INTERVIEW: Quentin Tarantino

Posted by · 5:09 pm · January 25th, 2010

Quentin Tarantino at the Los Angeles premiere of Inglourious BasterdsNearing the end of January on an awards season run for a film that bowed at Cannes is an odd time to be crossing paths with a filmmaker to talk about the goods, but that’s where I found myself with Quentin Tarantino this year.

Making the publicity rounds in the wake of the DVD and Blu-ray release of his film “Inglourious Basterds” and, of course, keeping exposure high with Oscar nominations eminent, Tarantino is nevertheless as indefatigable as ever.  Last week he popped up on one of Conan O’Brien’s final episodes of “The Tonight Show,” which the filmmaker says was an honor.  “I’ve always had a fun time doing his show,” he says.

He was coming off a weekend that yielded Critics’ Choice Movie Awards recognition for his film’s ensemble, supporting actor Christoph Waltz and a screenplay honor for the writer/director himself at the time, but in the week since, Waltz and the ensemble were again rewarded, this time by the Screen Actors Guild.

The film awards circuit is a much different beast than it was 15 years ago when Tarantino exploded onto the scene with “Pulp Fiction,” even if his long time confidant Harvey Weinstein is still at the campaign’s helm.  So it’s a little difficult not to press him for how those differences strike him, now that he’s back in the season’s good graces.

Interestingly enough, he’s reminded of a similarity first.

“It seems like every time I make a movie, it’s just so different than the last time I made a movie, everything that goes into selling it and all the promoting of it,” he says.  “Every two years we jump to a knew place.  So I’m kind of used to feeling that way.  One of the things that’s actually very similar is, back when it was the ‘Forrest Gump,’ ‘Pulp Fiction’ war, that was when the ceremony was March 27, so it was a real long, long period of time that you had going up to the Oscars and tons of events and that kind of stuff, so now with it being in March, it’s similar to when I first did it.”

Indeed, with the Winter Olympics postponing the usual Oscar timetable this year, things are a bit more reflective of the drawn-out times of yore.  But for Tarantino, it’s never tiring.  It’s all fun.  Even being a peripheral element of the season, as he was in 2003 when his close friend Sofia Coppola was making the rounds with “Lost in Translation,” hitting the party and event circuit, showing his support, etc., Tarantino enjoys the ride at every turn.

One of the highlights of the red carpet gauntlet for Tarantino, being a life-long movie geek, is the opportunity to meet and converse with the filmmaking talent he continuously runs into throughout the season.

(from left) Quentin Tarantino and Harvey Weinstein at the Los Angeles premiere of Inglourious Basterds“Other filmmakers did really cool stuff this year,” he says.  “You get to meet them, you get to talk to them.  I’ve gotten to know the other directors so well and a couple of them I actually knew beforehand.  But we’ve gotten so used to seeing each other now that it’s really nice.  We always check in to see how each other is doing, we enjoy creative conversations together, it’s really cool.”

The other helmers that have been as prominent on the circuit this year as Tarantino are “Up in the Air” director Jason Reitman, “Precious” director Lee Daniels and two people he counts as heroes, “Avatar” director James Cameron and “The Hurt Locker” director Kathryn Bigelow.

So how does it feel to be in the company of heroes?

“It’s wonderful,” he says.  “Believe me I’m not trying to engage in false modesty, but James Cameron was really and truly a hero of mine.  I’ll never forget the first time I saw ‘The Terminator’ at the Pacific Theater on Hollywood Boulevard.  I’ll never forget seeing ‘Aliens,’ I couldn’t get into the first show, it was like the third show of the day, at the Avco Embassy theater and it was just one of the great film experiences of my life.  And it’s really cool when he comes up to me and greets me like an equal, that’s really groovy.

