Quentin Tarantino talks race relations, The Hateful Eight and retirement
Quentin Tarantino might just be America’s number-one auteur. At 52, he’s no longer the dazzling upstart who injected a dose of adrenaline into cinema with his first feature film, Reservoir Dogs, back in 1992. But even now, an established director, he remains a goofy video store clerk at heart – the geeky kid with an encyclopaedic knowledge of cinema who 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 don’t already know – is a talker. He’s quickfire when spewing forth details about his latest film, The Hateful Eight, a western set in Wyoming in the years following the American Civil War. A snowstorm traps a random assortment of people, including a pair of bounty hunters (Kurt Russell and Samuel L Jackson), together under one roof and gradually their politics and prejudices simmer to a boil.
When a draft script leaked early in 2014, Tarantino threatened to pull the plug on it. Nearly two years later, his layered take on race in America is more timely than ever, following the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, the subsequent ‘black lives matter’ campaign and this year’s Oscars whitewash. In recent months, after joining a protest against police brutality in New York City, Tarantino found himself misquoted and vilified on the subjects of race and law and order. 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 butt-numbing three-hours-plus – with an actual intermission to allow us to grab another box of popcorn – this is old-school filmmaking. Tarantino has been making movies for more than 20 years, and he’s always vowed he’d call it a day at 10 films. The Hateful Eight is his number eight. The big question is, when a man loves cinema this much, how can he stop?
The Hateful Eight is set nearly 150 years ago, but it explores a very topical theme – racial divisions in America. Are you surprised by how relevant your film is in 2016?
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 being in the mainstream press as something that ‘must be dealt with’ – that really has happened since we’ve been filming.
One good thing about the first draft of The Hateful Eight leaking on the internet, is that I’m on record as having written it long before the recent events made 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 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 this way.
Why use westerns 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 70s. When you’re making a western, you can’t help but deal with the American zeitgeist. In 10 or 20 years from now, hopefully you’ll look at The Hateful Eight and get a good picture 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 10?
That’s the idea. It usually takes me about three years to make a movie, so there’s almost a decade left.
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. I’ve gotten more solid on that idea. A lot of directors think they have more time than they do. By time, I mean either mortality or changes of fortune in the industry. 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’ wants to work with you and it would be nice to work with ‘blah blah’.
You’re known for the violence of your films, but with The Hateful Eight, that’s more muted. It’s 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’s going to happen. If the movie works, then it should be suspenseful. There is a long build up, as I put my chess pieces in place. I’m playing chess and I have got to put them all in the right spot before I start killing them off, and I’m asking viewers for some patience. Hopefully the suspense makes it all worthwhile.
You’ve made two westerns. 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 any kind of film you’re burning to make?
There’s 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, a 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 that genre would be 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 the humour and be able to maintain 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 it’s 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 the umbilical cord is there, linking my eighth film back to my first.
You clearly adore making movies and talking about movies. Is there a part of the job you love the most?
I’m glad that comes through. I guess I’m very lucky, especially since I’m a writer and director. I really do love the writing and the making and the editing of the movie. I truly love what I do.
The Hateful Eight opens Thu Feb 18.