Commanding during Quentin Tarantino’s original “The Hateful Eight” live read (and showing substantial stagecraft) was “Justified” and “Django Unchained” star Walton Goggins as one of the western’s many mystery men, Chris Mannix, who hitches a ride on a stagecoach with bounty hunter John “Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell), his quarry Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson). Mannix insists that he’s about to be sworn in as the new sheriff once he gets to Red Rock. “You guys having a bounty hunter picnic?” he asks.
“Keeping you at a disadvantage is an advantage I intend to keep,” Ruth tells him, unsure of his identity. No one quite knows what’s going to happen as the eight duke it out during a raging blizzard inside Minnie’s Haberdashery, changing allegiances in a high stakes game of survival.
Sure enough, Goggins also pops in the movie (which hits multiplexes December 31)—and he’s playing against substantial competition from the likes of Jackson, whose Warren challenges Mannix’s deeply held racist views, and Russell and Leigh, who are chained together through much of the film. Goggins recalls yelling, “Are you fuckin’ kidding me, come on Q!” when he first read his juicy part as written. For an actor to land a role in a Tarantino movie—this is only his 8th since “Reservoir Dogs” in 1992—”it’s an event,” says Goggins.
During the filming, the cast, who clearly enjoy each other’s company, bonded deeply on the wintry location in Telluride, Colorado, where their director forbade anything on set with an on or off switch. They learned to adapt to Bob Richardson’s ultra-wide Panavision lens, used for the first time since 1966’s “Khartoum,” which kept many of them in the shot in that very crowded Minnie’s Haberdashery, which even back on an LA soundstage was kept at a frigid 26 degrees. They all experienced the cameras up close and personal.
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“They’re very haunting,” says Goggins. “No one has been photographed with these lenses for fifty years, and the combination of just getting used to the way that they look, but also understanding the amount of money that was being spent every time Quentin said ‘action’ brought a real electricity to these moments. You know you’re not going to get 100 takes or stop in the middle of the takes. It’s not 0s and 1s. It’s film — 70mm film! And, for every single shot, you kind of realize, ‘Wow, there are so many stories going on simultaneously.’ Whenever there are three of us in a frame or four or seven, it’s not just what’s in focus. What you should be focusing on are two people standing behind that person, a person near them, the snow outside in the distance. There’s such a layer to the visual storytelling extravaganza.”
So the cast would assemble 45 minutes before call time and have coffee and debate “everything that was going to transpire that day,” says Goggins. “’Well, Sam, if Major Warren does this, what does that mean?’ ‘If Daisy looks at Oswaldo this way, then what will they take away from it?’” This is a story about liars telling lies, and you get to the last frame, and you realize that the greatest lie is outside of this movie, the one we all want to believe the most. For me, it’s as if the audience is invited into the story in the last frame of the movie, and it’s heartbreaking!”
He tears up during our interview, as he did when he saw the movie for the first time, after the rest of the cast. (He was filming “Vice Principals” with Danny McBride and David Gordon Green in Charleston, South Carolina, “which makes ‘Eastbound and Down’ look like Laura Ingalls Wilder,” he promises.)