I had the pleasure of moderating a recent Screen Actors Guild panel with seven of Quentin Tarantino’s “Hateful Eight” at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, where the 70 mm was glorious indeed on that giant screen. (Demian Bichir was coming into town the following day from Mexico.) 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, said Jackson. 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.
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, describing themselves as an old married couple. They built trust, as Russell had to beat the shit out of his partner. It’s notable how much the gang support and promote Leigh, who does pop out of the cast as bad-ass Daisy Domergue, standing up to her punishment like a man. There’s some debate as to who plays the smartest and baddest of the Hateful Eight: is it Jackson or Leigh?
If you watch the video, there are spoilers, so I’ve reorganized the Q & A transcript and marked the spoilers at the bottom. Read on!
Anne Thompson: How cold was it in Telluride?
Bruce Dern: Every day, we would get to work… Telluride’s at 8,800
feet; we were at 10,000 feet. January to April. And it was -5 degrees, and
then, in the house, it was 22 degrees at the hottest time of day. Then we’d
come all the way back here and do six or seven weeks of the movie, and we’d be
sitting outside and have to go in [where it was almost as cold].
Michael Madsen: I was frozen. The freezer thing was right behind me — it was right behind the bed. I didn’t want to lay in that bed, and I said, “Can’t we stuff something in there?” “No, we’re not going to do that.” Sure, it seems funny now. It sure wasn’t funny then.
Samuel L. Jackson: It was one of those rare cinematic experiences where, because it’s such an ensemble piece and we’re in that room, we’re together every day. In the mornings, we all gathered and drank coffee — sat around and talked about what we’d do — we’d go on set. That’s another party. We’d hang out with the crew, talk to those guys about what they’re doing and how we’re responding to what they’re doing. At the end of us doing things, we started looking at each other and smiled and go, “Oh, my God, is this shit as great as we think it is or are we blowing smoke up our ass?” Because there are times when you do stuff on set, and do it and you just go back to your trailer. But we did stuff, and we looked at each other and we went, “Man, I can’t wait to see this fucking movie.” It was the fun of it.
Madsen: When you do that scene where you see the jelly bean on the floor? I was across the room, and you were doing a separate shot, I don’t think you even knew I was in the room, and you start looking around like you’re looking at the other guys. You saw me; we saw each other and looked at each other. That was the first moment that we actually had eye contact with each other as actors. Do you remember that? For me, I had always wanted to be in a picture with you. It was unexpected, but it worked in a truly bizarre way. It’s a wonderful memory I have.
Kurt Russell: If you guys are actors, you probably do a lot of the same things we do, with wondering when you’re going to work and what you’ll have. This experience, for all of us, was the one you want to have — in every way. You never want to drop the baton. You couldn’t wait to go to work in the morning to see what Sam was going to do that day, to see what Tim was going to do that day, or Mike, or what’s Jennifer going to come up with. “Walton’s doing that thing in the snow today. Bruce is going to get shot today. I’d like to see that.”
Jackson: The true test of this… you actors know that we go to work, and we create relationships when we’re working, and we go off and do another picture, and if you run into someone, people you worked with and you’ve got a good relationship, that’s cool. We connected with each other every day since that Thanksgiving crew meeting. We all check in every day.
Dern: It’s the most exciting set I’ve ever been on in my life, number one. Number two, I always judge my experience with directors, and my first experience with Mr. Hitchcock or Mr. Kazan, the first time I ever had a feeling that I was excited to go to work every single day. On this movie, it was because this kid just might do something no one’s ever done. And that’s what made it exciting for all of us, also. When Quentin Tarantino comes to you and says, “Come on down,” you know you have a chance to go to the playoffs. So everybody pulls their oar. Nobody lets anybody down. I never heard a cross word; I never saw an asshole on the set or crew, except myself. [Audience laughs] If you want to talk about paranoia, I was paranoid because of fucking Telluride! It’s in a valley and you can’t get out!
How different was this from prior Tarantino collaborations?
Jackson: He’s got more toys than when we first did it.
