BAFTA A Life in Pictures: Quentin Tarantino transcript
Francine Stock: Good evening and welcome to this BAFTA Life in Pictures. Sorry about the slight stumble on the way up there, it’ll be all fine from now on! This is the first time that Life in Pictures in London has come from somewhere outside BAFTA’s headquarters at 195 Piccadilly and it’s wonderful to be here in this great big auditorium and to see so many people, so welcome to everybody. Unbelievable as it may seem, it is twenty-seven years since Quentin Tarantino’s debut film Reservoir Dogs. Just to give you a little reminder, here is a quick montage of his Life in Pictures.
Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome director, writer, producer and actor Quentin Tarantino.
[Inaudible cheer from audience member]
Quentin Tarantino: Thank you.
FS: Well, a warm welcome indeed.
QT: Yes, very warm!
FS: So let’s go—we can’t in ninety minutes do the entire career but we can go back, we can assume, I was saying twenty-seven years since Reservoir Dogs and with Pulp Fiction as well, you established immediately after those two films, there was already an adjective, there was already ‘Tarantino-esque,’ that people were used to this extraordinary—they felt they knew who you were.
QT: You know it’s interesting because I had a situation that was very serendipitous, which was in a very short period of time everything that I had ever written up to that time all got made to one degree or another. So all the scripts I wrote back when I was even working at a video store, they all got made and luckily the first thing to get made was Reservoir Dogs which I also directed so I wasn’t just—so I was looked at as a director and not just a writer trying to be a director.
But then True Romance got made after that and at the same time I was doing Pulp Fiction, Natural Born Killers got made and then the first thing I ever got paid to write was From Dust Til Dawn, so by the time that I’d finished—the time before I’d started Jackie Brown, I literally had five things out there that had my voice out there, so that was really a kind of wild turn of events that ended up happening, that whatever idiosyncratic quality my writing had it was just out there for everyone to see.
FS: It would seem—it is extraordinary for a young filmmaker to have that run of success early on and that many endorsements of his talents; did you have any element of self-doubt early on there?
QT: I guess not really. Not really. But what I mean by that is—
FS: No that’s a good thing!
QT: Not about those first scripts, I either did it on the page or I didn’t so I was happy with them, or I wouldn’t have shown them to anybody. I couldn’t stand the movie Oliver Stone made out of Natural Born Killers but I liked my script.
FS: So by the time—because we’re going to have to race a little bit through
QT: I understand.
FS: We have—as I say people establish that you’ve done so well and you win all those awards then, the big international festivals, everybody says ‘this is great,’ and then Jackie Brown comes along which is a slight departure, it’s not quite what everyone is expecting because they think they know what it is: Are you trying to do something different at that point?
QT: No I was trying to do something extremely different because—look I was aware enough to know that Pulp Fiction was a phenomenon. So it wasn’t just like it did well, all right, it caught in a way that could never be planned. You didn’t know there was a way that it could catch; that’s like winning the lottery. And whenever you have a phenomenon, there’s no following that up. You can’t expect to duplicate, or maybe some people out there can, but you can’t expect to duplicate that kind of success. And also, one of the things that happened all through the ‘90s is all the journalists kept constantly predicting that I was going to be a flash in the pan; I went from flavour of the month to flavour of the year, to flavour of the decade, where it’s all just eventually going to go away.
So it was a conscious effort to not try to compete with Pulp Fiction. After Jackie Brown, every movie that I’ve done I’ve tried to kind of top the last one to one degree or another, even if it’s just for me. But that’s one I knew I couldn’t try to top. Don’t try to top this; this is not the one to go ‘aha’ after. So the idea was to go underneath it, to go underneath the success of Pulp.
FS: Which means, it was more linear in some ways, its kind of chronology—
QT: Well it is a little bit linear but to me it was… I actually had a different structure in mind that was in the movie and then I kind of took it out, and it’s still kind of there in the movie I just don’t make it obvious, where if you think about it the first three quarters of it is kind of focuses on five characters. If you watch the film, I had chapter headings in there initially where the first chapter was Ordell and so then you watch Ordell for a while, and then Jackie Brown and she’s introduced and you watch her for a while, then Max Cherry and this is his chapter, and then Lewis and Melanie get their own chapters. That’s still kind of there I just took out the chapter headings.
But yeah, it was more about the idea of doing something less sensation oriented, more character driven although it wasn’t an original and I always really loved Elmore Leonard’s stuff, I wanted to be like that but drastically character oriented. There’s a story going on there but it’s more about the characters than anything else. And then also kind of just dealing with—I thought it would be interesting for a guy who’s basically a young man to deal with older age. People who are kind of at the end of their life, the things they’re going to do they’ve probably already done and now they’re dealing with the consequences of that. But there also was a conscious effort to not blow your mind, and I don’t think I’ve had that feeling ever since. I didn’t want it to be this blow your mind, phantasmagorical experience; I wanted it to just be about the characters.
FS: And it is quite often about spending some time with the characters that you are getting to know them in that—
QT: I always considered it, and in some ways Hollywood is quite like that too; it’s a hangout movie. One of—two movies that I thought of in my mind when it comes to Jackie Brown was Rio Bravo—which actually has a really good story but part of the fun of that movie is just hanging out with those characters, and I’m a big fan of Sam Peckinpah’s movie Junior Bonner, the JB aspect of it works for me as well.
I like hangout movies, and my feeling about a hangout movie is that you watch it the first time and that’s just you taking in the story, but if you like the characters and you respond to them my hope is that maybe every three, four or five years just because it has nothing to do with the story but you just like the characters and you want to hang out with them. You know, you’re drinking wine with Jackie or you’re drinking screwdrivers with Ordell or taking bong hits with Melanie and Lewis. That was kind of the idea about it; every few years you could watch it again and you’re just like with your friends.
