We’re five months from the release of The Hateful Eight. How close to finishing are you?
We’ve got a little bit more than an hour finished right now. I just got back from seeing an hour of the movie cut together.
Are you happy with it?
I’m not committing suicide yet. It is what it is. We’re rushing and trying to get to the end. Then you go through it and try to make it even better. But first, you just get to the end.
Every movie I’ve ever done, there has always been some date we were trying to meet, whether it was with Reservoir Dogs, trying to meet the Sundance date, or Pulp Fiction, meeting the Cannes date. But we always pull it off. And this way you don’t have that situation where you finish the movie and then the people who paid to make it get to sit around and pick it to death.
So you don’t get notes from the studio anymore?
No, you do. Oh, yeah.
I don’t think so, as far as me making the story I want to tell. But I learned a big lesson with Grindhouse, and I try not to repeat the mistake. Robert Rodriguez and I had gotten used to going our own way, on these weird roads, and having the audience come along. We’d started thinking they’d go wherever we wanted. With Grindhouse, that proved not to be the case. It was still worth doing, but it would have been better if we weren’t caught so unaware by how uninterested people were.
You’ve talked at various times about how, when you’re directing, you like to play your audience like a conductor does an orchestra. As time goes on and audiences become more sophisticated and accustomed to your style, does that become harder?
Frankly, sophisticated audiences are not a problem. Dumb audiences are a problem. But I think audiences are getting more sophisticated — that’s just a product of time. In the ’50s, audiences accepted a level of artifice that the audiences in 1966 would chuckle at. And the audiences of 1978 would chuckle at what the audience of 1966 said was okay, too. The trick is to try to be way ahead of that curve, so they’re not chuckling at your movies 20 years down the line. With Pulp Fiction,people were like, “Wow, I have never seen a movie like that before. A movie can do that?” I don’t think that’s the case anymore. I’m not talking ridiculously over anyone’s head anymore. I think people watched Djangoand Inglourious Basterds and thought they were really out there, but they got it. They felt themselves on solid ground. It wasn’t just, “What the fuck was that?” And people understand what I’m doing with genre. They’re not befuddled. They don’t think I’m doing it wrong. They get it.
Speaking of genre, what is it about the Western for you? There aren’t many being made right now.
There are a few coming out. Antoine Fuqua is doing Magnificent Seven,starring Denzel Washington, so that’s one. Django did so well I’m surprised that there’s not even more.
One thing that’s always been true is that there’s no real film genre that better reflects the values and the problems of a given decade than the Westerns made during that specific decade. The Westerns of the ’50s reflected Eisenhower America better than any other films of the day. The Westerns of the ’30s reflected the ’30s ideal. And actually, the Westerns of the ’40s did, too, because there was a whole strain of almost noirish Westerns that, all of a sudden, had dark themes. The ’70s Westerns were pretty much anti-myth Westerns — Watergate Westerns. Everything was about the anti-heroes, everything had a hippie mentality or a nihilistic mentality. Movies came out about Jesse James and the Minnesota raid, where Jesse James is a homicidal maniac. In Dirty Little Billy, Billy the Kid is portrayed as a cute little punk killer. Wyatt Earp is shown for who he is in the movie Doc, by Frank Perry. In the ’70s, it was about ripping the scabs off and showing who these people really were. Consequently, the big Western that came out in the ’80s was Silverado, which was trying to be rah-rah again — that was very much a Reagan Western.
So what is Hateful Eight saying about the 2010s?
I’m not trying to make Hateful Eight contemporary in any way, shape, or form. I’m just trying to tell my story. It gets to be a little too much when you try to do that, when you try to make a hippie Western or try to make a counterculture Western.
Hateful Eight uses the Civil War as a backdrop, sort of like how The Good, the Bad and the Ugly does.
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly doesn’t get into the racial conflicts of the Civil War; it’s just a thing that’s happening. My movie is about the country being torn apart by it, and the racial aftermath, six, seven, eight, ten years later.
That’s going to make this movie feel contemporary. Everybody’s talking about race right now.
I know. I’m very excited by that.
Finally, the issue of white supremacy is being talked about and dealt with. And it’s what the movie’s about.
How did what’s happening in Baltimore and Ferguson find its way into The Hateful Eight?
