The new documentary “QT8: The First Eight” is full of behind-the-scenes stories from the sets of Quentin Tarantino’s movies, and no collaborator is more revealing than Eli Roth. The director worked with Tarantino on their double feature “Grindhouse” and later played Donny “The Bear Jew” Donowitz in Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds.” It turns out, Tarantino’s prep work for “Basterds” was demanding, with the actors playing the title group expected to answer questions about their characters’ backstory on the spot.
As revealed in “The First Eight,” Roth remembered the movie’s first rehearsal. “We all sat around and everybody had their scripts and lines,” Roth said. “Quentin said to close our scripts and asked us who we were. You had to go on and on and on about your backstory. [Quentin asked], ‘How did you feel when he joined the Bastards?’ There was one person who didn’t know, and he wasn’t there the next day. That guy was an extra. I was really training for it.”
Even an actor tackling a non-speaking role had to fully understand his character’s backstory, which reinforces just how much Tarantino expects all of his actors to be familiar with the people they’re playing. Roth said the encounter proved just how serious of an endeavor “Inglourious Basterds” would be during filming.
For the The Bear Jew’s iconic introductory scene, Roth worked out off camera right before filming so he could appear as muscular and brooding as possible when he walked out into the shot. The scene finds the character emerging from a tunnel to bash a Nazi’s head in with a baseball bat. Tarantino deliberately kept pushing off filming of the scene in order to piss Roth off, which Roth didn’t know at the time. He grew furious at Tarantino’s endless days. By the time Tarantino actually rolled camera on the scene, Roth had achieved the director’s desired emotional state.
“Inglourious Basterds” was recently named Tarantino’s best movie in an IndieWire’s critics survey. “The film isn’t only the most entertaining Tarantino film, it’s also the one that best illustrates the primacy of moving pictures, and their unique power to change the world in their image,” IndieWire’s David Ehrlich wrote. “Tarantino deploys similar tricks to different ends with ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,’ but it still feels more radical and resonant here.”