FS: OK well that’s a very good cue on which to see the first clip, which has—well we can talk maybe a little bit about the casting afterwards—
QT: Yeah, sure
FS: Very interesting casting. Can we see the clip from Jackie Brown please?
So great casting there. The obvious first question there I suppose is you get Robert De Niro… And then he doesn’t speak.
QT: Yeah I know! One of the things there that I thought was actually interesting and I was surprised that he wanted to do the character actually because of that… But it’s funny because I’m known for writing a lot of dialogue, and his character doesn’t get a whole lot of dialogue. But one of the things about De Niro is he’s one of the great character actors that there is, and one of the things about Lewis, I remember talking to him about this, is look you don’t have the dialogue that Sam Jackson has, you have all these scenes with Sam Jackson and he just never shuts up; that’s how Ordell gets his character across. You get your character across through body language. And I remember it’s even written in the script that Lewis had the body language of a pile of dirty clothes.
And I thought Robert did that perfectly; that is what you feel about Lewis. Even when you try to dress him up and they buy him that chic-y kind of ‘90s skater kind of ‘50s style shirts, he still looks like a pile of dirty clothes.
FS: And you shifted the whole location from Miami to somewhere you were familiar with. Why?
QT: Absolutely, yes. Well I don’t know anything about Miami other than Miami Vice. And also that was a very Elmore Leonard thing that was the period of time where it was either a Detroit book or a Miami book. Actually if it took place in Detroit I probably actually would have gone to Detroit because I liked his Detroit books better than his Miami, his Florida books.
But it was also what I could bring to it because I was—not only was I from Los Angeles, I was from the South Bay, so I placed it in the South Bay. There haven’t been that many movies that have taken place there; the last one before this movie that more or less kept it around the South Bay area was Tequila Sunrise and even that, they bring it up and you see them driving by the beach but it’s not dealing with the South Bay the way I was dealing with it. I could shoot it with—I know what I’m talking about. I lived there from fourth grade on; the Delamo Mall that a good portion of the movie takes place at, I worked at the Delamo Mall for a good couple of years and that was like… When Max Cherry goes to the movie theatre I saw so many movies from a little boy at the UA Delamo, literally where you see him walking out of the theatre. I saw so many movies there and I worked at the market research centre and that was the mall we all went to growing up. But also, there was also an aspect about it to, you know, make it a very lived in movie.
And I actually like the idea that it’s—Jackie is a flight attendant, that’s her job—pretty much everything in the movie takes place fifteen minutes away from LAX. I was very conscious about it being really realistic and I actually think there are a lot of really realistic things about Pulp Fiction if you really break it down, but even like Jackie’s apartment, when we went looking for apartment buildings and everything I was very conscious about the rent: How much the actual rent—what was the actual rent for that apartment? And if Jackie couldn’t afford it, I couldn’t shoot there. But I still had to have it big enough that I could bring a crew in there and a camera in there at the same time, which was kind of tough, but we pulled it off. Everything except for that one point with the Chris Tucker scene that takes place in Hollywood, everything in the movie takes place like fifteen minutes from any other location in the film.
FS: So that gave you a kind of discipline with it as well?
QT: Absolutely. As I said, I could shoot the South Bay with authority; I could shoot it like an expert, I knew that area. I could shoot that the way Rick Linklater can shoot Austin.
FS: OK so Jackie Brown is perhaps a slightly—I mean people don’t see quite so many references maybe perhaps because it’s a bit more personal, the references there to the geography as much as anything else. As we move on towards Kill Bill then we come to, I mean, scores and scores and scores of references.
QT: Well that’s a movie, movie, movie, movie, movie.
FS: That’s a movie made out of movies and other movies. That goes way back, doesn’t it, to conversations you and Uma Thurman had—
QT: Oh yeah that happened—the whole origin of that started on Pulp Fiction while we were shooting that. I had an idea for a revenge story, it wasn’t quite the martial arts epic that it was going to turn into, but it was the idea of a woman at her wedding—this was before I figured it all out—it was a woman… No, no it wasn’t that first… It was the idea—I remember talking to Uma Thurman that I wanted to do a revenge story where there would be a list of people that screwed her over like in a spaghetti Western and she’s going to track them down one by one and kill them and you would see her; it would start off with a group of dead people that have all been massacred and it looks like she’s one of the ones that’s massacred but it ends up that she’s alive and she’d be in the coma and she’d come out of the coma five years later and go on her roaring rampage of revenge. And Uma, it was her big contribution, Uma later gave a huge contribution but at this initial stage I was describing the whole thing to her, we were actually at a pubby kind of bar in Santa Monica, we’d shot all week long—at the end of the week when we had our shooting weeks we’d go out and we’d go drinking, we still do that—there was a place called The Daily Pint, it’s still there, and we were playing shuffleboard and we’re drinking these pints and I’m telling her the story about what I think would be a cool thing to do, and she said ‘what if when you see the character, my character there, she’s in a wedding dress?’ And that was the day the Bride was born.
