Life goal achieved: I recently got to speak with Kurt Russell during his Australian promotional tour, along with Quentin Tarantino and Samuel L. Jackson, for the excellent The Hateful Eight. It was only for some eight or so minutes, but you take what you can get in this game. The interview ran in X-Press Magazine and you can read it here, but space constraints meant that some interesting stuff didn’t make the cut, so here, for posterity, is the full transcript.
You’ve been a bit quiet for a while, but the last year has seen you appear in three films: Fast & Furious 7, Bone Tomahawk and now The Hateful Eight. Why the sudden upswing in activity?
Well, I really did kind of go through a period where I was more interested in making wine and raising cattle on my ranch and selling beef and getting into that. I just got interested in those two things. I wasn’t very interested in the things I was reading. And I guess I kinda ran into a period where I was like, ‘Yeah, I’ll do it, but it’s gonna be sporadic.’ I did a couple of movies which I really enjoyed – The Art Of The Steal, I had a nice time with the guys up in Canada and stuff – but, I don’t know, things just fell in place. I did read Fast & Furious and looked at it like if I could create a character here, that could be kind of fun. It was quite different than what they came to me with, but they wanted to go forth with that, which was a lot of fun.
Bone Tomahawk was something I read where I did feel really strongly about the material – I thought it was really great and wanted to see that movie get made. And so that happened to be able to be cobbled together just before Hateful Eight. That was just serendipitous, the way that worked out, and it’s why I look the way I look in, because I had to kinda go halfway – I didn’t want to look the same so I went halfway and held it for that movie. Then when we started Hateful Eight, we were rehearsing for six weeks, then we had Christmas break, I had another two months to grow my mustache out and have that look. It’s just sort of the way it went together. It’s always great to work with Quentin, and then I did Deepwater Horizon right after Hateful Eight. It was another project I just thought was interesting.
I don’t know how long it’ll be now, but I had a good time doing all the things that I got to work on and had a chance to play some interesting characters and it was sort of like, ‘Why not?’ That is it. You’re pretty much… you read it and you’re gonna say, ‘Yeah, let’s do this!’
Quentin and I almost worked together on Django Unchained but there was a conflict of schedules – they were going very long and I ended up not doing it. I got this phone call from Quentin about reading a script that he’d written and I said ‘Great!’ I thought he was talking about a table read, but the table read turned out to be an actual performance in front of a live audience. Then out of that, after doing that, he decided to make the movie. So that was the process for me: it started with the reading and ended with the movie.
How do you view your character, John Ruth, and how does he view himself?
I think that he is the one person in the movie you can hang your hat on in terms of knowing who he is. Probably next is [Daisy] Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) – you know what she is. You don’t know what she’s done and you don’t know who she knows. And then there’s Major Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) – and then things begin to get muddled up. He is a bounty hunter, we know that, but all the other stuff we don’t know about and we’re finding out.
From that point on, all the other people you meet could be anybody. I think it’s that what makes Ruth basically suspicious of everybody and paranoid and worried about who might be taking his bounty from him and do him harm along the way. So, I think John Ruth sees himself as the one guy who is actually servicing the concept of the cornerstone of American justice and that is that, no matter who you are, no matter how little you are, not matter how bad you’ve been, no matter what you’ve done, you’re going to get your day in court – then you’re gonna be hung. You’re not gonna be just shot in the back because you’ve broken the law to the point where they just want you off the street, and when they want you off the street somebody’s just gonna come and getcha, it’s gonna be someone like John Ruth or Major Warren, and you better hope it’s John Ruth, because at least then you’ll have a chance of having your day in court.
However, the bad part of that is when you’re found guilty for what you’ve done, which you will be found, you’re gonna hang – you’re gonna swing from a rope, and you have to deal with that. So, I think he sees himself as someone who looks at life that way and believes in that system and thinks it’s an important thing to do that way.
He still does some pretty nasty stuff, like knocking the hell out of Daisy Domergue.
He knocks around his chained prisoner. She’s not… it’s like, take your pick: do you wanna complain about misogyny or do you wanna complain about sexism? Which one do you want, you know? It’s like dealer’s choice. He treats her like he would treat any prisoner: man, woman, animal, it doesn’t make any difference. He treats her with an equal amount of respect and fear, and he treats her the same way physically. Now, as she happens to be a woman, as the Major Warren character says [when asked] do you have a problem with that? ‘You mean with her? No, I do not. I don’t have a problem.’ This is not a woman next to me, this is a feral cat that is always trying to figure how to kill me.
At the same time, it’s a little bit of Stockholm Syndrome, because he’s been chained to her for a week and he’s gotten used to the sound of her voice. He kinda likes her, he would never trust her, but he kinda thinks she’s funny – in a different life maybe, you know? It doesn’t mean he isn’t gonna pour a little snakebite in her coffee and enjoy her company a little bit. But he’s made the rules as he would with any prisoner and he’s said, ‘You step outside that box and I’m gonna thump ya. And I don’t care if you’re a woman, I don’t care about that stuff. I don’t care about anything except you’re a murderer, and you’re gonna hang, and I’m gonna make sure you get your day in court. Just the fact that you’re a woman doesn’t mean anything to me one way or the other.’ And I think that’s equal treatment, ya know?
How did you find the atmosphere on set, with the ensemble cast and limited locations?
It was fun. The first part was out in Colorado, so we were at ten thousand feet in the middle of nowhere, neat Telluride, Colorado, which was standing in for Wyoming. It was beautiful. I live not too far from there, I live in Aspen, Colorado, so I’m about three and a half, four hours away, so it was very comfortable for me and I loved being out there for the eight weeks we were there. And then we came back to Los Angeles and we shot interior stuff only on a refrigerated stage, and it was like doing a play. I t was like going to work with a tight group of people, the play was the thing, it was the dialogue, it was the story, really all that stuff you focus on, and it was an acting workshop, working with those people and Quentin. And working with Quentin is just a lot of fun.
Some pundits have drawn parallels between The Hateful Eight and The Thing, which you made with John Carpenter back in 1982. Can you comment on that?
Yeah, there’s the storm outside that’s forcing you inside, that’s the monster outside that you can’t get away from that’s gonna kill you, so you gotta stay inside with a different monster. And that’s the monster that makes you paranoid. The thing was about paranoia, and as we watched that movie back then it was very hard for an audience to get past the sort of horrific aspect of the monster to see what the movie was about in terms of the behaviour of the people. And likewise here, the behaviour of the people is their display of paranoia because they don’t know who’s who – after a while you begin to wonder, ‘Who in the hell is this person I’m talking to?’ and so your level of suspicion is raised. It’s really what we’re focusing on. It’s not so much a whodunit? as a who-maybe-is-gonna-do-it? and certainly that is John Ruth’s concern. I think that Quentin’s screenplay is maybe his best ever, and I love what it is. But it’s a different animal and he takes his time setting it up, playing it out, and I just think it was a great opportunity to be a part of something by one of our great directors who is absolutely in his prime.