Quentin Tarantino’s second book, Cinema Speculation, is as hard to put down as his “novelization” of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. His film education began at age 7, when he quickly warmed to the violent R-rated movies he makes today. Now, the mission for this interview was not to get Tarantino to rehash controversies for soundbites — like answering yet again what he wished he could have done to stop Harvey Weinstein’s predatory path or talking about his next film (he seems to be wistful about continuing Brad Pitt’s Cliff Booth character, but maybe that is my own wish after reading how the character was fleshed out in that novelization, which makes you understand everything about his match with Bruce Lee and so much more). Tarantino’s also keeping his multi-ep TV series plan quiet, the one he dropped on Elvis Mitchell. He did say he would only ever shoot one if it can be done on film. This interview is for Tarantino’s hardcore fans, a primer to his book and a glimpse into how he became the filmmaker he did.
DEADLINE: Cinema Speculation is a coming-of-age tour of your cinematic education. It starts at the tender age of 7 and is largely composed of manly R-rated thrillers, full of violence and revenge. Was the young Quentin not much for films for a female demo?
QUENTIN TARANTINO: I actually like the idea that Daisy Miller is sitting there all by her lonesome. Almost like, “What is that even doing here?” It’s interesting because I only started realizing that as I was putting the thing together that, “Oh, these are all really violent crime movies.”
DEADLINE: What was the good and the bad of absorbing so much adult male-themed imagery at age 7?
TARANTINO: Well, that’s not the only thing I saw, though. It’s a matter of context. That’s not the only things I saw; those were the things that I chose to write about. I do go through a list of films that I saw that, to a 7-year-old, are completely dull. Model Shop and Carnal Knowledge, Diary of a Mad Housewife.
DEADLINE: Ever get turned away by some ticket taker who said, “I’m not letting a child come in and watch Deliverance”?
TARANTINO: You mean by the theater owners? No. They were all R-rated movies. Nothing was X. It was R-rated. Your parents can bring you in. That’s the point of the R rating.
DEADLINE: What does watching 100 Rifles or Deliverance do to an impressionable 7-year-old mind where values are still being shaped? How did it influence how you talked to kids in the neighborhood who were watching totally different films and probably were pretty envious?
TARANTINO: Well, I wouldn’t put Deliverance and 100 Rifles on the same shelf, all right. You might be the first person to ever do that. But to answer your question — one, I wasn’t thinking that much about it at the time because that was just the way it was. They’re f*cking movies, right? It’s not that big of a deal. Frankly, I don’t think it’s that much different than if I grew up with theater-loving parents that were taking me to see Chekhov at a very early age, where maybe I don’t understand Uncle Vanya at 7 but by 9 I sort of do.
DEADLINE: Reading your book reminded me of the film education I got when my parents signed on for the launch of HBO, and I watched every R movie I could, and learned a lot.
TARANTINO: I do think that to the other kids … I had my own problems, but to the other kids, because of all the movies I saw, I appeared sophisticated. I was watching the greatest era of American movies ever known, and I was seeing them at that young age, and so, they were right. I was sophisticated. And not that I cussed all the time, but when I was with other kids I cussed, all right. Their cussing was just tied to their parents’ cussing. But my cussing could be tied to Buddusky [Jack Nicholson] in The Last Detail. My cussing could be tied to Popeye Doyle [Gene Hackman] in The French Connection. After I saw The Outfit, after hearing that line that Joe Don Baker has, I was constantly saying, “I don’t give a rat’s ass.”
DEADLINE: I still use that one.
TARANTINO: I don’t give a rat’s ass.
DEADLINE: Was there a specific film in this bunch that made you think, someday I’m going to do this?
TARANTINO: When I was younger, I wanted to be an actor. So nothing was making me think, “Hey, I want to be a filmmaker.” But frankly, to tell you the truth, my mom and Curt, my stepfather … he adopted me, so he’s really my father. I shouldn’t call him stepfather anymore. But I just don’t want him to be associated with bio-dad.
TARANTINO: Curt and Connie, they kind of always knew, a little bit. They’re like, he’s going to be a director one of these days. I go, “What’s a director?” But because I liked movies so much, they didn’t say it all the time. It wasn’t all the time, but they threw it around when I was fairly young from time to time to their friends.
DEADLINE: When did you figure out that part of it and that maybe was where you belonged? You’ve done some fine acting turns, but you are singular as a writer and director.