FS: So the references, the main kind of focus of it is action movies and Japan and Korea and China and Hong Kong—
QT: In particular it was Shaw Brothers, Hong Kong, Kung Fu movies of the ‘70s, pop, ultra-violent Samurai movies of the late ‘60s / ‘70s from Japan. People are like ‘Kurasawa’ no
Kurasawa, Kenji Misumi, alright? Baby Cart at the River Styx, that’s what we’re looking for, and spaghetti Westerns and a little bit of horror too. So the idea, it was kind of grindhouse genre cinema that I loved, and to some degree or another all the members of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad represented a sub-genre in action cinema, and so the idea was as she’s going on this roaring rampage of revenge, this journey she’s going on she’s going through the history of B-movie genre cinema to get this revenge. For me this represents Blaxploitation cinema and Ren represents Japanese Samurai movies and Bud kind of represents spaghetti Westerns too, or I don’t know what Bud represents, but that was kind of the idea that she’s hopping from one genre to another to do all this to get her revenge and part of that was like Pulp Fiction, at that time and I don’t know how much it’s changed, maybe it has, maybe it hasn’t, maybe it’s more conscious on my part—was I used to really like the idea of making what I called ‘kitchen sink’ movies, because I didn’t think I’d be able to make as many movies as I’d want to make so I tried to make five movies every time I made a movie, and I think Pulp Fiction has that and Kill Bill definitely has that.
FS: Well the clip that we’re moving towards is The Bride and Gogo and I wonder if just before we see the clip if you could just give us an idea of—I mean there will be so many challenges you had to deal with here, but sort of the technical, choreographic—
QT: Well one of the things that had happened was I had gotten a lot of acclaim with both Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction; a lot of it was about the dialogue and a lot of it was about the style and the surface of the movie, the colours, the kind of pop aspect of it, pop art aspect of it. But it wasn’t the most aggressive filmmaking to me; I thought they were more aggressive than they were, I remember talking to my editor going ‘what the
- ***, man, I thought I was moving the camera all the time.’ And she goes ‘no, Quentin, that’s what everybody wants; you are moving it but it’s invisible. You aren’t seeing it, you’re not showing off. That’s not what you want?’ And I go ‘That’s not what I want!’
I want to show off! You watch a [inaudible] movie, he’s
- ***ing moving the camera all over the place, that’s what I wanted! That’s what I thought I did!
This is way too subtle! And the thing is growing up, and Kill Bill was my way of doing it and I’ve done it ever since in some way or another; with each new movie I try to deal with some genre or sub-genre I haven’t done before. And if I’m throwing my hat in that ring I don’t want to be a piker, I want to do it as good as anyone’s ever done it before. So to me, especially at that time, the greatest directors to me were action directors. They were the real directors. I mean everybody else—not to say those are the only movies I like, I like all kind of movies. You know, Eric Rohmer is a terrific director and I’ve always really liked his stuff but, but, when it comes to movies and cutting images together and getting that—giving an audience that feeling that you get at the cinema that really only movies can do, that a play can’t do and paintings can’t do, the combination of sound and this, that and the other—that’s action cinema. That’s visceral cinema.
This was my attempt to try to do that and I wanted, you know, when it came to the house of blue leaves fight in that movie, it had to be as good as the ride of the Valkyrie scene in Apocalypse Now or I’d completely failed. I even remember when Chiaki Kuriyama came in and I realised I was going to hire her, I showed her in the office the helicopter scene from Apocalypse Now and I go ‘this is what we’re gonna do, this is what you’re gonna have to be prepared to do.’
And if you’re going to actually show that scene, the scene with Gogo, to this day that is to me one of my favourite things I’ve ever done. I even think in the whole entirety of both Kill Bills, that is the purest action scene in it because that was jumping off—where all the other ones are jumping off, are a very Samurai thing, O-Ren is very Samurai-ish and then the house of blue leaves the fight with the Crazy 88 is very Shaw Brothers-y and stuff… The Gogo fight is a Japanese anime, but real life. And I thought we did that—I still think that’s my best action scene.
FS: I don’t think anybody could have queued it up better. Let’s see the clip.
QT: Holds up! It’s funny because Chiaki holds a special place to me in my heart as far as her performance there; I think Margaret Qualley in Hollywood holds the same place—I’ve been lucky, I’ve worked with some of the greatest actors of my time and I’ve been very, very lucky about that, but there’s something in particular about those two young ladies’ performances where it’s like, they just perfectly understood their character; they knew what was supposed to be there, it was unerringly perfect. Chiaki knew exactly who Gogo was, knew who she was, knew how she had to look, knew how she had to do it. She couldn’t do it wrong because she knew it so well, knew exactly what it needed to be and Margaret had the same thing, this really kind of unique quality about them; they literally stepped off the page. I’ve had other actors do magnificent jobs, but it was through the acting of the performance that they stepped of the page; they came fully formed I think from the reading of it, knowing exactly what I wanted and what needed to be there.
FS: And is it true that maybe even on the day of shooting that you might change the choreography as it were, for Uma Thurman?
QT: I would change it every
- **ing day. We spent three months teaching Uma the house of blue leaves fight so she had the entire choreography down, but then she got resilient to the fact that—she hated the fact that we were changing it, but she had it so down that I could throw things at her and the Master, I choreographed it with him, we liked changing it. There was the base of it all but then we would fight—and we did it in order just a little piece at a time, and so it was… Uma wanted to just spend three months teaching her a dance thing and then let her do that dance, but then she actually got so good at it that we weren’t just stuck to the one thing. So it’s like we’d spend two weeks—it took us eight weeks to do the house of blue leaves—so we’re shooting on the glass floor for two weeks then it’s like I’m ***ing sick of this goddamn thing, alright, let’s go in the hallway. So then we start figuring it out in the hallway, we’d send Uma away and we’d figure it out what we wanted to do then we brought her in and showed her what we wanted to do and then she did it! So we’re in the hallway for a week and then ‘oh I’m bored of this let’s get back on the dance floor, now let’s get upstairs.’ But that was great; I think that also—it wasn’t just a big musical dance thing that you teach everybody the dance and it’s about recording it: It was a living, breathing fight that we were able to do, and because we did it in order and we didn’t have to worry about matching anything—you know, we’re shooting the fight as The Bride is fighting her way through the thing, so it was easy to just constantly recreate what had just happened and there was nothing in the way and because it was all in order it wasn’t like ‘oh we can’t do this because we don’t know what’s going to happen to her costume,’ which is a big deal especially when there’s blood all around, so we could always match whatever had been done at the last moment.
