No matter how Quentin Tarantino arms his characters – with katana swords (‘Kill Bill’), shotguns (‘Pulp Fiction’) or baseball bats (‘Inglourious Basterds’) – their chief weapons are words. That’s just how Tarantino rolls, and even as ‘The Hateful Eight’ starts off in the wintry trappings of a post-Civil War western, we’re soon essentially in a series of rooms: a stagecoach, then Minnie’s Haberdashery, a drafty Wyoming outpost where spit will fly as gloriously foul-mouthed arguments break out.
It’s early December, and Quentin Tarantino is holding court in a Beverly Hills hotel. Tarantino – if you didn’t already know – is a talker. He’s as quick as machine-gun fire on the subject of his new film ‘The Hateful Eight’. It’s a western set in post-Civil War Wyoming where a snowstorm traps a group of people together under one roof, including bounty hunters played by Kurt Russell and Samuel L Jackson, and challenges their prejudices.
When a draft script of the film leaked early in 2014, Tarantino furiously threatened to pull the plug. Nearly two years later, his layered take on race in America is, if anything, more timely than ever following the killing of Michael Brown in the city of Ferguson. Tarantino has been directing movies for more than 20 years, and he’s always said he’d call it a day after his tenth film. ‘The Hateful Eight’ is number eight. The big question is, when a man loves cinema this much – how can he stop?
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 that 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 that with ‘Django Unchained’.
‘The western has always been pretty precise when dealing with the decades in which the films were made. Vietnam or Watergate hang over all the westerns that came out during the late 1960s and the 1970s. I am a big fan of those. When you’re making a western, you can’t help dealing 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.’
‘You don’t make a movie just because 'blah blah blah' wants to work with you.’
What about television, does that count?
‘I might do a TV thing in between.’
So 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 think a lot of directors, if not all directors, think they have more time than they do.’
You’re going to have to choose your next films carefully then…
‘The reasons for making a film do become sharper. It’s not about paying for your alimony or your second house. You don’t make a movie just because “blah blah blah” wants to work with you.’
You’re known for the violence of your films, but with ‘The Hateful Eight’, you’ve dialled that down. Why?
‘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. 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 worth it.’
Is there a genre 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 WWII 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 also interested in doing something contemporary, where I can have a character who gets in a car, turns on the radio so 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 there is the best use of my talents or my time.’
Do you think it would be hard to make a Quentin Tarantino movie that wasn’t funny?
‘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 don’t get tired of making 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.’