TARANTINO: When it all changed for me was, I joined a really good acting school in Toluca Lake. I was involved in it for many years. By this time, I was a real cinephile, and actors weren’t my heroes. Directors were my heroes. So as an actor, I just wanted to work with this guy. I wanted to work with this guy, and I wanted to work with this guy. I knew a lot. I filled my brain with all this stuff, only to find out that the other kids in the acting class, who I liked, I thought they were good kids, but they didn’t know shit. Not only did they not know shit about movies, they cared less. They just cared about themselves. They just cared about being movie stars. That was all they cared about. Then at a certain point, I kind of realized that I cared too much about movies to simply appear in them. I wanted the movie to be mine. We’re talking about like ’80, ’81, ’82. Literally, right after the book ends.
DEADLINE: Who did you write this book for? Was there a person you had in mind you thought might be moved by your personal journey through cinema?
TARANTINO: I don’t think I was even writing it to be that moved. The opening and ending chapter, ‘Oh, little Q. Oh, look at the little boy out there doing this thing and that thing.” That’s always going to go over well. Mostly, I write a bunch of f*cking analysis for movies. I think, like, good analysis. I set out to do a bunch of analysis for movies and ended up telling you a little bit of my life story.
DEADLINE: How fortunate do you feel that this movie house education came, as you put it, during the great auteur decade?
TARANTINO: Oh, my God. I mean the idea that I was there firsthand, watching these movies and really seeing them in a really interesting way … insofar as it’s not like I was 27, so I kind of knew the buzz about this or that. I mean, there were definitely big movies that came out that I knew about. When I saw Airport, I knew that Airport was this big movie that was playing and everyone was talking about it. But for the most part, other than the actor that was in it, if I was familiar with the actor, all I knew about it was usually the trailer that maybe they showed at one of the other movies we saw, or the TV spot or the poster or the Los Angeles Times ad for the movie. That was it. I was susceptible to advertising. That was it. I knew nothing about the inner workings of the movie, if they had a good word or bad word.
DEADLINE: A lot of kids, they’ll go to the movie, leave and get on with their lives. Who recalls with such nuance and detail what makes somebody a riveting actor? Did this just awaken something that was just inherently inside you waiting to be awakened?
TARANTINO: I think that’s a pretty good description. Look, again, I don’t think it’s that big of a deal, all right? I’m a kid. I responded to movies. The kid across the street could have been like me and he responded to baseball. The kid next to him could have responded to cars; he had model kits of cars and he’s drawing cars and he has car magazines. My parents leaned into my interest, but it really was my interest insofar as say they were going to do something nice for me. So we can do one of three things: We can take you to Disneyland, we can take you to Magic Mountain, or we can take you to a movie. Sometimes I would pick the movie, especially if there was something that I wanted to see but needed an adult to take me to see it.
I got that choice once and I picked the movie because I was dying to see Blazing Saddles. But I needed adults to take me to see Blazing Saddles. They thought, “That’s just a bad choice. What kid would choose a movie over Magic Mountain?” I go, “I’m choosing Blazing Saddles over Magic Mountain, not just a movie. I need your adult ass to get me in the f*cking theater.”
DEADLINE: On the ride home, what was the dialogue between the three of you?
TARANTINO: We all just talked about how funny it was. I think for the adults the bean scene around the campfire was a jumping-off point for talk.
DEADLINE: I believe even Mel Brooks has said he wasn’t sure that if Blazing Saddles would fly today. Would a lot of these movies that you grew up and that shaped you be makeable today in this current climate of everybody walking on eggshells, hoping not to be canceled?
TARANTINO: Well, by asking questions like “Could that movie be made today,” that’s like you’re — I don’t believe that stuff. Because by putting out that hypothetical, you’re kind of suggesting that it couldn’t be, and then people just kind of assume that they can’t be and then that’s what happens. And now you’re in the ’80s. Even though this seems a hell of a lot worse than the ’80s was. I’ve been rallying against the ’80s movies forever, and now all of a sudden I feel like an asshole. The ’80s are pretty good now.
DEADLINE: So that’ll be your next book. The glory days of the ’80s.
TARANTINO: Everyone’s saying, “You’ve got to do the ’80s now. It’s like the next step.”
DEADLINE: Sounds like current cinema has left you reappraising the period between the auteur decade and the one you were part of, starting with Reservoir Dogs.