FS: So the language, especially in Volume One is mainly physical, isn’t it? Volume Two you get a little bit more—and obviously you get Bill’s famous Superman speech, but I’m interested in the difference because you have all the way through your career managed to make language so threatening and so funny and threatening at the same time. Were you always aware that it can turn so quickly?
QT: I think I became more aware of it deeper into my career; it became a little bit more of a methodology later, at least as far as using big long dialogue scenes as a mode of suspense, almost a level of Hitchcockian suspense by how much you can stretch the rubber band during a dialogue scene. At this point I don’t think I was thinking that way; of course I was relying on dialogue because that was easy for me, you know? And that’s why I was so proud of the first part of Kill Bill was to get away from that for a while and really test my, you know not rest on my laurels and test my visual storytelling.
It was later that I started—frankly to tell you the truth even though I’d had lots of long dialogue scenes before that, it wasn’t until Inglourious Basterds that it actually started becoming a methodology as opposed to worrying about how long a scene is, whether it be the basement scene in Inglourious Basterds or whether it be the farmhouse scene in Inglourious Basterds; rather than worrying about how long it is or being freaked out by the page count when you read those scenes, well, theoretically, as long as the scene holds then the longer the better. As long as you can stretch the rubber band suspense-wise, the better the scene will be. You just have to have the confidence that it can stretch that far.
FS: I think maybe we should go straight into the clip, then, from Inglourious Basterds. We’re going to see the bit where, exactly, where Michael Fassbender is of course the British agent pretending to be a German, and is he being found out, and he’s with another double agent; but then you add on top of the dialogue you’ve then got this extra game that they’re all playing, the thing where they have somebody else’s name and they have to guess who it is and there are a few little jokes about German filmmakers. Anyway, let’s see the clip from Inglourious Basterds, please.
QT: ‘I grow weary of these monkeyshines!’
FS: You must—I always imagine you have such fun writing, but maybe it’s complete hell writing it—
QT: No! God, no. Fun, so much fun. It’s funny, I was never worried about the opening scene, about how long it was, although it seemed like the first act of a play. It was so obvious it held, and up until that time my favourite scene that I’d ever written—the scene I thought I had yet to top was a scene in my very first script True Romance, the Sicilian scene between Dennis Hopper and Christopher Walken. I always thought that was the top of the mountain in my writing up until that time, and when I finally did the farmhouse scene,
I thought I’d finally topped it. And I did it years before I did Kill Bill and I couldn’t finish it, not the scene but the story, but I always knew I’d go back to it because I had to use that scene. So then I start writing the rest of the script and then they get down to the basement and that was never my plan, to do it and make that big of a do about that sequence, but I just kept writing it and it just kept going on and it kept going on, and it kept going on. By the time I finished it, it was about twenty pages or twenty-two pages or something like that. At some point when I’m writing I’m like ‘
- ** I can’t believe how long this is,’ and I’m just at the middle of it, they’re still playing the King Kong ***, and the thing I was completely confident with the farmhouse scene… When I finished it I looked at it and it was twenty-two pages right in the middle of the movie, starring a bunch of people we’ve just met for the most part, you know, not Aldo, not Landa, you know, but these other characters. I was like this is kind of crazy, but I think it holds. I think it works, I really think it holds. Am I crazy? Am I delusional? Am I just in love with my own words? I think it holds, and not only do I think it holds,
I think it’s more suspenseful the longer it is. That’s what I mean with that metaphor of stretching the rubber band. If there’s more band to stretch, the better it is… If you can pull it off. I think it ended up working; I didn’t have doubt but there was a slight little bit of ‘am I delusional?’ but then I was like ‘I’m not delusional, I’m a pretty good judge of my own stuff, I’m not going to spend the time putting it out there unless I really like it.’ That was the only time in my whole career I was like ‘does this work as good as I think it does?’ And it’s all in German!
FS: That’s showing off on showing off, really! The whole question of the premise of Inglourious Basterds, I mean I know it’s also an homage to all those war films that you love, is that idea that you are doing something in a film that’s rewriting history a little bit.
QT: Well that didn’t happen until the very end, that was never the plan. I don’t know if I even had a plan, I had a mission they would always go on. When I started writing the script I thought they would go on the mission far sooner than they did. I thought it was going to be a mission movie; well we do eventually get to that, but the whole changing history didn’t happen until I got right up there.
So I never—one thing I’ve learned as time has gone on is I can figure out, I can make somewhat of a half-ass structure thing, or ‘this scene will happen and that scene will happen and this will happen and that will happen’… I can do that for the first half of a story and in some way or another I do that for a lot of a story, but the first half it kind of makes sense. The second half, it’s silly to do that before you’ve started writing because by the time you get to the middle of the story, well now you know the characters in such an intimate way that you can’t even begin to know who they are before you start writing. By the time you get to the middle of the story you are them, they are you, you’re in the middle of it.
So usually from the middle point on the characters take it and then they write the story. That’s not quite as ‘trusting the wind named Mariah’ as it sounds because I am also dealing in genre. By the nature of genre there is a structure allowed to it, and the thing is I’m trying to transcend the genre, but I’m not trying to make an art film meditation on a genre; I’m trying to transcend it but I want to deliver the goods, 100% of a genre movie.
