The following questions and answers are excerpted from a conversation that followed the NBR screening of The Hateful Eight.
Where did the idea for this film come from?
Quentin Tarantino: It started because while I didn’t really want to write a sequel to Django, I did like the idea of maybe a series of paperback books like “Further Adventures of Django,” or something. I thought that was kind of cool, and so I let it be known to publishers that I’d be interested in that. They sent me a few different synopses of a possible story between Schultz and Django that could happen. I realized that I couldn’t let go; I couldn’t let anybody else write it. So just for fun, I started writing it— it wasn’t a movie, it was just going to be a Django paperback. I started writing this story, and I didn’t even know where I was going with it. I started with the stagecoach and Django and John Ruth and Daisy Domergue. I had written the stagecoach stuff with Django, and then I went on a big trip to a bunch of different film festivals that took me around the world. While I was in Mexico, I’d been writing, and I hadn’t got to Minnie’s yet, I was still in the stagecoach. Then I realized what was wrong with this story: Django. Django’s fucking it up. Because there should not be a hero in this story. Everybody should be fucked up to one degree or another. I mean, you can like this one more than that one, but they all should be questionable guys; they all should be bad guys. There should be no moral center as far as this story’s concerned. So Django had to go. And I came up with the idea of the Major Warren. That was how it started.
“Quentin is an analog guy in a digital world.”
How did you approach the different layers of John Ruth?
Kurt Russell: How much would you all love to spend six months working with Quentin? To tell you the truth, what I say to this question doesn’t matter. What does matter is the incredible opportunity to work with purity; that’s really rare. There’s no human being I know in this business who’s more pure than Quentin Tarantino. All the actors on this shoot had the time of their lives because they were getting to work with him. Quentin knows I’m not just blowing smoke up his ass because there’s nothing more fun than getting caught blowing smoke up Quentin’s ass. It’s an impossible thing to do.
It’s on the page, you do what you do, and then he edits. It’s his invention, not mine. So all I can do is have a great time, because you got to understand something: you as the audience get to see something we don’t. We all know the story. We never get to have this moment. The moment that we get to have that you never get to have is being, everyday, working with each other, trying to create something for you that will be your unique experience. We share the experience of having done it on the day, and for that I’ll always be grateful.
Can you talk about the character of Mannix?
Walton Goggins: Every actor works their own way to solve their character; they look to the material and the story. The story is pain. When you’re in a Tarantino story, there isn’t that much for you to do. Either you get it or you don’t. You understand the way he’s visually going to tell the story and the colors and his palette—
Tarantino: That’s a little easy for you to say. The thing is, you owned the character so much that you can say it’s easy. But not everybody else coming through the door is going to own it the way you owned it.
Goggins: I read the script at his house and I was outside by his pool and he heard me every so often say, “Fuck! Oh my God!” When it was over, he said, “Do you have any questions?” The first question that I had was, “Well is he the sheriff or is he not the sheriff?” And he looked at me—I couldn’t believe he said this, I really couldn’t believe it—and he said, “I need you to answer that question, and I don’t want to know your answer to that question.” For me it was like what’s in the brief case in Pulp Fiction. It’ll die with me… You turn yourself forward to the Quentin Tarantino train, you get that invitation, and you don’t ask which station you’re going to pull into. You’re just on the ride. Quentin is an analog guy in a digital world. He’s a person who stops the scene to see the sunset. At least I think that’s all our experience.
You had a lot of physical hits in this movie. Can you talk about your experience?
Jennifer Jason Leigh: I just had the time of my life. It didn’t matter that it was so sticky and I had brains in my hair. It was kind of miserable, but I’ve just never been happier in my life than I was working with these people. With Quentin, he could do anything and you just trust him so implicitly that you throw yourself in there with everything that you have and everything that you didn’t know you had but he believes you have. It makes you think, “Maybe I do.” There’s nothing more fun than risking everything with people you admire so deeply and that you actually grow to love. And then taking a hot shower at the end of the day.
I do get beat up quite a lot, but it was Kurt beating me up, so I was never afraid for half a second—I never flinched. They’d tell me, “You never flinch. You don’t give it away. You don’t anticipate anything.” And I was like, “Yeah, because I’m working with Kurt.” You put anyone else there, I’m going to be terrified, but I knew he would never miss. So I was so free to just be there, be in the moment, and was surprised. When you’re that focused, you actually forget. We’d be playing the scene and we’d forget what’s coming, and then we actually surprise. That’s really fun.
Tarantino: Daisy is different from the other characters, and actually Jennifer’s job is different from all the other actors. In every one of their first scenes, you get real good sense of who the other characters are. You get a real good sense who John Ruth is in those first two scenes in the stagecoach, you get a real good sense of who Chris Mannix is in those first scenes in the stagecoach, as well as Warren. When Tim [Roth] comes in and has his little speech, you have a bit of a sense of who he is, and it’s the same thing with all the other guys. Except for Daisy. The thing is, you never see the real Daisy until the last chapter. There’s no way an actor could come in and audition for that role, and just jump to the last chapter and do anything resembling what we need them to do on screen. You have to live that character. You have to live all those other chapters to get to that last chapter, to really deliberate. It’s a character you have to live.
Why did you shoot in 70mm?
Tarantino: I thought it would be very exciting to do. We had a script reading of this in Los Angeles right after I finished the first draft, and that was a really exciting experience. I was really confident with the material, so if we did this in a little 99-seat theater in the Bowery, it would be really good. If we did it on the London stage, it would be really good. If we did it on 16mm, it would be really good. Since I felt that strong about the material, I thought, “Let’s do it the big way. Let’s do it in 70mm. Let’s make the weather a real thing, a character—that’s hard to do on stage.” I’ve seen the movie in digital, and it looks really beautiful and it rocks and it does its job. But before we lose the option altogether for film, I wanted to make this film an experience. It’s so expensive that the distributor is going to make an effort to have it shown in 70mm. I’ll thank the Weinsteins till the day I die for letting me do it this way.