It was already in the script. It was already in the footage we shot. It just happens to be timely right now. We’re not trying to make it timely. It is timely. I love the fact that people are talking and dealing with the institutional racism that has existed in this country and been ignored. I feel like it’s another ’60s moment, where the people themselves had to expose how ugly they were before things could change. I’m hopeful that that’s happening now.
You supported Obama. How do you think he’s done?
I think he’s fantastic. He’s my favorite president, hands down, of my lifetime. He’s been awesome this past year. Especially the rapid, one-after-another-after-another-after-another aspect of it. It’s almost like take no prisoners. His he-doesn’t-give-a-shit attitude has just been so cool. Everyone always talks about these lame-duck presidents. I’ve never seen anybody end with this kind of ending. All the people who supported him along the way that questioned this or that and the other? All of their questions are being answered now.
Back to movies: Steven Spielberg and George Lucas have been pessimistic about the future of the film industry, worrying that if a few tentpoles flopped, it could cause the whole business to implode. Do you share their concern?
My pessimism isn’t about franchise filmmaking. That’s been going on since I was born. You can talk about Transformers now, but you could talk about the Planet of the Apes movies and James Bond when I was a little kid — and I couldn’t wait to see those. Actually, when we’re done here, I’m going to go see Guy Ritchie’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E. I don’t know why Spielberg and Lucas would be complaining about movies like that. They don’t have to direct them.
Some of their worry was for the smaller movies that are being crowded out of theaters by blockbusters.
People say that every six years. We all agree that the ’70s — or the ’30s, depending on what you feel — is probably the greatest decade in cinema history, as far as Hollywood cinema is concerned. I think the ’90s is right up there. But people said what Spielberg is saying all through the ’90s, and they said it all through the ’70s.
So you’re not worried at all?
Not for those bullshit reasons you just gave. If you go out and see a lot of movies in a given year, it’s really hard to come up with a top ten, because you saw a lot of stuff that you liked. A top 20 is easier. You probably get one masterpiece a year, and I don’t think you should expect more than one masterpiece a year, except in a really great year.
And in fairness to blockbusters, nothing stinks worse than bad Oscar bait.
The movies that used to be treated as independent movies, like the Sundance movies of the ’90s — those are the movies that are up for Oscars now. Stuff like The Kids Are All Right and The Fighter. They’re the mid-budget movies now, they just have bigger stars and bigger budgets. They’re good, but I don’t know if they have the staying power that some of the movies of the ’90s and the ’70s did. I don’t know if we’re going to be talking about The Town or The Kids Are All Right or An Education 20 or 30 years from now. Notes on a Scandal is another one. Philomena. Half of these Cate Blanchett movies — they’re all just like these arty things. I’m not saying they’re bad movies, but I don’t think most of them have a shelf life. But The Fighter or American Hustle — those will be watched in 30 years.
You think so?
I could be completely wrong about that. I’m not Nostradamus.
What makes The Fighter something we’ll be talking about in 30 years?
Part of that is the explosion of David O. Russell’s talent, which had always been there but really coalesced in that movie. I think he’s the best actor’s director, along with myself, working in movies today. And The Fighter had impeccable casting. As an example, I really liked The Town, which also came out in 2010. It was a good crime film. However, next to The Fighter, it just couldn’t hold up, because everybody in The Town is beyond gorgeous. Ben Affleck is the one who gets away with it, because his Boston accent is so good. But the crook is absolutely gorgeous. The bank teller is absolutely gorgeous. The FBI guy is absolutely gorgeous. The town whore, Blake Lively, is absolutely gorgeous. Jeremy Renner is the least gorgeous guy, and he’s pretty fucking good-looking. Then, if you look at The Fighter,and you look at those sisters, they’re just so magnificent. When you see David O. Russell cast those sisters, and you see Ben Affleck cast Blake Lively, you can’t compare the two movies. One just shows how phony the other is.
Django Unchained had Jamie Foxx and Leonardo DiCaprio on the poster. Inglourious Basterds had Brad Pitt. With Hateful Eight, the top-billed cast is Kurt Russell, Sam Jackson, and Jennifer Jason Leigh. Was there ever pressure to get a bigger star?
