During filming of Quentin Tarantino’s “Hateful Eight” the cast, who clearly enjoy each other’s company, bonded deeply on the wintry location in Telluride, Colorado, where 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. But none bonded more than Kurt Russell and Jennifer Jason Leigh.
During lengthy rehearsals, Russell and Tarantino newcomer Leigh had to figure out how to cope with being chained to one another for much of the shoot. They built trust, as Russell as bounty hunter John “The Hangman” Ruth kept beating the shit out of his partner, playing bad-ass outlaw Daisy Domergue, who stood up to her punishment like a man.
“For us, the rehearsal time was extremely important,” said Russell, “because we realized when we put that chain on that there were limits. We had to figure out our moves.”
“It became a marriage really quickly,” said Leigh. “It may not have been a great marriage, but it seemed to work in its own way. It was actually really fun.”
“If you ever have to do a movie where you have to get punched and dragged around, I would suggest you do it with Mr. Kurt Russell,” said Leigh. “I was never, ever afraid. I could just play every moment. I never had to flinch. I never blew a take, and it’s not because I’m that good — it’s because he’s that good. I felt utterly safe and protected, actually, which might be the most unsettling. I’ve never enjoyed myself more, and, really, all of that is Kurt. I’m just reacting, and he’s the one doing all the work.”
“It’s the person who takes the hit that sells it,” said Russell. “If you don’t sell it, that’s going to be a long afternoon, and if you don’t trust the person that’s working with you, you know your lines and are just counting down: ‘Here comes the punch…’ The last thing you want to do is look at a picture sometime in the future and see that person start to back off a little bit. She’s so great at taking a punch, and she’s so trusting. When you get there, I can tell you, you better never violate that trust, because you’re never going to get it back. That was a big thing for us — that Stockholm Syndrome aspect.”
While the rest of the cast figured who they were during rehearsal, Leigh was on the set “creating an animal that you’re not seeing,” said Russell.
Leigh not only had to learn how to take a punch, but to play the guitar, from scratch. “Quentin is a remarkable director, and he demands the best you have to give,” she said. “And he finds ways to get it that are so imaginative and you don’t even realize how brilliant he is. He wanted to show who Daisy was, and he didn’t want me to play any kind of result that was written on the page. He said we would just go about it very slowly, but he wanted it to be very organic.”
Tarantino flew Leigh to Telluride for hair and makeup tests. When she turned up there, he told her, “I don’t really need you to do a hair and makeup test. I just want to play you a piece of music. ‘I would like you to sing a song and play it on the guitar at Minnie’s. You play the guitar, right?” “No,” Leigh replied. “I’ve never even held a guitar in my life.” He said, “I know you can do it. I have faith in you. I’ll get you a teacher and you will do it.”
“When Quentin Tarantino asks you to do something,” said Leigh, and he believes you can, you will do everything to bring his vision to life. So I didn’t know how to play the guitar; I was terrified. Daisy will do everything to survive, and she is really smart and scared and vulnerable but she won’t let any of that show. It just put me right there, and I just think, ‘What a genius. Who else would think to do that?'”
One of the benefits of being the only female principal among the testosterone-heavy cast is that Leigh pops out of the ensemble, who are all more than happy to give her props. She could land a supporting actress nomination, which would mark her first after decades of plaudits for such films as “Short Cuts,” “Last Exit to Brooklyn,” The Anniversary Party,” and “Mrs. Parker and Her Vicious Circle.” This year she also earns extra points for her wonderful voice performance in “Anomalisa.”