“I’ve also always loved Kathryn’s work.  I remember when I saw ‘Near Dark,’ I came home from working at the video store and I took a piece of paper and wrote, ‘Kathryn Bigelow, queen of directors,’ and she wrote the script with Eric Red, ‘Eric Red, king of writers.’  I thought ‘Near Dark’ was the shit!  That murder scene in the bar, you have to remember, the 1980s was awful, and when that murder scene in the bar played, it was like, ‘Oh my God, what did they let happen!”

The excitement is truly unmistakable, like a big kid who remembers these things like it was yesterday.  But one of the other great joys for the director this season has been seeing his cast recognized.  Christoph Waltz’s laurels began way back in May when he won the Best Actor prize at the Cannes Film Festival.  Even for detractors of the film, Waltz’s work is such a marvel it’s difficult to argue against it.  How did Tarantino know he was the guy, though?

“Well it was such a specific character,” he says, “and he had to have all these traits just in order to begin to play the character.  You have to be able to speak German, English, French, and not only do you have to be able to speak them, you have to be able to say my dialog inside of them.  My dialog is very tricky, and when you hear the people who do it well, it looks easy.  So you need those qualities to begin with, and it was just obvious, people weren’t Landa.  He was that specific.  And I hate to make it this simple, but when Christoph walked in, he was Landa, and we all knew it.  And that’s what you hope happens as a writer, you hope you haven’t written something that’s just going to be stuck on the page.”

Quentin Tarantino on the set of Inglourious BasterdsMost recently, the entire cast received an ensemble honor from the 93,000-member Screen Actors Guild, which Tarantino says made him feel fantastic.

“It was hard casting this movie,” he says, “all these different languages, dealing with three different casting directors, and dealing with three different countries in that regard.  But the result was just so gratifying.  I’m so proud of every member of this cast.  And I love to see them getting these awards in unison.  That’s wonderful.”

Tarantino began working on “Inglourious Basterds” in the mid-1990s, so the wait has been considerable, both for the artist and for his fans.  He says it’s definitely been worth the wait, but as an artist, he enjoys musing about what might have been.

“The movie I would have made eight years ago would be very different from this movie,” he says.  “And who knows what that movie would have been?  I mean I had an idea, but truthfully, where TV is now, if it was that way in 1997, 1998, 1999, then I might have done ‘Inglourious Basterds’ as a mini-series, because that was my problem way back when.  It was just too long.  I couldn’t be happier with the movie, but again, at the same time I like to muse, you know.  It would have been different.”

As far as what’s next for Tarantino, mum is the word for now.  “I’m keeping it close to my vest for the simple fact that everyone knew for 10 years what my last movie was going to be,” he says with a laugh.  “And I kind of hated people bringing it up all the time!  I think I’ll keep it a little quiet this go round.”

I doubt that’ll hold his fans at bay for long, but in the meantime, the awards run for “Inglourious Basterds” is enough to keep anyone busy.

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23 responses so far

  • 1 1-25-2010 at 5:23 pm

    AmericanRequiem said...

    best picture. we can all hope, your a lucky man kris

  • 2 1-25-2010 at 5:39 pm

    Al said...

    This is probably my favorite oscar season since, well, 94. Not just because Tarantino is in it again, its just an exciting race where the outcome can be…anything.

  • 3 1-25-2010 at 6:13 pm

    Simone said...

    I got my fingers crossed that at the least, Basterds win Best Picture. This may be Bigelow’s only year for best director. I think Quentin will have another shot one day.

  • 4 1-25-2010 at 6:31 pm

    Speaking English said...

    “Inglourious Basterds” might very well be the most overrated, really good film I’ve ever seen in the Oscar race. Who would have ever thought, even a mere four months ago, that this would be such a huge contender? It’s still so bizarre, and the movie so atypical, I can hardly believe it. The praise has definitely gotten out of hand though… but that’s what you get with someone of such cult cred as Tarantino.

  • 5 1-25-2010 at 6:48 pm

    Megan said...


    Can’t you very well echo the same sentiment about the other four major contenders this year? Face it, they were all solid films for their own separate reasons, but each at one point or another got exhalted. In fact, one might be able to make that claim about the majority of best picture contenders. Happens.