But the same fun set. I guess most of you don’t know that you can’t take
anything onto the set that has an “on” or “off” switch, so when he says “cut,”
we talk to each other, we laugh, we hang out with the crew, we dance, we sing,
we argue. He’d regale stories about cinematic westerns that came before us and how
we need to up our game — be in “that genre.” So it’s wonderful. There’s still
Madsen: For me, we got a lot closer and a lot more friendly with each other. We were young when we did “Reservoir Dogs.” We were just little kids, you know? We’re full, grown men now. It was wonderful being able to do it again. I learned things I didn’t know, and we had a better relationship — we’re closer friends now than I think we were, even back in the dog days.
Tim Roth: It’s a big change. Quentin had not made a film. Maybe in his head, but he hadn’t made one for real. He was never “a first-time director”; he was always a director. And a very, very fucking good one, too, just from the very beginning. Just from the beginning, it was very clear. We worked more than we had.
Madsen: It’s true. He purposely put us together in this thing because he explained to me one day that Tim and I were there at the beginning. I don’t know how many more pictures he’s going to make, but he wanted us to be together at the end — if this is. So.
Roth: Now, I find that Quentin, the energy of the man, is the same as it was, but the facility is greater. His knowledge of the craft was always huge, but now it’s vast, so the ability to tell a story is instinctive. At the beginning, it was difficult for him. It was a low-budget, guerrilla tactics film, but he made it anyway, and it’s still powerful today. Now, he has all the toys.
Madsen: I’m surprised how much passion he still has. And it’s even more than it was before. When we started to do rehearsal, I hadn’t seen him for a while. People slow down a little bit, or they get a little jaded and change over time. His energy and enthusiasm from the very first day was so huge. I couldn’t believe it. I had become a bit lazy myself in some of the pictures that I had been doing, and I forgot a lot of stuff that I quickly remembered from day one, once I got in the room with him, and I was amazed at how much he still loves to make a movie. He really loves to do it so much; it’s amazing. There’s nobody like him that I’ve ever met in my life, in the industry, director-wise.
Talk about the rehearsal process.
Madsen: One day I looked at Sam and I said, “Are you ready to go
up the mountain?” And Sam said, “I’ve been ready.”
Jackson: If you come from the theater, you love rehearsal. The
whole haberdashery was laid out in the studio, and we hung out outside, in the
stage coach, but one thing was that we had shorts and stuff on. When we got to
Telluride, a change of clothes came on, and a sense of urgency was there. We
waited five weeks on that snow, too. We had Native American ceremonies,
shooting arrows in the sky.
Kurt and Jennifer are chained together. How difficult was that?
Russell: For us, the rehearsal time was extremely important,
because one of us realized when we put that chain on that there were limits. We
had to figure out our moves, so it was very important for us.
Jennifer Jason Leigh: It became a marriage really quickly. It may
not have been a great marriage, but it seemed to work in its own way. It was
actually really fun. The chain was kind of tangled, right?
Russell: We had to deal with that.
Jackson: They got so used to it that, once he was dead, he kept
coming into work. Kurt was laying on the floor, hanging out with us. There was
Russell: When I fell asleep, all you heard was [snores]. I want
to hear everything that’s going on and how it plays. I’ve waited this long. One
time, they were calling for silence on set for a big scene, and I was pulling
for her, but also going, “Don’t breathe heavy. Don’t breathe heavy.” And then,
suddenly, one time I thought I was doing that, and then I heard, “Not again.
Not again. He’s snoring too loud.”
On a technical note, you can see everybody with the wide lenses. What kind of blocking was going on?
Madsen: The lenses used were actually used in “Ben-Hur.” The ones. Bob Richardson found them.
Jackson: And they made 12-to-15-minute magazines so we could do long takes. It was great.
Walton Goggins: I think I can speak for all of us: I saw it up close and personal, and they’re very haunting. No one has been photographed with these lenses for fifty years, and I think 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.
Jackson: We had 100-reel celebrations every time we shoot 100 reels. 100 reels was a party. We got to 900.
Goggins: The first thing he does is establish a
relationship with the DP. In this case, it was Bob Richardson. Every actor
knows that there’s this silent communication between yourself and the DP —
whether it’s a wide shot or a medium or a close-up. [Gestures with his hands to show the width of the shot on his body.] “Here?” “No.” “Here?” “No.”
“Here?” “No.” “Here? Fucking here?!” 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.
