the movie’s 187 minutes, I am wondering why the title isn’t more fittingly, “The Nasty Nine,” but no matter because once the bodies start piling up, you’ll likely lose count anyway. In Wyoming, not long after the War Between the States, John Ruth (Russell) tries to take vile criminal Daisy Domergue (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 (Jackson) and former Rebel soldier Chris Mannix (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. Tarantino is no fan of John Ford but you’ll recognize some Stagecoach in The Hateful Eight, and there are moments when Russell seems to be saying lines written for John Wayne (including “That’ll be the day), but there’s also Western moments indebted to Budd Boetticher, Anthony Mann, and Nicholas Ray, as well as forays into mysteries and bloodbath horror films. And there’s a song sung by Daisy, and as much chatter and philosophizing as in My Dinner with Andre. Overall, it’s pure Tarantino. The following is Part 1 of the Press Conference, when the eight participants answered questions from the moderator. In Part 2, which I’ll post here sometime after Christmas, they also answer questions from the press. I even got one question in, to Jennifer Jason Leigh, that Russell and Tarantino also responded to.   So keep an eye out for that.

Moderator: Mr. Tarantino, talk about the roadshow,” this amazing release strategy that has been announced.

Quentin Tarantino: Yes, the “roadshow” version opens on December 25. It’s going to be exclusive for one week and then we will open wide on the 31st, keeping the 70mm projection. It’s going to go for two weeks and then we’ll lose some of the screens after the second week, but we’ll keep some of them. The Weinsteins have done an amazing thing in regard to the Road Show. I’ll put it into perspective. Warner Bros. put its entire weight behind Christopher Nolan when he did Interstellar. Nevertheless, it played in only about eleven venues in its 70mm run. We are playing in forty-four markets in a hundred theaters with our roadshow. Not only that but they include some of the biggest and “funnest” movie palaces that are left–like the Music Box in Chicago, Hollywood Theatre in Portland, the Fox Theatre in Detroit, the Cinerama Dome in Los Angeles. It’s really wonderful. All the theaters that had 70mm capabilities, we utilized them. But in other places, we just moved the screens in. I remember in our first discussions, we said “Look, we should be like Neil Diamond or The Book of Mormon coming into town. We’ll go into big venues that might not even show movies anymore but we’ll set up our big screens and our projectors.” It has been a herculean effort and they pulled it off. We’re screening in a hundred theaters in the U.S. and Canada and I’m really proud of that. We’re trying to do this like the old-school roadshows, where they had overtures and intermissions and were a little longer. Ours is about seven minutes longer for the road show version, and you get–and it’s hot off the presses today–this really cool program, and we’re giving out T-shirts that say, I SAW THE HATEFUL EIGHT IN 70MM.”

M: It seems that you’re in a Western phase right now. Does this film come out of your experiences on Django Unchained and do you see them as linked?

QT: Yeah, there is a chain that connects Django and The Hateful Eight. I guess I am in a bit of a Western period right now. Normally I do a film in a genre and I know what I what I want to do but don’t know how to do it. Like shooting the big martial arts scenes in Kill Bill. But then I learn how to do it; I learned on the job and figured it out and I’m real proud of it. But then I don’t do another martial arts film. And the same with the car chase in Deathproof. I kind of learned how to do a Western and realized I wasn’t done with the genre. I wasn’t done with what I had to say. One of the things I had to say in this regard was dealing with race in America, a topic which a lot of Westerns had avoided for such a long time. I had more to say. There was also something else about Django: you’re dealing with such a big subject, slavery in America, that as fun as the movie was there was this downer Sword of Damocles hanging over the whole thing that you always had to deal with in a responsible way. That was actually an aspect of The Hateful Eight, but even though I was dealing with similar issues I could just let it rip and do my Western without having History with a capital “H” hanging over the whole piece.

M: Kurt, your character, Ruth, and Daisy, are linked in the film, sometimes physically with the chain, meaning the two of you are always together. Can you talk about the pros and cons and challenges of that kind of working relationship?

Kurt Russell: When Jennifer and I started to rehearse we didn’t really think there’d be much of a problem with being chained together. We didn’t think it would represent anything much either. And it turned out that nothing was further from the truth. Everything that we did was informed by how that chain connected us. So we had to sort of get the Fred-and-Ginger of it all together, and that informed Ruth and Daisy’s relationship. So for me there was John Ruth and for Jennifer there was Daisy Domergue, but together we were going to be this team. Chained together for a week and a half, 24/7, the Stockholm Syndrome sets in pretty fast and Ruth and Domergue are going to get to know a lot about each other. And of course over a five-month period of time, the Stockholm Syndrome between Jennifer and me set in.