No. If there’s a part that a huge star could play, and that star were interested in playing it, there would definitely be pressures to consider them. And I have no problem doing that, unless I don’t particularly like that actor. But just because somebody’s a star doesn’t necessarily mean my fans or their fans want to see us work together. There is such a thing as my kind of actor, and how well they pull off my dialogue is a very, very important part of it. This is a movie where a Brad or a Leo wouldn’t work. It needs to be an ensemble where nobody is more important than anybody else.
You have rescued a few acting careers. Do you become invested in those careers, and do you get upset when actors wind up back where they were before you cast them?
Nobody ever really ends up exactly where they were. Maybe they don’t have a resurgence like John Travolta did, where he became a superstar again, making $20 million a movie. That’s obviously the best-case scenario. It would have been nice if Pam Grier had gotten other lead roles in major movies, but the truth is it’s hard for any woman to get lead roles in movies, especially a black woman in her early 50s. She was actually very realistic about that. She was just doing cameos and bit parts in stuff like Escape From L.A. After Jackie Brown, she got that TV show about a bar. And she was in the Jane Campion movie, and on The L Word, which wouldn’t have been the case without Jackie Brown.
Unless you’re Meryl Streep or Julianne Moore, it’s a rough business for movie actresses older than, say, 28.
I don’t really know if I’m writing the kind of roles that Meryl Streep and Julianne Moore would play. Jessica Lange on American Horror Story is a little bit more my cup of tea.
Since you’re good at it, do you feel any responsibility to write roles for women outside of the typical Hollywood demographic?
I don’t have any responsibility at all. I’ve been making movies for 20 years, and as great as some of those decisions I made in the first ten years were, I probably wouldn’t make them again. What I mean is, I really liked the scripts I wrote, and I really liked my characters, but I wasn’t overenamored, and I wasn’t that precious about them. Back then, I got much more excited by cool casting. I liked the idea of taking an actor I’ve always liked but wasn’t being used much anymore and putting him in the movie and showing people what he could do. But I don’t feel that way anymore. Now it’s all about my characters. I actually think my characters are going to be one of my biggest legacies after I’m gone. So I have no obligation whatsoever other than to just cast it right. I did a Nightline interview with some dingbat. It was me, Leonardo DiCaprio, and Jamie Foxx, and they were asking about stuff like that. I go, “Look, I like these guys, but I love my characters. Their job is to say my dialogue.”
What made you cast Jennifer Jason Leigh?
I’ve always really liked her. I thought in the back of my mind that Hateful Eight was sort of like a Western Reservoir Dogs, and I thought there was something very apropos about that for where I am in my career — there was a full-circle quality. To me, something screamed ’90s about this movie, and so I thought that this should have some of the really cool ’90s actors, but now: pretty boy Mike Madsen from the ’90s, but now. Pretty boy Tim Roth, with his blond hair, but now. And Snake Plissken [Russell], but now. So when I was looking for [the character] Daisy, I could have seen Jennifer Lawrence doing a good job with the role. I’m a very big fan of hers. I think she could end up being another little Bette Davis if she keeps on going the way she’s going. I think her work with David O. Russell is very reminiscent of William Wyler and Bette Davis’s.
Having said that, though, Daisy should be a little older. She should fit in with the guys. Jennifer Jason Leigh came in and was really good. She went for a couple of things that other people just kind of playacted. She had to act like she got shot, and she just screamed bloody murder. I kept remembering Jennifer’s bloodcurdling scream. If it had happened in a house, somebody would have called the cops.
Are you nostalgic for the ’90s?
I’m not, even though I think the ’90s were a really cool time. It was definitely a cool time for me. But almost like how Bob Dylan had to survive the ’60s so he could be not just considered an artist of the ’60s, I had to survive the ’90s so that when VH1 does their I Love the ’90s thing, they wouldn’t mention me. I think the jury was out about that for a while. But if I am going to be nostalgic about the ’90s, it’s for the lack of everybody being connected to all this technology all the time.
Do you not stream movies?
No, I don’t. My TV isn’t connected to my computer.
It’s just a generational thing, but that doesn’t mean I’m not depressed by it. The idea that somebody’s watching my movie on a phone, that’s very depressing to me.
I just saw a guy on the subway watching Django Unchained on a phone.
I can’t even make myself watch a movie on a laptop. I’m old-school. I read the newspaper. I read magazines. I watch the news on television. I watch CNBC a lot.
Do you still write your scripts by hand?