TARANTINO: Yes. I have vaguely reappraised. It wasn’t that fun — well, actually it was a lot of fun to live through. Anyway, the thing about it is, I don’t quite believe that you couldn’t make some of these movies today. You just have to have the balls to make them. Also, because of the time that we’re living in right now, those movies are never more needed than now. And it just means that filmmakers, the studios or whoever the producers are, they have to be adults about it. They have to know what time it is, and that means that if they’re going to do their thing and put it out there, then they’re going to get some negative reviews and they’re going to get some choice think pieces written against their movies. That has to be a nothing thing for them. They have to be OK with that, take it as another f*cking Wednesday. Go, “That’s the kind of movie I made. That’s what’s going on. People are going to have a hard time.” However, all those angry voices are going to give this movie a zeitgeist position. That’s what happened with Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, which is hardly a Ken Russell movie by any stretch of the imagination. But there was a ton of really pointed think pieces that came out. A sea of them, and I was very, very happy. It didn’t matter if they were positive or negative. No, that is a conversation. We have started a conversation, and we own the conversation now.
The conversation and the argument doesn’t have to always fall in our favor, but we are a thing. We’re not just some f*cking movie that’s going to play for four weeks and then it’s put on to the DVD market or the streaming market. It’s like we exist in this time, right now. It’s almost like people don’t want to exist in their time right now. They just want to be entertainment.
DEADLINE: You make special mention one of your chaperones, Floyd, one of your mom’s boyfriends who took you to a lot of these movies. You list his top five. Now, let’s say if a young person was like I want to see how Quentin formed himself. If a young person wanted to know the films that molded you, would there be a top five?
TARANTINO: I don’t know. I’d have to think about that list for a while. But I wouldn’t put down a list of, “Here are five things that a young filmmaker should see.” That feels presumptuous. I could give them 20, 25, but five is kind of pretentious. If they read this book or if they read other interviews with me, they kind of know what movies to watch — I mean, if the idea is that they want to kind of follow my formative aesthetic building years.
I’ve had people come up to me a lot and say that, one, they like my movies but when they were younger they just kind of got into the whole persona of me, and read my interviews and then started making lists of all the different movies that I talked about. Then they had a mission and they went off. That’s part of the thing that they have with me. Because of me they saw Coffee. Because of me they saw Rolling Thunder. Because of me they saw Assault on Precinct 13.
DEADLINE: I wrote down some of these titles also. I’ve never seen The Outfit, but Robert Duvall in the role of a double-crossed bank robber seeking revenge, count me in.
TARANTINO: Duvall as Parker, he’s f*cking terrific. You’ll love it. That would actually be one of the movies from the book that I would personally pick for you that I think you would really get a kick out of. I’m surprised you haven’t seen that. It’s a really good one.
DEADLINE: I don’t know why, but I never saw it. Back when you and I did our first Playboy magazine interview, I remember thinking, “I must be really on my game today because you filled me with untold stories like taking Ecstasy, leaning against the Great Wall during the making of Kill Bill. You bit the nipple of a New York cab driver who insulted your girlfriend.” It was one after another. Then you tell me that your mom gave you a Playboy subscription to help make up for the lack of a father figure in the house and you had memorized all those interviews of filmmakers and actors in the ‘70s, and you were going to make sure your interview. I realized I was being directed in a Quentin Tarantino production…
TARANTINO: That interview was a long time coming as far as I was concerned. Having read the Sylvester Stallone interview and the Sam Peckinpah interview and the Robert Blake interview, I was ready to go.
DEADLINE: It was a very interesting thing for me to realize midstream. The early part of the book is a lot of what you saw when you were young and impressionable. Was this another example of your mom trying to create that image of a man to you, and what kind of an image for a young man did Jim Brown, Clint Eastwood and Steve McQueen project for you?
TARANTINO: I don’t think my mom was super-conscious about that. She wanted me to have a masculine presence around from time to time. But from 12 or 13, absolutely my favorite actor from that point on was Charles Bronson. I saw everything Charles Bronson did, and Floyd was a big Charles Bronson fan, so we talked about Bronson a lot. It was actually cool. The first biography I ever read was Charles Bronson Superstar. It had a whole list of all of his movies. He did so many movies before he became a star. So I had a whole list of them. The whole thing now was to watch all of the movies that Bronson did before he became a star, whenever they showed up on television. Things like Robert Parish’s The Mob with Robert Crawford would show up, and I’d watch it. Bronson would have like two f*cking lines in it, but I’d watch it just so I could X it off my list.
DEADLINE: Compared to those other guys, why Charles Bronson?
TARANTINO: I just liked the guy. It’s funny because he’s the one that you would imagine, if anyone’s going to tell you to buzz off, it would be Charles Bronson in real life. There’s nobody that looked as cool as Charles Bronson in the ’70s as far as I was concerned. That mustache that he had, those cool outfits that he wore in movies. His no-nonsense attitude. He was also funny with his lines and had that cool way of talking. His movies were exciting, and he was just a really cool presence.