For instance, at the end of Kill Bill I figured she would kill Bill, but exactly how she would kill Bill I didn’t know. I knew eventually I was going to get to a mission in Inglourious Basterds, but exactly what would happen I didn’t 100% know. With that story it was a situation where by the time I get to the end of it, well not the end—now they’re in the movie theatre and everything’s going on, I was a little surprised that the mission started going better than I thought it was going to go. I’m like ‘holy
- **, this is kind of working out for them, what the ** am I going to do now? This is kind of going better than I thought it was going to go. I mean for the Basterds.’ So what am I going to do now? Well I’m not going to do the whole thing where, you know, they kill Hitler and you find out it’s a double, I hate that ***. I hate it when they do that in The Eagle Has Landed. I’m not going to have them sneak Hitler out the back door, I’ll never shoot that shot, so what am I going to do?
That was back in the days when I used to write all night. Now I kind of write a lot during the day, but then I wrote for the most part at night and I thought ‘what am I going to do?’ I’m pacing around my bedroom, it’s four in the morning, I’m playing music like ‘what am I going to do?’ and then all of a sudden I just had an idea and it was like ‘kill him.’ It works, they kill him. They kill him?! How do they do that? It’s your movie, you can do anything you
- ***ing want!
Isn’t that your philosophy, Quentin, that you can do anything you want in your movie? Yeah, I guess that is my philosophy. So what I did was I took a piece of paper and took a Sharpie and filled up the entire piece of paper with ‘Just
- ***ing kill him.’ And I put it on my bedside table and I went to bed. And I figured when I woke up the next morning I would look at the piece of paper and I would know whether it was a good idea or a bad idea. And I woke up the next day and I thought it was a great idea.
FS: And of course it happened in a cinema, so through the power of cinema—
FS: I mean that also emerges, the idea of the way history might have been, that recurs doesn’t it?
QT: As wild as the movie is, I don’t think what happens in the movie is incredibly far-fetched. I wanted it to be plausible; it wanted it to be plausible in so far as if my characters really had existed in real life, this could have happened. That was how I was approaching it.
FS: OK, we’re going to have to, because time will push us on now, to Django.
QT: Sure, sure.
FS: To Django Unchained of course Django originally. People always say when you’re making a period film there is a reason you’re making it at that time. OK Django Unchained you loved the 1966 Django for a long time; why do you think at that particular moment it seemed like the right thing to do?
QT: Well it wasn’t just Django per se, that movie, it was the spaghetti Western genre in the big picture, but Sergio Corbucci’s films in the miniature. What I meant by that is this, I had started writing about Sergio Corbucci, his Westerns, and part of what I really like about Western directors is all the great Western directors kind of create their own version of the West that’s theirs: Peckinpah’s West is his West, Ford’s West his, Howard Hawks’ West is his, Budd Boetticher’s is theirs. Corbucci had his West; his heroes, his protagonists, his antagonists and his West that he created, and to me his West was the cruellest, the most violent and most pitiless West that there was, even to such a degree that compared all the other Western directors, his antagonists, he doesn’t really do heroes he has avengers maybe, but his heroes could be a bad guy in another Western; his heroes don’t rule his stories. His bad guys rule his stories; no one can function their archetypal role except in response to the villains. Part of the aspect about that, and not because he ever said it, I’ve just read into it, was because he lived through World War Two, that all of his Westerns were a response to the fascism that he experienced living under the Brown Shirts in World War Two. So every single one of his Western villains were either absolute representations of fascism or metaphorical representations of fascism.
I spent a lot of time writing about that and breaking his movies down with that hypothesis going on. No one’s waiting for this book and I’m killing myself writing it and that’s what I’m doing in between things, I would always write this cinema stuff and that’s what I’m doing in the meantime and that’s usually what leads to the next movie. What happened on that case was I’m writing, I’m writing, I’m writing, and at some point it’s all just theory, you know, so I was thinking ‘hmm, at the end of the day I don’t really know that Sergio Corbucci was thinking all these things I’m investing so much into, but I know I’m now thinking them and I can do it.’ So I go and take that hypothesis of what Sergio Corbucci was, and what would be the American equivalent of that? And I figured being a slave in the antebellum South would be the equivalent of a Corbucci West for an American, and that was my starting off point.
FS: So in terms of the way that that period has been treated or is still treated in current discourse in America, what were you trying to get away from or what were you trying to break through?
QT: Well two things, basically. I wanted to break the dusty, historical slavery epic that’s shown to a classroom during Black History Month kind of quality that I think pretty much every one of them had up until that point. I wanted to create—there have been black cowboys in movies, but they always take place more around the time of the Apache wars, they always take place after slavery. I wanted to make a black cowboy hero who was a slave during slave times and who became a bounty hunter. I wanted to create a real black cowboy hero for young black males to watch. My hope for the film, and I think this has happened, is that I hoped it would be a seminal film for black fathers to watch with their young sons at the right age. When it comes to the right time.
But I think the right age is twelve, alright? Or eleven. But that would be a bonding experience for them to have together. Basically I wanted to—there needed to be foot-to-ass. I wanted the black character to have a bloodbath against the white people, what I did not want was like the way Roots ended where you have the Lloyd Bridges character who’s done all this horrible
- *** and now they tie him up and George Stanford Brown, the character you’ve been watching for the last three episodes, is now going to whip him and then throws the whip in the dirt and says ‘no, no, no that would make me as bad as you.’ No, whip his ass!
And when you watch that film in black audiences in America, they tore the goddamn theatre down during those scenes. Which is what I wanted.
FS: The clip we’re going to see is actually on the plantation, Candyland, that we’re going to see with Leondardo Di Caprio—we’ll talk maybe a little bit about that in a moment, and so we’re going to have—Django, the original Django himself we’re going to see in this as well. Play the clip, please.
QT: ‘Polynesian pearl divers’
FS: Where did that come from?