Let me ask you a question: If you were going to try to write a poem, would you do it on a computer?
That’s true. I wouldn’t.
You don’t need technology for poetry.
What did you like about it?
It was the best premise I’ve seen in a horror film in a long, long, long time. It’s one of those movies that’s so good you get mad at it for not being great.
How could it have been great?
He could have kept his mythology straight. He broke his mythology left, right, and center.
Are there any younger filmmakers you’re excited about?
Noah Baumbach. There’s a Paul Mazursky quality to his films.
But he’s been making movies for almost as long as you have. Who else?
I haven’t seen all the Duplass brothers movies, but the ones I’ve seen I really liked. They did Cyrus and Baghead. All that mumblecore stuff happened when I was in Germany doing Inglourious Basterds, so I didn’t even know about it. Then I came home and started reading about it, like, What the fuck is this shit? So I watched Baghead. I said to my friend Elvis Mitchell, “Have you seen any of those mumblecore movies? I was curious and watched Baghead, and I thought it was really good.” He goes, “You saw the good one. They’re not all like that. You reached into a pickle barrel and grabbed the right pickle.” I haven’t seen Hannah Takes the Stairs.
Who do you see as your competition right now? Are you competitive with someone like Paul Thomas Anderson?
No. It’s a friendly thing. This might come across as egotistical, but I don’t really feel in competition with anybody anymore. I’m in competition with myself. David O. Russell can have the biggest hit of the year, and that doesn’t take anything away from me. I couldn’t have been happier that Rick Linklater was at the Oscars this year.
The last time that I felt competitive was when I was doing Kill Bill and my competition was The Matrix Reloaded. That was the sword of Damocles hanging over our heads. I saw Matrix Reloaded at the Chinese Theatre the day it opened, and I walked out of the cinema singing that Jay Z song: “S-dot-Carter / Y’all must try harder / Competition is nada.” I was like, Bring it the fuck on. I was worried about that? Ho-ly shit.
What do you make of the recent glut of superhero movies?
I’ve been reading comic books since I was a kid, and I’ve had my own Marvel Universe obsessions for years. So I don’t really have a problem with the whole superhero thing right now, except I wish I didn’t have to wait until my 50s for this to be the dominant genre. Back in the ’80s, when movies sucked — I saw more movies then than I’d ever seen in my life, and the Hollywood bottom-line product was the worst it had been since the ’50s — that would have been a great time.
Would you have made one?
No, I was still working at a video store! But I would have gone to see them. That was my time. I was in my 20s and would have been just like the guys at Comic-Con now who go see every DC and Marvel movie. But I’m in my 50s now, so I don’t see all of them.
These days, young directors make one good indie movie and suddenly they’re drafted to do a superhero movie, or Star Wars,or Jurassic World. After Reservoir Dogs, you were offered Speed and Men in Black. How different would your career have been if you’d said yes to one of those?
My career would be pretty good. I think it’s less about the success of something like Men in Black or Speed, or the success of Pulp Fiction, and more about how to present yourself to the industry. Right away, I presented myself as not a director for hire. I’m not going to sit at home and read these scripts you send me. I’m going to write my own. I’m not available for rewrites.
At a certain point, you don’t get offered anything anymore. But when I did Grindhouse and it didn’t do well, I started being offered scripts for big projects again. It was like, Okay. I get it. I’m on my ass, and they know that. I am definitely less confident than I’ve ever been in my career right now.
Are there any franchises you would actually want to direct?
I could have imagined doing the first Scream. The Weinsteins were trying to get Robert Rodriguez to do it. I don’t even think they thought I would be interested. I actually didn’t care for Wes Craven’s direction of it. I thought he was the iron chain attached to its ankle that kept it earthbound and stopped it from going to the moon.
What kind of TV do you watch?
The last two shows that I watched all the way were Justified and How I Met Your Mother.
Was Justified how you became aware of Walton Goggins?
I already knew him from The Shield. You know, literally watching him for six years do faux-Quentin dialogue let me know that he’s got the right kind of tongue.
Have you seen True Detective?
I tried to watch the first episode of season one, and I didn’t get into it at all. I thought it was really boring. And season two looks awful. Just the trailer — all these handsome actors trying to not be handsome and walking around looking like the weight of the world is on their shoulders. It’s so serious, and they’re so tortured, trying to look miserable with their mustaches and grungy clothes.