You’re asking a deeper question and let me try to get at it. I’ll give you something else about Bronson. I had a thing when I was younger: I would watch movies or TV shows, and I often wouldn’t like the lead guy, the hero. Oftentimes, I’d be rooting for the villain. I liked the villain more than the lead guy. Sometimes I’d like the sidekick more than the lead guy. It was more about the actor. I’d watch Wild Wild West from Artemis Gordon’s perspective. I didn’t like Jim West, but I liked Artemis Gordon. So I’d watch it as if the show was about him.
I would do that often. Since I did find myself leaning more to the actors that were playing the bad guys, when Charles Bronson would come along, after a whole career playing bad guys and still looking like a movie villain even though he’s the lead, I think that is part of the reason I was attracted so much to him.
DEADLINE: Promoting the book, you were asked once again about superhero movies, and you said it was a director filling a job…
TARANTINO: I didn’t mean it so much that way. I just meant that the thing is — Marvel is a company. They have properties, and when they hire a director, they’re hiring a director to shepherd their property. I’m not looking for a job like that, and I’m not even eligible for a job like that.
DEADLINE: Because you want to create and own your own magic?
TARANTINO: Yeah. If it was going to work out for me, I would go to Marvel Comics. I would create a character. They would have no rights over the character other than to publish the book, and then when the book became successful I would make a movie and they would have no rights over the movie other than the privilege of releasing it.
DEADLINE: You’re right. You’re never getting that job. Whether it was 007 or Indiana Jones, wasn’t there ever a franchise character you wanted to lay hands on?
TARANTINO: After Pulp Fiction, I wanted to do Casino Royale
DEADLINE: After creating Rocky and tying himself to the lead role and launching his star career, Sly Stallone has recently expressed bitterness, being outside a circle where the asset will always be controlled by producer Irwin Winkler and handed down to his children. Sounds a bit similar to Casino Royale. Stallone created Rocky, and you didn’t want to be Quentin for hire.
TARANTINO: You’re making it sound like it’s a tough decision to make. It seems like everyone would make that decision.
DEADLINE: I guess so, but it sure would have been interesting to see what you would have done with James Bond and Casino Royale …
TARANTINO: Like I said, that version — that might have been fun. It was so long ago that I can’t say that I wish I had done that rather than Jackie Brown. I don’t think I wish I had done any of these movies, more than the movies that I ultimately chose doing. The one that I mention in the book that was making me kind of wistful was, I did think of doing another adaptation of The Outfit, after Jackie Brown, with Robert De Niro as Parker and Harvey Keitel as Cody and Pam Grier as Bett. Since I didn’t make a movie for six years during that time, that’s the one that kind of bites a little bit because that could have fallen right in that time period.
DEADLINE: It’s remarkable how many fun movies Parker ended up in as the revenge-seeking lead character. Mel Gibson in Payback was fun.
TARANTINO: Yeah. I have no problem with that one. That was fun.
DEADLINE: You spend a good bit of time dissecting The Getaway, Steven McQueen and the novels of Jim Thompson. I recall Scott Frank once telling me that when he writes hero roles, he imagines Steve McQueen delivering the dialogue. What is it about Steve McQueen that makes him stand up so well in the minds of contemporary writer-directors?
TARANTINO: That’s a good question. I don’t think I would say anything interesting in an interview about it, I mean, that’ll be meaningful. But I do try to grapple with that in the Bullitt [chapter]. There is something kind of bizarre about Bullitt being one of his signature roles when the whole concept of the movie is that it’s a minimalistic portraiture. Let me say that sentence again.
It’s a bit amazing that that’s one of his signature roles when the characterization is so minimalistic. I mean, there’s almost nothing there, other than him. But him is what makes it special. Him is what keeps you watching. Him is what rivets you to the screen. It was just very interesting talking to Neile McQueen, his ex-wife, and Walter Hill. I’ve always been aware that Clint Eastwood was very, very, very conscious of his persona and how to best use his persona — if he’s going to monkey around with it, how best to monkey around with it, i.e. Every Which Way but Loose.
But even when he would talk about Don Siegel, or Don Siegel would talk about Eastwood and their relationship together, they always seemed in clever cahoots of how they were manipulating Eastwood’s persona in a given picture. It was interesting to find out that Steve McQueen was actually very aware of his own persona as well. It was described that McQueen was a good actor, but it was almost — Walter Hill said, “Quentin, one of the things you would have loved about McQueen is that while he was a good actor, he knew he was a movie star.” That’s what he wanted to be. He wanted to be a movie star. When he was in movies, he wanted to have the best part. He didn’t want anyone else to have a better part than him. He wanted to do cool movie star things in that part. He wanted to do cool shit, because the audience paid to see him have a good part and to do cool things.
