It’s his eighth movie and Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight is already getting people talking. Kurt Russell and Tim Roth talk to Susan Griffin
Quentin Tarantino first burst onto the scene with 1992’s Reservoir Dogs, a heist movie boasting bloody scenes and a first-class soundtrack, two components that have become synonymous with the writer and director.
In the 20 years that followed, he’s helmed seven, all rather massive, movies - 1994’s iconic Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, Kill Bill: Vol 1 and 2, Death Proof, Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained - so it’s little wonder there was huge anticipation to see what his latest offering would be.
But The Hateful Eight, set in the years following the American civil war, was never destined to have its first airing on the big screen.
Instead, the film-maker organised a live stage reading at a downtown Los Angeles theatre.
“Quentin writes unlike anybody,” notes London-born actor Tim Roth, who appeared in both Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction.
“Bad dialogue is difficult to get your head around. It’s hard to learn, because you’re reacting against it in your mind somewhere. This stuff goes in like silk. He tends to write with you in mind, but even if you stepped into someone else’s role, it flows easily.”
Roth’s co-star Kurt Russell, meanwhile, who worked with the director on 2007’s Death Proof, insists he was unaware of the theatre event until the three-day rehearsal period, when he heard some whispers.
“I said, ‘Wait a minute, what are you talking about?’” recalls the 64-year-old, laughing. “And then I found out we were going to be doing this at a theatre with 1,600 seats for charity. I thought, ‘OK, this is good’.
“It was kind of special,” adds the Massachusetts-born star, who is in a long-term relationship with Goldie Hawn. “There was a lot of energy in the theatre and people were excited to hear it.”
Roth, who says he suffers from terrible stage fright, ultimately found the experience “extraordinary fun”.
“It was a mixture of film and theatre, the reading,” notes the 54-year-old. “I was exhausted by the end of it. Everyone was revved up, and excited and nervous. Quentin made a show of it, and it was a hot ticket.”
Unsurprisingly, with a standing ovation at the end of the reading, filming commenced in Telluride, Colorado, a mere eight months later. The movie starts with a stagecoach hurtling through a wintry landscape. On board is bounty hunter John ‘The Hangman’ Ruth (Russell), and his fugitive Daisy Domergue, portrayed by 53-year-old Jennifer Jason Leigh - a Tarantino newcomer who’s received a Golden Globe nomination for her role.
They’re literally chained together as they make their way to the town of Red Rock, where John will bring her to justice for murder.
“When John catches you, he makes sure you go to trial. You’re tried, convicted and then you hang,” explains Russell, who’s other movie credits include the likes of Eighties romcom Overboard, Backdraft and Silkwood. “He stays and watches to make sure you hang. He’s someone who has become well-known for having a penchant for law.”
Unlike Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), an ex-cavalryman and infamous bounty hunter, who prefers to bring his bounty in dead. Needless to say, the two meet.
When a blizzard takes hold, they seek refuge at a stopover, where they’re greeted by more unfamiliar faces, including cowboy Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), confederate General Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern), and Oswaldo Mobray, a British hangman, played by Roth.
Forced to wait the storm out, it remains to be seen whether the eight will make it through the night.
As ever with a Tarantino film, the movie holds your gaze from beginning all the way up to its innevitable bloody end.
Ennio Morricone, the legendary Italian composer who created an exclusive overture for the film, has reportedly remarked that he was “shocked” by the violence depicted in the movie.
But should anyone be shocked by Tarantino’s penchant for carnage at this point?
“I don’t find the violence in this movie shocking at all,” remarks father-of-three Roth. “It gives you punchlines, whereas in Reservoir Dogs, I do [think the violence is shocking]. It’s a different flavour [in this]. It’s surprising, rather than shocking.”
Russell adds: “Also in Reservoir Dogs, it’s not quite as cartoonish as it is in this movie, because that’s sort of his [Tarantino’s] style. It’s stylised.”
Some people have remarked that while the film’s racist portrayals have historical context, the misogynistic behaviour is inexcusable.
“It’s just the way these characters behave,” reasons Roth.
“The character Jennifer’s playing, she’s a very tough gal. She’s a killer,” adds Russell, whose character spends the first quarter of the film punching and berating Daisy. “At least that’s what bounty hunters bring in, so if I’ve made the mistake of bringing in the wrong bounty, then I would say there’s some claim for misogyny on his part.”
It was during rehearsals that he and co-star Leigh realised how the chain used to keep Daisy and John tied together “was really a big deal”, and that “we were going to have to deal with this thing”.
“During that period, we started to find this third character. For me there was John, for her there was Daisy, but together they’re a comedy team, or an old married couple,” explains Russell. “We wanted to find these places where she could fall asleep on my shoulder, where we could show that strange care.
“That thing where you’ve been together for a long period of time, or when you’ve been captured by someone, that sort of Stockholm syndrome. You’ll push it to the edges of where it can be, as you would with any relationship.”
Having both worked with Tarantino before, Russell believes the director “was more focused” on this project, while Roth noticed changes too.
“I was there at the beginning, and then [there was] a big, big, big gap,” explains the actor. “So when I came to our set, all the music stuff and the Big Jerry [the name of sex toy that’s produced so an embarrassing photo can be taken, should someone fall asleep on set], and the no phone policy, all of that was new to me.
“We shot Reservoir Dogs in five weeks - there was no mucking about, you just had to get on it, so I think it was much more contained at that point, because it was just a budgetary thing,” Roth continues of Tarantino. “Then he got to play, and he started to make his films as long as they should be.”
:: The Hateful Eight is released on Friday, January 8