At 52, Quentin Tarantino might be America’s number-one auteur, the rock star director who put a shot in cinema’s veins with Reservoir Dogs back in 1992. But even now he's still the goofy video store assistant – the big kid with an encyclopaedic knowledge of cinema, who through sheer force of will succeeded in living out his movie-making dream.
Today, the Pulp Fiction and Django Unchained director is holding court in a Beverly Hills hotel. Tarantino – if you didn’t already know – is a talker. He’s as quick as a round of machine-gun fire on the subject of his latest film, The Hateful Eight, a Western set in post-Civil War Wyoming where a snowstorm traps a random group of people, including bounty hunters played by Kurt Russell and Samuel L Jackson, together under one roof and challenges their politics and prejudices (there will be blood!).
When a draft script leaked early in 2014, a furious Tarantino threatened to pull the plug on the film. Nearly two years later, his layered take on race in America is, if anything, more timely than ever, following the tragic killing of Michael Brown in the US city of Ferguson, Missouri. In the past few months, after joining a protest against police brutality in late October in New York City, Tarantino has found himself misquoted and vilified on the subject of race and the police. But if we know anything about Tarantino, it's that he thrives on controversy.
Actually, The Hateful Eight is subtle (by Tarantino standards), brooding and mature. Weighing in at a hefty three-hours-plus – with an actual intermission to allow us to slip out for another box of popcorn – this is old-school filmmaking. Tarantino has been making movies for more than 20 years, and he always vowed he’d call it a day at ten films. The Hateful Eight is his eighth. The big question is, when a man loves cinema this much, how can he stop?
The Hateful Eight is set just after the American Civil War but it explores a very topical theme – racial division in America. Are you surprised by how relevant your film has become since you started it?
If you talk to someone in a black neighbourhood in America, they’ll tell you that this conversation has been relevant for the last 20 years. But as far as the purchase it’s had in the mainstream press as something that "must be dealt with" – that really has happened since we’ve been making the movie. One good thing about the first draft of The Hateful Eight leaking on the internet a while back, as distressed as I was, is that I am on record as having written this script long before the recent events in the news, which conspired to make this film as relevant as it now is.
So is The Hateful Eight your most political film?
Yes. But when I first started writing it, I didn’t know it. I’ve dealt with race, in terms of black and white, in a lot of my movies – in all my movies, to some degree or other. But I do think that dealing with black and white in America and with racial conflicts is something I have to contribute to the Western genre. That has not been done by anyone else – at least not in a meaningful way.
Why use the western genre to explore race in America? You started with Django Unchained.
The Western has always been pretty precise when dealing with the decades in which the films were made. Vietnam or Watergate hung over all the Westerns that came out during the late 1960s and the 1970s. I am a big fan of those. They were cynical to their core. When you’re making a Western, you can’t help but deal with the American zeitgeist. Ten or 20 years from now, hopefully you’ll be able to look at The Hateful Eight and get a good picture of the concerns of America at this time.
You’re billing The Hateful Eight as “The Eighth Film From Quentin Tarantino”. Are you sticking to the idea that you’ll make only ten?
That is the idea. It usually takes me about three years to make a movie anyway, so you’re talking about almost a decade left.
What about television, does that count?
I might do a TV thing in between and that wouldn’t be part of the ten.
So other than TV, we only have two more Tarantino films to come? You’re only 52!
I don’t want to be the guy that’s doing this forever. There should be an end. And I should take responsibility for that. I’ve gotten more solid on that idea. I think a lot of directors, if not all directors, think they have more time than they do. By time, I mean either mortality or changes of fortune in the industry. You never know what will happen. And so I think every director walks around thinking, even when they have only one more movie to go, that they have six left.
You’re going to have to choose your next films carefully then…
Certainly the reasons for making a film become sharper. It’s not about making a movie to pay for your alimony, or for your second house. You don’t make a movie just because “blah blah blah” wants to work with you and it would be nice to work with “blah blah blah”.
You’re known for the violence of your films, but with The Hateful Eight, that’s more muted. It is almost a theatre piece, more than an action film.
One of the things I learned making this is how to turn violence into a tone that runs through the story, that hangs over the characters’ heads, like their own sword of Damocles. You don’t know when the violence is going to happen, but you know it is going to happen. And you are just waiting for it. The trick was extending that for the entire movie. If the movie works, then it should be suspenseful. There is a long, long build up, as I put my chess pieces in place. I am playing chess and I have got to put them all in the right spot before I start killing them off, and I am asking you for some patience. But hopefully the suspense makes it all worth it.
You’ve made two Westerns, this and Django Unchained. You’ve made a martial-arts movie, Kill Bill. You’ve made a grindhouse movie, Death Proof. You’ve made a World War Two movie, Inglourious Basterds. What’s next?
For the most part, in my career so far, I tend to move from one genre to the next. I taught myself how to make a martial-arts movie and then I never made one again. I taught myself how to do car chases and I never did one again. In the case of Django Unchained I taught myself how to do a Western and deal with the horses and the wranglers and then I realised, much to my surprise, I wasn’t done, so I did The Hateful Eight. I don’t know what genre is next, to be honest.
Is there a kind of film you’re burning to make?
There is not a genre left where I have that same burning desire that I had to do a World War Two movie or a martial-arts movie. I think maybe the one genre left might be a 1930s gangster movie, that kind of John Dillinger thing. I’m interested in doing something contemporary, where I can have a character that gets in a car, turns on the radio and I can have a cool driving montage. And if I had all the time in the world, I would love to make a really, really scary horror film, like The Exorcist. But I don’t know if taking my sense of humour and putting it in something like that is the best use of my talents or my time.
You think it would be hard to make a Quentin Tarantino movie that wasn’t funny on some level?
I don’t know if I could let go of that humour and be able to keep that tone of dread all the way through. Although a case could be made that The Hateful Eight is the closest I’ve ever come to a horror film. And more than any other Western, the film that influenced this movie the most is John Carpenter’s The Thing, way beyond just working with the same composer, Ennio Morricone, and that film’s star, Kurt Russell. The Thing also hugely influenced Reservoir Dogs, of course. And in its own way, The Hateful Eight is also influenced by Reservoir Dogs. So you could say everything is already starting to come full circle, and that umbilical cord is there, linking my eighth film back to my first.
You clearly adore making and talking about movies. Is there a part you love the most?
I am glad that comes through. I guess I’m very lucky. Especially since I’m a writer and director. I love the writing and the making and the editing of the movie. I truly love what I do.
The Hateful Eight is out in cinemas across Dubai on January 7.
Pieces of eight QT's players
Aka the good, the bad and the really ugly
Walton Goggins, whose role in Django Unchained ended up on the cutting room floor, is Chris Mannix.
Jennifer Jason Leigh is Daisy Domergue, a psycho in chains on her way to stand trial in Red Rock.
Back with QT after Death Proof, Kurt Russell (whose The Thing is an inspiration here) is John Ruth.
Recommended to Tarantino by Robert Rodriguez, Demian Bichir is Mexican caretaker, Bob.
The little man
Tim Roth, aka Mr Orange in Reservoir Dogs, reteams with Tarantino as the brutal Oswaldo Mobray.
The bounty hunter
Tarantino's second muse (after Uma Thurman), Samuel L. Jackson is Major Marquis Warren.
The cow puncher
Mr Blonde himself, Michael Madsen is Joe Gage, a cowboy "on his way to Christmas with his mother".
The great Bruce Dern (Laura's dad, among many other fine achievements) is General Sandy Smithers.