Goggins: We would show up 45 minutes before call time and have
coffee — it was called “The Coffee Club,” or whatever — and we would sit and
debate not just this issue, but everything that was going to transpire that
day. “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.
Jackson: There are a couple of things that are unresolved for me.
Is he the sheriff of Red Rock?
Goggins: Pay no attention to him.
Jackson: Did I actually get a snow cap blow job?
Bruce Dern’s reaction to that story is incredible.
Jackson: There are lies weaved within lies that are carried on
throughout this whole thing. I still think the only person who didn’t have an
agenda was Mannix. He was there. I knew something was wrong as soon as I showed
up and saw Bob, the Mexican. I saw everything, and Bob the Mexican was just
wrong. Kurt had an agenda; she had an agenda. Everybody knows something but
Goggins: Just bad luck. Just a bad fucking day.
Jennifer, it turns out Tarantino wanted to work with you for a
long time. What took so long?
Leigh: I don’t know. Of course, like every actor in this room,
I’ve wanted to work with him forever, and I got really lucky. I’ll look at the
poster or watch the film and still can’t believe I’m part of this gang — I
can’t believe I’m one of the Hateful Eight.
Jackson: You are the most hateful of eight.
Is she? Do you all agree with that?
Russell: You’re the smartest. You’re smarter than everybody else.
Jackson: Actually, I don’t know… I’ve got to walk around the
planet with no balls.
You also had to learn how to play guitar?
Leigh: Yes. Quentin is a remarkable director, and he demands the
best you have to give, 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. He flew me to Telluride for hair and makeup tests, and I was told to
go to his condo. So I did, and I said, “I don’t really need you to do a hair
and makeup test. I just want to play you a piece of music.” So of course he
took it out and put it on the turntable. He said, “I would like you to sing a
song and play it on the guitar at Minnie’s. You play the guitar, right?” And I
said, “No. 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.”
Madsen: And you did it.
Leigh: When Quentin Tarantino asks you to do something, 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 is trying to
survive. She’ll 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?”
Russell: You talk about pulling for somebody, everybody here was…
you really worked hard on playing that guitar, and then you had to do it live.
Madsen: It’s a beautiful scene.
Russell: It really is.
I love the costumes. Like Tim’s. Talk about working with the
Roth: Well, we kind of picked it out. You walk into a room and
there’s a dummy with various versions of you on it. He and Courtney Hoffman
really worked very closely on design.
And how twee your British accent was supposed to be?
Roth: Well, I think the thing about the accent is that, if you
look at it a second time around, we’re improvising — we’re all unprepared for
what is about to happen. We just think a man and a woman in chains are coming
through the door, but we now have to wing it. We’re performing, and, as each
challenger comes through that door, we have to improvise our way out of a
seriously dodgy situation. The accent thing was an invention of Quentin’s. He
knows how utter my contempt for the upper class is. It’s very strong in me.
It’s fucking strong in me. He wrote that for me to do, and he said to me just
the other day, “If I’d given it to someone from that class, they wouldn’t have
gotten the anger and the cynicism, and the horror of these people.”
Michael, how did you come up with that bit with the neckerchief?
Madsen: That was Quentin’s idea. I think he
liked the yellow neckerchief. He couldn’t make up his mind about the yellow and
the red, so he made up some scene where I got to change it. So he made this big
scene out of me taking it out of my pocket and tying it around my neck. He’s so
detail-oriented that, when I threw the red one, he’d put the red thing on the
floor right where I threw it. It was there every single day — like, even if it
wasn’t “in the scene,” it was still there. But I liked the yellow one better.
Russell: It was really fun to watch an actor create on the day
and as the weeks go by, to see everybody do that. What Sam said is really true:
we kind of knew where we were; we found it in rehearsal. Jennifer had to… she
was creating an animal that you’re not seeing.
Jackson: Pretty feral. She had all that blood on her. You’re
puking in her mouth. That scene is horrific! “I like the character… no, fuck
Dern: I just wanted to say one thing at the
end: at the end of the day, for me and hopefully everybody else, the thing that
is most amazing and wonderful about Quentin Tarantino is his respect for what
went before. He’s a master. You go to work every day, and you just can’t
imagine letting him down.