DEADLINE: When I saw Top Gun: Maverick, I thought, “Tom Cruise understands what people want of him.” I sometimes feel that way about Denzel Washington; you don’t see him do something that disappoints people, for the most part. Tom has taken some chances. Isn’t that what the superstar is supposed to do and why they say sometimes those people live in a gilded cage?
TARANTINO: I think it depends on the avenue you’re going down where there are movie stars and there are terrific actors and part of their thing is to play different characterizations, different interpretations, and from time to time a combination of the both. John Wayne is a good example because John Wayne had a persona and he never played 180 degrees different from his persona. He played his persona. But in the course of his career, the number of films that he did that tested and twisted and stretched that persona as far as it can go in different directions, that’s an actor that actually is very conscious about being an actor and stretching his persona.
The character that’s in Big Jake is not the character from Red River, the character in Red River is not the character from The Searchers, and the character from The Searchers is not the guy in High and the Mighty. But they’re all John Wayne.
DEADLINE: A question of how far you can stretch without breaking that audience trust?
TARANTINO: What’s interesting, and this is apropos of nothing, but it was something that always has stayed in my mind. When Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez did that Men at Work movie that Emilio directed, they were talking about them as brothers. Then somebody said something to the effect of, “It’s kind of funny because they don’t look like each other, but they both look like their father.” I think that’s how you can think about a superstar and their own relationship with their own persona.
DEADLINE: You had two of the biggest stars in your last movie, with one of them Leo reprising a McQueen scene from The Great Escape. Who is closest to that McQueen mold, Leonardo DiCaprio or Brad Pitt?
TARANTINO: Between those two, I would pick Brad.
TARANTINO: Brad’s a serious actor, too. I just described that whole thing. Leo’s not going to be attracted to a movie that he gets just to flash his Leo charm for two hours and skate about the movie. He wants to play a character. He wants to play somebody interesting and investigative. He doesn’t want to know where it’s all going to end up when he starts. He wants to be challenged: “Can I even do this guy?” He wants that kind of thing. Now, Brad wants that, too, but Brad also is a little bit more comfortable with the whole movie star idea. So he knows that there are times to do a Bullitt.
DEADLINE: What is also interesting is that in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and especially after you fleshed out his stuntman character and his early killing adventures in the novelization you wrote as your first book, I want so badly to see your next movie built around Cliff Booth’s character. He could be a private eye, a bank robber. I don’t care.
TARANTINO: I kind of do, too. I wrote those scenes. I’m like, “a”Am I’m throwing them away?” This is really good. It does seem like there is an Elmore Leonard-like Cliff story that takes place in the ’80s just kind of lurking out there, waiting to be told.
DEADLINE: He is a Raylan Givens type, isn’t he?
TARANTINO: I think he’s closer to — Raylan Givens is a cop, and that’s the big thing about it. I mean, he’s closer to Elmore Leonard’s Stick.
DEADLINE: There is a laugh-out-loud line in the book where you talk about film reviewers whose work you hated and admired, and say, “One of my favorite Kevin Thomas reviews was for Russ Meyers’s Supervixens.” I doubt even Kevin Thomas would remember what he wrote, and that only you would remember it in such specificity.
TARANTINO: And then I played it almost in its entirety, so you see my point.
DEADLINE: You didn’t like what Sheila Benson was doing.
TARANTINO: She ruined the f*cking L.A. Times Calendar section.
DEADLINE: What do reviewers need to do to be considered serious by you? Are there any now who matter? Whose opinions you really seek out?
TARANTINO: Look, there’s none out there right now that I really seek out, but I don’t know if that’s necessarily an indictment against them and just more that I’m older now and I’m not following movie reviews about the new movies coming out.
DEADLINE: You’ve learned enough.
TARANTINO: Yeah. And I’m not trying to keep the pulse on the last two years of new releases.
DEADLINE: I recall sitting with some movie publicists, and they were telling me their favorite ever bad reviews of movies they repped. One called an actress “a smiling log of wood,” and another said, “You could throw a rock out a window and hit a better actress” than so and so. The best was when one critic wrote, “I’d rather watch a bootleg video of my parents grudge f*cking than to ever have to see Star Maps again.’ I thought: “Wow. That is depth and thought there” — bootleg video, grudge f*cking. Can you recall the cleverest but most cutting thing a reviewer wrote about one of your movies?