QT: Actually that’s from the Fritz Lang movie The Blue Gardenia.
FS: The idea of having Di Caprio in there, it’s so sort of delicious while being—again it’s that combination of the humour and the threat.
QT: That was a situation that kind of developed after the fact, after I wrote the script. When I wrote the script I wrote it for an older character, and actually—frankly, to tell you the truth when I wrote it originally I wrote it for Bruce Dern to play Calvin Candy, but I’m always doing this, I’m writing a character realising I’m writing it for something they did twenty years ago. So it didn’t hit me until after I was finished that Bruce Dern was older; I was writing him the way he was in Diggstown. So I’m like that’s a little older than I want Calvin to be, but he’s still a good model for it.
So I wrote it for a guy who was like fifty-five, sixty, something like that. I didn’t want him to be seventy-four, I wanted him to be sixty-something. Leo read the script and wanted to get down and talk to me and I’m like ‘really he wants to play Calvin Candy?’ So I went down to his house and we talked about it for a while and we had a really good conversation around it, but it was such a drastic change that I didn’t say yes right away. We had a really—we talked for two hours about it and I was like ‘let me go away and think about this, this is just such a radical change from the way I’d seen it so let me just think about that.’
So I went away and started thinking about it and I didn’t want to just get seduced by the idea of Leo being in it, I wanted to really—because it would have been very easy to be seduced by the idea of Leo being in it. There was a whole ‘am I ruining my character by doing that? What am I sacrificing? What am I giving up?’ What am I gaining, and what am I giving up? And if you just change it because you like this actor, deep into the story you go ‘oh this doesn’t work anymore.’ So I really put it under the microscope in that way and I started loving the idea because rather than an older plantation guy that had been doing this for a long time which is what I think you would imagine and what you’ve seen before, I kind of thought of it as seeing him like a boy emperor, a Caligula of the antebellum South. And the idea that he’s like a fourth generation slaver, fourth generation cotton man; his father’s father’s father was a cotton man; his father’s father was a cotton man; his father was a cotton man. Now the plantation business of cotton has done so well that he doesn’t have to be a cotton man; that takes care of itself and he doesn’t have to give a
- *** about that, that just actually pays the bills and it’s already taken care of, or actually Stephen’s taking care of all that for him. So he can just give into hedonistic pleasures, and so that’s why he invests in his hobby of Mandingo fighting.
So he’s this boy emperor, this Caligula, but that also makes sense in a plantation, because his property could consist of twenty miles, or even thirty miles or forty miles of land, maybe—well maybe not fifty miles of land, but at least twenty or thirty miles. To me, that’s almost like a little country unto itself and if you have that many slaves they would be your subjects, he actually owns them. So he literally is an emperor on this plantation as opposed to other businessmen involved in that kind of business, it’s not a business for him. So the idea of just engaging in his hedonistic pleasures, the women, the candy, the sex, the violence, the pitting the slaves against each other, the blood sport of it all; I thought it was fantastic and I’d never seen that before, and so that’s to me what Leo brought to that. It became a whole new thing of ‘I’m not losing anything, I’m gaining so much.’ That was just the happenstance of him wanting to do it.
FS: When you were talking earlier about how you didn’t want this story to be, that you didn’t want it to be the kind of thing that was shown to schools, do you think that Django Unchained had the impact you wanted on audiences?
QT: Absolutely did. The way it entered pop culture lexicon, the way his name was brought up for like the next three years in big ways; every once in a while stand-up comedians would refer to Barack Obama as President Django, you know. To just say the name Django conjured up an entire mythos.
FS: We’re going to move on to The Hateful Eight, and from that point there is a reason why you’re making a period film or a genre film now that is relating to the present, so you make a Western that’s set in a frozen area, that’s kind of a Western but it’s partly one of those Agatha Christie stories where everybody ends up in a house, and it’s a little bit like a J.B. Priestly morality play as well because there’s a reason everybody’s there. So what were you trying to drill down into about the contemporary world when you did that?
QT: Well you know it’s like, that ends up happening in the movie—that wasn’t necessarily my intention writing on page one. Once again, once I got to know the characters, all of a sudden this red state, blue state fight that was happening so much in America started playing itself out in the confines of that log cabin. I don’t think I was thinking about that on page one, but especially since it was propelled so much by dialogue you couldn’t ignore it; in the stagecoach they have just literally political discussions through the thing. The jumping off point of it was—the title was not meant to be metaphoric, it was meant to be literal. Again going a little bit back to Corbucci, there was not meant to be a hero, there was meant to be eight hateful people. and by the way there’s nine people in there but I don’t consider OB, he’s not hateful so he’s not in the title. He’s not part of that hateful eight.
The idea was supposed to be that any one of these people in another movie could be the bad guy. There’s some you hate less than others but they’re all pretty
- **ed up, they all do pretty ***ed up things, but the idea of taking these eight scoundrels and then trapping them in a room together and just seeing what happens if they’re trapped in a room together and can’t leave. And then I’d never done a mystery before, and now there’s a couple mysteries coming out and a couple that have come out since, but before that there hadn’t been any done in a long, long time. So I kind of liked the idea of throwing my hat in that Agatha Christie ring a little bit to see how I might pull it off.
And then again I tried when writing it to do it in a different way. I didn’t do the mystery thing of you figure it all out and write it backwards. When I started writing it, I didn’t know who poisoned the coffee. Not only that, if there is a lead character it’s Sam Jackson’s character Major Warren, so as time went on I had to figure out who all these other characters were, basically so I could talk to the actors about them. But in that first draft, the first draft I wrote, I didn’t want to know anything more about the characters than Major Warren did. So they’re presenting a façade of themselves, I didn’t want to know what was underneath the façade, I wanted to literally not know any more than Major Warren did and then I would discover it as we went.