M: Jennifer, in approaching Daisy, was it all on the page or were there outside influences?

Jennifer Jason Leigh: So much of it, obviously, is in on the page, with such a great character. With Daisy there’s a lot that’s mercurial that we wanted to find, and we wanted to find that together. So much of Daisy is informed by John Ruth because she is always reacting to him, to his chain, to his hits, and determining what mileage she can get from that. She thinks she is a lot smarter than John Ruth. And actually she is. She’s playing him during a lot of the movie. But there’s this one moment–and what’s so great for all of us actors about doing a Tarantino movie is that we’re always being surprised–where everything just shifts, when John Ruth isn’t just a putz, a fool she is so much smarter than. He is suddenly very smart and very dark when he goes and gathers all the guns from everyone. Then she has to rejudge him, just as all the other characters have to be judged again. Everyone in the movie is terrible and hateful, but you also care for them. Maybe their weaknesses are the good parts of them in a certain way. I remember the day we shot that scene in which Ruth takes the guns. Daisy has been having a blast–yeah, she’s supposed to be going to the gallows but she knows she’s not going to the gallows because she’s going to figure it out. But at that moment it’s not so clear anymore. That was so exciting as an actress to not know that was coming. I’d read it on the page yet when I felt it happen in the room, I swear my blood went cold. It was phenomenal.

KR: I’ve never said this. It was an unspoken thing. Because of who John Ruth is, when the clapboard went bang and it’s “Action,” that chain was mine, I owned it. Because of that I felt that as soon as we heard “Cut!,” the chain was Jennifer’s! We had to have a balance. I really appreciated what she was going through. If you turn that chain over to the other person, as she did, it wasn’t easy.

JJL (laughing): I’m not as good a dance partner as you are; you’re a much better leader and I’m much better at following.

M: I wonder that since all you actors play characters who are both charming and despicable if all of you considered yourself the “hero” of this movie?

Michael Madsen: I read about James Cagney and he said that if you are playing a character who is noble, you should probably try to find a mean streak in that person, something dark that he is carrying around; if you play someone who is evil you should probably try to find something good somewhere in that person. Quentin lets your character help you out so you’re capable of doing that.

M: Tim, as with Michael, you were in Reservoir Dogs. Was the experiences working on that film and this one like apples and oranges or was pretty much how you remembered working on Quentin’s first film?

Tim Roth: The man’s the same. But the set has changed and the surface atmosphere. He has so much more knowledge of cinema and how to tell a story.

QT: On Reservoir Dogs, along with the production assistants, I was probably the least experienced person on the set. Tim and Mike had made a lot of movies by that time. I was just getting through the process.

MM: My whole career came from that.

M: Demian, what was your experience working with Quentin for the first time?

Demian Bichir: I was curious about how everything was going to work out, not only because you have a huge-name director in front of you but there was this amazing group of actors. I remember our first table reading at a hotel in Los Angeles. As an actor, you want to always one day say a Tarantino line on film. So I was excited about that. But to listen to every line of the script in the mouths of this group of fantastic actors was beautiful. Also I remember going back home and saying “Everyone was so fucking nice.” Because you know that a small fish can be lost in a big ocean. And when I met Quentin I found a warm, generous, loving man. It was a confirmation that the biggest artists are the nicest.

M: Bruce, you’ve worked with Hitchcock and Kazan and some of the finest filmmakers in the history of the medium. Do you see connections between them and Mr. Tarantino?

Bruce Dern: I’ve been very lucky in my career. But this guy does a couple of things that the people I’ve worked with don’t do. He has the greatest attention to detail I’ve ever seen. Burt Lancaster once told me about [Italian director Luchino] Visconti, but he has the same attention to detail as Visconti, trust me. And the other thing he does for actors, and everyone behind the camera as well, is give them the chance to get better, a chance to do material that is so original. You’re so excited that he chose you and not Ned Beatty or Jimmy Caan! And you’re excited to go to work every day. You’re excited because he might just do something that’s never been done!

M: Walton, would you ever suggest to Quentin an alternate line of dialogue?
Walton Goggins (joking): There’s no improv in this press conference–he wrote everything everyone said. No, I didn’t suggest anything.   It is every actor’s dream to get the opportunity to say a Quentin Tarantino monologue or even a line. There is no need to change, even to add a “and” or “the” because it really is perfect the way it comes out of his imagination. Why would you mess with perfection?

END OF PART 1

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