TARANTINO: No. I try not to remember. The critical smackdown that I really always loved, I always thought it was very, very funny, and I’ve never used it, but it’s waiting there with the right opportunity: I remember when Phil Joanou — not putting him down; I’m a fan, especially of his first movie, Three O’clock High. But when Phil Joanou did State of Grace, I think it was the LA Weekly, the review started, “Well it’s obvious from State of Grace that Phil Joanou wants to remake Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets in the worst way. And that’s exactly what he’s done.”
DEADLINE: That’s a good one. In your formative years, did these reviewers ever wound you?
TARANTINO: You mean, like reading reviews [of my films]?
TARANTINO: Wound is not the right — no, they usually made me mad.
DEADLINE: Did you ever go back at them?
TARANTINO: No. No. That’s a loser’s game. The day that you call out a critic by name in any kind of way for a bad review they wrote you, that is the happiest day of their motherf*cking life. And I will never give a critic who’s taken a shot at me the happiest day of their motherf*cking life.
DEADLINE: Back to Russ Meyers and Supervixens. In that film, you talk about the shocking scene between a beautiful woman who basically emasculates a cop so bad that he kills her. My mind immediately went to the scene of Cliff Booth with the speargun pointed at a wife who is humiliating him. Was that an influence?
TARANTINO: No. Not at all. I know I hadn’t seen Supervixens when I had done that movie. I saw Supervixens fairly recently, when I was doing research on Kevin Thomas. I knew he was a big Russ Meyers fan, so I started looking up some of the reviews. I read the review for Supervixens. Even though he’s saying that that’s where the movie goes wrong, his description of the bathtub scene was so electric and so exciting. It was like, “I have to watch that right now.” Then I watched it, and it blew me through the back wall. This is one of the great violent scenes of ’70s cinema. This is right up there with Straw Dogs. This is right up there with Deliverance. This is right up there with The Deer Hunter.
DEADLINE: I still remember when I saw Pulp Fiction for the first time, especially the pawn shop scene. “Wake up the gimp.” That whole thing where you basically go from reality into — it’s like you step into hell. You saw versions of this in those movies you watched in movie theaters growing up. Tell me how the pawn shop scene formed itself in your mind?
TARANTINO: That’s an interesting question. Roger Avary came up with the structure of that whole middle story, the gold watch story with Bruce Willis. So the pawn shop thing was in his tale, where they get captured in this pawn shop. He’s one of the hugest John Boorman fans of all time. So he’s dragging Deliverance, kicking and screaming, into the story.
The fact that you’ve seen Deliverance is part of it, all right, when you watch Pulp Fiction. But you’re right. It is supposed to be this thing where you go, “Whoa, I thought we knew where we were, and now we’re in a no-man’s land, where no rules apply. What the f*ck is this? How do we get out of here?” So in that case, it was sort of just — that’s all about milieu, from that point on. It was just making that basement seem like a sentinel or something. That this is the mouth of hell. The moment you passed that door and walked down those rickety steps, you are now in hell, and the whole rest of the world is going on, on the other side of that door.
DEADLINE: So many questions. What is the deal with that leather-clad guy? Whose bedroom?
TARANTINO: I think one of the best lines in all of Pulp Fiction, looking at their two victims, Zed says they’re going to rape him. They go, “Where do you want to do it? You want to do it here?” The other guy goes, “Let’s take him into Russell’s old room.” Who the f*ck was Russell? What the f*ck is his old room? It’s just a chapter of backstory between Zed and Maynard, and this entire living arrangement that they had. Who the f*ck is Russell?
DEADLINE: Then, the slow progression of Bruce Willis escaping but deciding he can’t leave Marcellus with these horrible people, but then hefting the chainsaw and the bat, until he finally settled on the samurai sword.
TARANTINO: A weapon with honor.
DEADLINE: A couple toss-away anecdotes you drop in the book. Did Steve McQueen really beat the crap out of Maximilian Schell when he accompanied Genevieve Bujold to a drinks meeting as she was up for the Ali McGraw role in The Getaway?
TARANTINO: Well, according to Neile [McQueen] he did.
DEADLINE: And Stallone beat up Richard Gere, which is why he wasn’t the lead greaser in The Lords of Flatbush?
TARANTINO: I don’t know about that. It’s been talked about a lot in everything, but apparently they had some sort of a tussle anyway.