Part of the idea of that—I wanted to write this script differently than anything I’d done before, and what I tend to do is I write so long on something that by the time I’m done I’m just happy I’m done. Usually I finish a script and say I finish on Wednesday, usually by the next Wednesday we’re opening offices to make it, we go right into production or pre-production. I wanted to do something different, I wanted to write three drafts of this script. I wanted to be able to take the story in a few different ways to test out the material, so I wrote the first draft and that was that draft and I was happy with that, but then I wanted to write a second draft and so for instance I knew I was never going to use the second draft but just to give an example I had an idea of how I wanted to kill Daisy but then I started thinking about after I’d finished that first draft ‘hmm, I don’t know if I know Daisy well enough to kill her that way. I’m going to write a second draft that I’m never going to shoot, but I’m going to go through the process of writing it, that’s all from Daisy’s perspective, and then I’ll know if I can kill her in that way.’ So then I wrote a whole draft from Daisy’s perspective, and that made me know her really well. Then I really, really got to know her and knew she was a despicable person and I could do that to her. Then the third draft would be what I did.
But for instance in the first draft I introduced the Lincoln letter in the first draft but the whole revelation about what happens—I’m setting it up, I’m not going to ruin it—but the whole revelation about what happens in the Lincoln letter is not in the first draft. It’s brought up, the whole conversation when he reads it is there. Now I knew, when my agent read it he said ‘I think you need to do a little more of the Lincoln letter, that’s a really good idea,’ and I go ‘oh I know but I’ve got two more drafts to do.’ I didn’t want to jam it all into that first draft, it was a real process to happen. So I know I’m going to deal with this Lincoln letter business but I want it to just really slowly, slowly, slowly unfold—the way you would write a novel or something.
FS: Which is again the perfect cue to see a clip from The Hateful Eight.
QT: That last line! ‘Got me on that stagecoach, didn’t it?’
FS: So there we have that terrific speech from Samuel L. Jackson’s character, which is also very topical at the time that it comes out, and you are being quite publicly, perhaps more overtly political at the time.
QT: Yeah I’d never been political in my work before and that just started coming out in the characters and it was going on at the time, it was going on with me, and it didn’t feel shoehorned in there; it seemed organic to both the story and the piece. Even where America was then, i.e. The movie, and where America was then when I made it.
FS: Do you think there’s been much change since then?
QT: No I actually frankly to tell you the truth I think Hateful Eight is prescient; it’s actually more so if anything. I actually think it would do better if it came out now.
FS: It’s interesting, do you think people like to see contemporary things reflected in that way? What do you think is the effect of it?
QT: I think it’s something that Westerns have in spades, the idea that—in the whole history of cinema Westerns reflected decades that they were made in. The Westerns of the ‘50s represented an Eisenhower view of America; the Westerns of the late ‘60s represented counter-cultural change; the Westerns of the ‘70s, it was a very disillusioned time so it was the anti-myth. The ‘70s Westerns were tearing down, a lot of the genre films of the ‘70s were anti-genre. They were going to show you the tarnished bull
- *** that the movies of the ‘30s and the ‘40s and the ‘50s presented. Billy the Kid was not Johnny MacBrown, not this cool kid, he was a psychotic little punk; White Earp was not a strong man of action, he was a fascist cop; Jesse James was not Tyrone Power, he was Robert Duvall in the Great Minnesota Raid. Then you get to the ‘80s with Silverado and everything, that’s a very Yuppie Western. So I think there was an aspect of them reflecting the decades they were made in, more than any other genre out there.
FS: So when you come to make Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, what is that reflecting, then?
QT: Well you know I’ve got to say, the film has done really well as far as critics—I mean there are people who don’t like it as with all my stuff, but it’s don’t pretty well as far as critical reviews, especially here, frankly.
But people are writing a whole lot of stuff that I wasn’t exactly thinking about, to a degree, or making a lot of assumptions about where I’m coming from, that it kind of pisses me off frankly, to tell you the truth a little bit. It pisses me off because it’s very narrow-minded thinking as far as I’m concerned. For instance, I’ve had so many people talk about ‘well, it’s not necessarily a bad thing but this is rather a right-wing movie to some degree, and this is a very conservative movie to some degree. As Quentin is getting older you would have thought he would be more down with the counter-culture, but it would appear Quentin hates hippies.’
That’s a bunch of bull
- ***. I do not have a lot of love for the Manson Family, alright, but that’s not the same thing—
as hating the ‘60s counterculture. I would have actually loved to be a part of the ‘60s counterculture. But it’s very narrow-minded thinking for the simple fact that, yeah, Rick Dalton feels that way, but it doesn’t mean that’s the way that I feel. That’s Rick Dalton. He’s like ‘
- *** those hippies. Line them up against a wall and shoot them all.’ He’s just talking hyperbole—that’s actually a line that he had that I cut out—
He doesn’t mean it for real, that’s just bull
- *** hyperbole but the thing is that’s the way Rick thinks, it doesn’t mean it’s the way I think, but that’s just me writing Rick. That’s being Rick.
Then they’re like ‘Oh well Quentin must have problems with Millennials,’ and I’m like well one, I don’t think there’s any group of young people more opposite than Millennials and the hippies than the counterculture, but people are saying I’m equating hippies and the counterculture with Millennials and obviously have a problem with it. None of that
- *** is true! When I have Rick Dalton—you kind of know where I’m coming from, people know the kind of movies I like—when I have Rick Dalton say ‘spaghetti Westerns are horrible,’ you should know really clearly he is not speaking for me.