MORE WITH SPOILERS BELOW
You get punched a lot, Jennifer. Kurt has to punch you. What’s the dynamic between the two actors?
Leigh: If any of 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. [Audience applauds] 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.
Russell: It’s the person who takes the hit that sells it. 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.
Leigh: Truly, we did have a love story; he cleans my face at that scene, and he laid there dead for me for three weeks. They had a full, body-cast dummy, and I could’ve never played that scene without him. It sounds crazy, but there’s a loss for her. Not only her brother, but this man who she connected with in some way across that journey.
Jackson: It was an amazing journey, watching Jen evolve into that character. We rehearsed, and when we got out there into the snow, I put my hands up and walk over to that stagecoach. She stared at me and said, “Howdy, nigger” from that window and blew her nose. I was standing there and I was like, “What the fuck?” She does that and is smiling at me, and I’m like, “All right, she’s crossed over into Quentinland now. Now we’re going to have fun.” We went into that stagecoach and it got real crazy. We all came to work, all us guys knew who we were. We were just these things, but she had to be all these different things throughout the film. We realized, right at the end, “Her brother was never the leader of that fucking gang. She might have told us she was, but she was the leader of that gang.” Nobody had the strength of character that she had in that room, to make people do things and manipulated people the way she did. She fooled everybody for a very long time, and you go, “Goddamn, she was thinking like that for the whole time?” But she was.
If you had to tell someone what this movie was about, what would you say?
Madsen: There’s nothing that it “is about.” It’s about everything, really, if you think about it. [Audience laughs] There’s nothing that’s not covered.
Goggins: That’s algebra.
Madsen: If there’s something in your brain you can think of that it is not about, you should tell me, because I don’t know.
Jackson: There’s a big thing going on between the Domergue gang that we don’t know about, and our company. There’s a learning curve in here, in terms of the Lincoln letter, what that means, and race relations of that time — and how they translate now. Walton’s character has never met a black man as smart as me, number one. And one that has some kind of compassion. What he knows about me is myth, and everything that he says, I am: I am a killer. I really didn’t care much about the old blue and gray in the war. I’ve been a slave, and I had that in my DNA. It was a chance for me to exact some kind of retribution, but, along the way, I developed some morality and some growth in terms of how I relate to other races and what I needed to do.
Madsen: I wanted the Lincoln letter to be real. The first time I read the script, I thought the Lincoln letter was real, and I wanted it to be real.
I think we all do.
Madsen: Yeah. And when he changed it, or he decided that it wouldn’t be, I was really disappointed; it really broke my heart.
Audience member: How much of the blood was squibs and post-production?
Jackson: He doesn’t do that. We had active squibs. The first time I shot Bruce, blood only flew across the room I think twelve feet. They increased the squibs so the next time I shot him, blood flew past me onto the camera, onto my shoulder, and all over my pants and shoes. I had seven squibs in my pants.
Russell: Roth got whacked good.
Roth: It’s very brief in the film, but it’s my fault: I removed a bit of the padding just to keep it a bit slimmer, and it was like being hit with a small version of Kurt, really.
Jackson: The first time I got squibbed, when we did the initial shot through the floor, the stunt guys squibbed me and padded me, but, somewhere along the way, my right nut wanted to see what was going on, so… [Audience laughs] I’m standing there and it’s kind of like, “What’s happening?”
Russell: If your squib is going that way, that’s not bad. What’s bad is what she had to do: they put the machine out there, and you’re getting it. That’s the part that’s tough.
Leigh: But I didn’t know they were dangerous or not fun. [Audience laughs]
Goggins: But the shot he did is extraordinary, and it’s not a trick shot — when Oswaldo shoots Mannix. There was no real bullet there, and the way they rigged that: the camera actually tripped the squib, so, when you hear the gunshot, your first reaction is to react to it. But this is a situation where we shot each other and you couldn’t fucking react until the camera panned all the way around, and it set your pack off. There was no trick — just an analogue way of doing something that people do digitally. It was extraordinary.
Roth: Your timing was off of your instinct, and, for a moment, he had to freeze in place and then get kicked off again. All in one shot. We did it in real time.
Madsen: You did that four times, didn’t you?
Leigh: I thought it was a rope pulling on him, the way he hits the wall, but it wasn’t. You just propelled yourself back.