DEADLINE: You told Jimmy Kimmel that your mom sent you to these movies with a lot of athletes she dated, some of whom were Lakers.
TARANTINO: She did have a couple Laker boyfriends.
DEADLINE: You mentioned Wilt Chamberlain. Quentin, did you catch movies with Wilt the Stilt?
TARANTINO: No, no, no. They were the big stars. They weren’t trying to get in good with Connie’s son, so I never met Wilt Chamberlain. I never met Happy Hairston. But I remember during that time that she was dating them; she was dating Wilt pretty seriously.
DEADLINE: You also dissect Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, and you kind of call BS on him when he said he was shocked that audiences were turned on by the violent climax, De Niro’s cabbie rescuing the underage prostitute (Jodie Foster) from her pimp (Harvey Keitel). People can find this in the book, but can you explain a little bit? Marty’s on that sort of plateau of reverence now, and it was just very interesting the things that you pointed out.
TARANTINO: It’s like — that’s the trickiest chapter in the book because I want to be able to write an interesting argument and say what I want to say, but I’m not putting him down, per se. It’s one of those things that, we live in this time now where if you say anything it’s going to get yanked out of your piece and become some parasitic article on a website. Tarantino disses Scorsese! Tarantino attacks Martin f*cking Scorsese! It’s just all these crazy adjectives. Scorsese knows exactly what the f*ck he’s doing. I find it ridiculous that after prepping that entire climax, that he would watch Taxi Driver after and be surprised that the audience responded like an American audience.
DEADLINE: You mean, building up that tension and then delivering the cathartic payoff…
TARANTINO: He knows what he’s doing. The end of Boxcar Bertha is pretty much the same, with Bernie Casey blowing everybody away. And I’m sure there were cheers in that theater, too. So where’s the shocking part? I do think it’s just the bullshit directors say when they’ve done a real violent sequence and they’re put on the carpet about it. Having to answer for it by some Rona Barrett type, and then be all like, “n”No, what I’m really doing is this. It’s not supposed to be entertaining. It’s supposed to be terrible. It’s supposed to be horrible. [Truth is] I made a long movie, I need to end it with a bang.”
DEADLINE: I remember the movie Witness. There’s a scene where Harrison Ford’s John Book finds out that his partner has been killed by these bad guys. You could see that he hangs up that phone and is just a man on fire. He comes upon these kids cruelly humiliating his Amish friend, and he just goes to town on this guy. You could almost feel some of the air being let out of the balloon. You can feel that pressure. It was too much. I thought the way Peter Weir did it was masterful; he knew exactly what he wanted me to feel. Have you ever had one of your own scenes where you were genuinely surprised in a good way or not a great way in the way audiences reacted?
TARANTINO: Yeah. Not often, all right? Usually not a big set piece. Not like what you’re talking about where I arranged something and, “Whoa, that went a little different than I thought. I need to maybe rethink this a little bit.” I mean at least not for a finished product anyway. Every once and a while something — the things that always get me is the weird little laugh that I get that I wasn’t expecting: “Oh, I didn’t think that was a laugh line.” Then you watch the movie four times, and they laugh at that line. The closest I came to that was almost the reverse-engineered version of it. When we did Django Unchained, there’s that big, long scene where they’re arguing about the bags over their heads.
DEADLINE: The KKK guys.
TARANTINO: I thought that was one of the funniest things I’d ever written. So we tied it together. We were real happy with it. We haven’t shown the movie publicly to anybody. Some journalist is interviewing me. We’re out at lunch and then I take her back to the editing room, and I go, “h”Hey, you want to see some clips from the movie?” She goes, “Yeah, sure.” So we proudly show her that scene, and she was sort of like, “What the f*ck is this?” She’s not laughing. She’s like, “What the f*ck is this?” Then I have a filmmaker friend come over and I show him that scene, and he’s like, “What the f*ck is this?” That happened two more times. They don’t quite get it. It’s one of those things if it’s not working, this is a five-minute scene and we could be using that time for something else.
So I talked with the Columbia Pictures people, and I say, “We’re putting it in the movie right now. We’re not sure if it’s going to work, so if it doesn’t work, don’t worry. We’ll take it out. We just have to see how it plays with an audience. We’re just not really sure. Everything else we’re standing behind. This is the part of the movie that we’re experimenting with an audience. Let’s just see.” [The Columbia people said], “OK. We got it. We got it.”
So we had our first audience screening of the film. When that scene played, it brought the house down. I mean, I think it’s in the top three of the funniest scenes I’ve ever done as far as the audience losing it. They lose it so much that for two minutes afterwards they’re still kind of regaining their composure. I go, “OK, I guess we’re keeping that in. We can cut everything else out. We’re not cutting that out.”