FS: So central to the whole thing is the relationship between Rick and his body double stuntman Cliff. This is such a tender, lovely study of maturity—their political views aside—
QT: Even Cliff doesn’t feel the way Rick does, he’s a little bit down with the counterculture a little bit; when he flashes the peace sign, he means it.
FS: That’s interesting; do you think people are trying to find some overt political message thing?
QT: Yeah I do, yeah. It’s a very political time, especially in America right now because of our President and everything, I mean I have never watched the news like I have in these past four years, to a disturbing degree. I’m used to—you go through the two-year election cycle and then you go to sleep, you go to sleep for another two years and then little by little waking up and yeah. It’s a very political time right now.
Where I do think there’s a connection, and to the positivity of the movie and its effect; we do seem to be going through a cultural change which was also evident in 1969 that was going on, and that I actually think there are actually parallels between the story that I’m telling there and what’s happening now. And all to the better of the film and the experience of watching it, but that wasn’t why I did it, I mean that’s just lucky. That just happens to be the temperature right now that works out, however, I came up with the story a long time ago; if I’d committed to doing it I could have done it six years ago and that wouldn’t necessarily be the case, but it’s the same damn story. I started writing this a long, long time ago; the Al Pacino scene I wrote six years ago.
FS: Well let’s see, we’ll see the clip now, which is our final clip from Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.
QT: Was I not supposed to use the f-word in here, because you were cutting out the f-word in the clips?
FS: Well, bit late for that! I’ve received no guidance on that beforehand.
So Rick, as you say, he’s an anachronism—
QT: Well I found that really fascinating, that thing about both the character and that type of actor because I’d never seen it dramatized before and there’s a whole group of actors—Ed Burns was one, George Harris was one, Vince Edwards was one; they were guys who came out in the late ‘50s, early ‘60s with TV shows and became quite popular for a while and then they transitioned to movies and some of those guys were able to—not very many of them—were able to pull off a TV to movies transition. Not many of them, the three big ones being Clint Eastwood, Steve McQueen and James Garner. But a lot of them didn’t; they had their shot and they were quite popular for a while on television, but then the movie careers didn’t quite pan out and either they made their way back into television or into B-movies or they went to Italy and started making spaghetti Westerns. The point being though, was they had grown up in a Hollywood, had learned their bones in a Hollywood that by 1969 didn’t exist anymore. But they never saw it changing, almost similar to the way Napster changed music forever; anybody that came out ten years before Tower Records closed, that was one music industry and then there was another music industry.
So Rick Dalton came from a whole list of young leading men that spent their whole careers running pocket combs through their pompadours. Not only that, they were taught a bill of goods—well you have to be likeable, people have to like you, why would they have you in their living room unless they liked you? So that’s what they thought was the way to be; they were also taught to be macho he-men kind of guys, and that was being a leading man and that was how you became a leading man in those days.
All of a sudden it changes in 1967 and into ’68 and ’69, and now all of a sudden overnight those guys are old-fashioned. Overnight they represent a whole different era and now all of a sudden they are not the leading men anymore, now it’s young, shaggy-haired androgynous types. So it’s not Vince Edwards and Ed Burns and George Harris, now it’s Michael Seresin and Christopher Jones and Peter Fonda, young Michael Douglas—basically the hippie sons of famous people, they were the leading men of the era.
FS: But of course we’re in a great period of change again now, things have moved so fast—we were talking about it’s twenty-seven years since you began with your first film. Even in the past five to ten years, entertainment has moved back to television for a lot of directors as well. Is that something you think will change the way you work in the future?
QT: Well, hmm, that’s interesting. Here’s an interesting aspect about that: Look I could easily have written a five-hour version of Hollywood and done it as a five-hour mini-series—I definitely had that much handwritten material to do and we shot almost enough to do it, or a four-hour version. But that’s not what I wanted to do, I wanted to play in the movie theatre and have the movie theatre experience, but I had that idea for Inglourious Basterds. The reason I put it away the first time was that it was just too damn long and because I was like really inspired just like ‘more and more and more.’ Then eventually I was like ‘what,’ I’m too big for movies? Is that where I’m coming from?’
So I put it away and then when I took it out again to start doing it, I thought of doing it as a miniseries and that was going to be my plan: It was going to be a six-hour miniseries and I kind of plotted it out to see this episode would be this, that would be that
FS: So you might yet?
QT: Frankly look I definitely could, especially if I’m only going to do ten movies, so the idea of actually—this whole idea the way people are doing surveys now is something that’s been in my head since the ‘90s. Especially something all written by me and all directed by me, I don’t know if I want to spend nine months doing something like that though.
But I do have an idea for a series but it wouldn’t quite be that big, that epic a thing.
FS: But there will be a tenth Quentin Tarantino film?
QT: There will be a tenth, yes. I have no idea what it’s going to be though.
FS: But there will be ten.
QT: It’s going to be a little bit down the line. When I finished—like I said normally when we finish a script we pretty much go right into production on it; when I finished Hollywood I wasn’t ready to start. Part of the reason I wasn’t ready to start it was because I had a plan. I was just really plugged into writing at that point. So I finished Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, finished that script, put it aside, and then I wrote a play. And then I wrote a five-episode TV series, so those are probably going to be what I—and now I’m writing a book and hoping I’ll be finished with it in three months or something like that.
So the idea will be is hopefully by March I’ll be finished with the book and then theoretically maybe I’ll see the play and radically I’ll do the TV show and then I should figure out—then by that point I’ll be thinking about maybe what I’ll do for the tenth movie.
FS: Wow. Well given you are so busy and you give so few interviews we are so grateful to have had your time this evening. Quentin Tarantino everyone.
QT: This was a lot of fun, thank you very much. Thank you guys.
Please note this is an edited transcript