Now, the HBO show I loved was Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom. That was the only show that I literally watched three times. I would watch it at seven o’clock on Sunday, when the new one would come on. Then after it was over, I’d watch it all over again. Then I would usually end up watching it once during the week, just so I could listen to the dialogue one more time.
I think people will be surprised to hear that. The Newsroom’s reviews were all over the place. Sorkin even apologized for some of it.
Who the fuck reads TV reviews? Jesus fucking Christ. TV critics review the pilot. Pilots of shows suck. Why would it be surprising that I like the best dialogue writer in the business?
You’ve been criticized for the same things for your entire career, namely, your use of violence and the N-word. Do you listen to any of that anymore?
Social critics don’t mean a thing to me. It’s really easy to ignore them, because I believe in what I’m doing 100 percent. So any naysayers for the public good can just fuck off. They might be a drag for a moment, but after that moment is over, it always ends up being gasoline to my fire.
You’ve won two Oscars for writing. Does it bug you that you’ve never won for directing?
No. I would have liked to have won Best Director for Inglourious Basterds, but I’ve got time. And I’m very, very happy with my writing Oscars. I will brag about this: I’m one of five people who have won two Original Screenplay Oscars. The other four are Woody Allen, Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder, and Paddy Chayefsky. I actually didn’t know that until somebody wrote it on a website. I went, “Holy shit!” Those are the greatest writers in the history of Hollywood. Now, Woody Allen has us all beat. He’s won three, so if I win three, I’ll tie with Woody.
You’ve talked about retiring after ten movies. If you stick to that, you have two left after Hateful Eight. What would you like to accomplish with them?
It would be wonderful to make my tenth movie my best movie — go out with a big bang, or with a small chamber piece after a big bang. I think about that every once in a while, but it’s not a real consideration. I just make one thing at a time. There are a few movies I’d like to do, but once I’m done with Hateful Eight and I’ve had a little time to myself, anything I think I’m going to do now, I know it’s what I won’t do later. I’ve got to leave myself open for the right story that talks to me.
So all the potential movies you’ve mentioned through the years — Killer Crow, The Vega Brothers, the Django/Zorrocrossover movie — those will probably never happen, right?
No. I don’t think I’m going to do Killer Crow anymore, but that’s the only one that could possibly be done.
Is Kill Bill 3 also off the table?
No, it’s not off the table, but we’ll see.
Your influence is everywhere now. How does it feel to watch other people’s movies and TV shows and see them using your tricks?
That’s great. That means I’m doing my job. I’m a legit filmmaker of my generation who’s leading the pack. Hitchcock saw his techniques done by other people, and that was all great. Spielberg saw his techniques copied — that just means you’re having an impact. Before I ever made a movie, my mission statement was that I wanted to make movies that, if young people saw them, it would make them want to make movies. That is one thing I can definitely say I’ve done.
Do you have a favorite imitator?
That was more of a thing in the ’90s, whether it was The Usual Suspects or Eight Heads in a Duffel Bag or Two Days in the Valley. The one I thought was the best was by this director who never did anything else, C. M. Talkington, who did that movie Love and a .45. And there’s a really terrific Hong Kong movie called Too Many Ways to Be No. 1.
But beyond just that post–Pulp Fiction boom in crime movies in the ’90s, your influence is huge: anti-heroes on TV, everybody’s dialogue is full of pop-culture references, and out-of-order storytelling is so common now that nobody flinches the way they did when Pulp Fiction did it.
If you want to give me credit, I’ll wear it, but I’m not going to take it. I’m not that presumptuous. There’s a little part of me that thinks everything is influenced by me, but that’s just my own megalomania.
Most of your characters are motivated by revenge, but you’ve been very forgiving lately. Bruce Dern’s reps allegedly leaked the Hateful Eight script, and he’s in the movie anyway. Ennio Morricone criticized Django Unchained, but he’s scoringHateful Eight. Are you mellowing out?
I probably am mellowing. I’m happy about that. I was a pretty angry young man, but if I were angry now, it’d be like, What the fuck is my problem? I’ve got a really terrific life. It’s so rare to be an artist in my position. How can I get mad at anything? I get irritated, but I have mellowed. Life’s too short.
*This article appears in the August 24, 2015 issue of New York Magazine