DEADLINE: Maybe there wasn’t enough footage that those people watched to get the context.
TARANTINO: I think that’s totally the case.
DEADLINE: I recall seeing Jonah Hill there and wondering, “What credit is he going to carry on his movie role résumé?”
TARANTINO: Yeah. He was Bag Head Number Two.
DEADLINE: You show in the book the newspaper ad for Taxi Driver. It’s amazing to think that was the second feature after The Farmer, another revenge film. People romanticize that era, the creative freedom, double features — what would you say was better about movies then compared to now where it feels like…
TARANTINO: Compared to now? I don’t even have the interest to list all the ways that are better than now. Now doesn’t even exist. It’s like you’re asking about Mad Max time. Before the apocalypse.
DEADLINE: You are not swayed by the reclining seats?
TARANTINO: We do have that now, yes.
DEADLINE: The Searchers comes up repeatedly in Cinema Speculation. How important was that to those muscular male thriller films of the ’70s, with all the rage and revenge? I see it get brought up a lot.
TARANTINO: Well, the reason it gets brought up a lot is because it was so revered by that movie-brat group — by the likes of Scorsese, John Milius, Paul Schrader and Peter Bogdanovich. Now, having said that, though, Bogdanovich actually made it very clear that while he likes The Searchers a lot, that was not the touchstone to end all touchstones when it came to John Ford. He made a big deal of usually talking about other Ford films, almost didn’t understand why those guys were just so focused in on The Searchers.
But it’s that group that really, really just plugged into John Wayne’s Ethan Edwards and plugged into The Searchers. I’ve always found it interesting. I’m not even talking about, is it a good movie, is it a bad movie? I don’t like the movie as much as they do. I’m not even saying that. I’ve actually kind of come around to the movie quite a bit as I’ve gotten older. But exactly what it was that rang their bells to such an iconic and responsive degree in the ’60s and ’70s? I don’t know. I could understand if they felt that way about Rio Bravo simply because it’s so funny. I don’t really know exactly what it is that they all galvanize and responded to The Searchers as opposed to any other. Well — I do know the answer to that. It’s the Ethan Edwards character that they responded to. But why those young, hippie film school guys responded to that, I don’t know.
DEADLINE: What about you?
TARANTINO: Well, I never liked The Searchers. I always thought it was kind of mundane, other than the Ethan Edwards character. I always loved John Wayne’s performance in it, but I just never cared for the movie. It’s the kind of ’50s western I don’t care for.
DEADLINE: Are you any closer to you figuring out what you want to direct as that final film and how far out it might be?
TARANTINO: I haven’t started focusing on that yet. I’ll figure it out sometime in the next few years.
DEADLINE: How has being a dad changed your sensibilities and maybe influenced stories you want to tell in the back nine?
TARANTINO: It hasn’t really. I don’t think I’m going to make something for my son, or something for my girl and boy to see when they’re 15. No, no. I’m doing my thing.
DEADLINE: How close to the see-anything policy you grew up under will you apply to your son? Will your kids be able to watch at those tender ages?
TARANTINO: Here’s the thing: It could be a lot of fun to talk about this stuff in the abstract, but none of my mom’s decisions that she made were in the abstract. I wanted to see movies. I wanted to go out with them. The most important part of me going out with them where I really handled it well wasn’t seeing Deliverance and being able to hang with it, or seeing Point Blank and being able to hang with it or any of the other violent movies at the young age that I saw them. It was me watching the boring ones and not complaining all the way through it. The fact that I didn’t ruin their evening when I was forced to watch Carnal Knowledge or Diary of a Mad Housewife. That was where I earned my bona fides. That’s where I earned the right to go to the movies with them, which was not talking about how boring some of them were.
My point, though, about my own son and my own daughter is obviously, where my mom’s coming from is, I liked this stuff, and I was leaning into it and I was appreciative. So it’s all about, what is Leo and Adriana going to respond to? What are they going to be interested in? Then once they show their interest and once they show what they respond to and once they show what they like and what they’re excited about, then that will take care of the rest. I mean, right now, Leo has a big thing about monsters. He really likes monsters, vampires and mummies and zombies and all that stuff. So if that keeps up, then as soon as he can, it sounds like he wants to watch horror films. He’s only 2½, so 15 minutes is about his attention span when it comes to watching these animated films, though he’s really into it during those 15 minutes. We did watch Despicable Me together, but we just watched it in 15-minute, 20-minute increments.