    As for Basterds being “atypical,” that was personally what got me so excited in the first place to see this one edge its way into the race. Of course, I’m a Tarantino fangirl, and Tarantino fanpeople are surly bunch to begin with…

    Anyway, while the acting categories are in a sense sealed with a kiss, the Best Picture race is delightfully helter skelter. Just all over the place.

    Good fucking stuff. Whoo.

  • 6 1-25-2010 at 7:00 pm

    Jim said...

    “I’m keeping it close to my vest for the simple fact that everyone knew for 10 years what my last movie was going to be,”

    Huh? What’s he referring to?

  • 7 1-25-2010 at 7:00 pm

    Zan said...

    You could say that about them all, Megan, but “The Hurt Locker,” even for all its praise, is still somewhat underrated. I think people will realize down the line that it was the best film of the nomination lot in every aspect. The acting was top shelf (“The Messenger” was the only film that came close IMO), the cinematography was jarring and in the moment, the direction was patient but cohesive, and the editing was crisp with no superfluity.

    And people say “Up in the Air” might have been the most applicable film of the year, but it won’t hold up in the same way that “The Hurt Locker” can. Bigelow took such a wildly distinct approach from every other filmmaker that has tried to corral the Iraq war into 120 minutes.

    With that said, I wouldn’t mind seeing “Basterds” or “Up in the Air” win. As long as we avoid “Invictus,” “Precious,” and “Avatar,” I’ll be content.

  • 8 1-25-2010 at 7:11 pm

    Megan said...

    Yeah, Zan, I hear you.

    But there’s this paradoxical twist when it comes to THL. On the general public side of the gamut, it’s the Little Film That Could That Nobody Saw. On the critical side of the gamut, it’s the best thing since toaster pasteries.

    I happen to see it from the middle ground: Definitely one of the more masterful works of the year, but not one of the greatest things I ever beheld, either.

    I thought Renner, Mackey, and Geraghty (is that the guy’s name? He was my personal favorite) were quite the power trio, and the narrative was tight and clean. The ending however, felt a bit flat (for some bizarre-ass reason, flashes of Iron Man went through my head–maybe it was the metalized Middle Eastern music and the suit), and I think it fell back on a few cliches (Renner in the supermarket at the end–felt very Shawshank if you get me, like I’ve seen this world-weary man returns to reality thing too many times).

    Overall, though, solid stuff. Those are my only two complaints with it, really. I would have no problems whatsoever if it took home the Gold.

  • 9 1-25-2010 at 7:19 pm

    Josh said...

    I love this movie, and it’s always fascinating to listen to Tarantino talk, but he’s constantly able to throw in just a bit too much cockiness for my liking. “My dialog is very tricky”. Right, because you’re the same as, say, David Mamet. I’m not saying Waltz didn’t do a lot of work, and I’m not saying Tarantino’s dialog isn’t unique, but I hope he didn’t break his arm patting himself on the back.

  • 10 1-25-2010 at 7:31 pm

    James D. said...

    Kris, did you tell him what you really thought about the movie?

  • 11 1-25-2010 at 7:32 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Jim: The fact that Basterds has been simmering for over a decade.

  • 12 1-25-2010 at 7:54 pm

    /3rtfu11 said...

    “Right, because you’re the same as, say, David Mamet.”

    Nobody remembers David’s dialogue. Its also filled the same level of profanity as Tarantino’s.

  • 13 1-25-2010 at 7:57 pm

    /3rtfu11 said...

    ““Inglourious Basterds” might very well be the most overrated, really good film I’ve ever seen in the Oscar race.”

    This has been a depressingly weak year for movies – the award season ones and the critically popular that have no shot at the major prizes.

    I’m starting to suspect that Where the Wild Things Are maybe the best movie I’ve seen all year.

  • 14 1-25-2010 at 8:20 pm

    Kristopher Tapley said...

    Depressingly weak my arse.

  • 15 1-25-2010 at 8:43 pm

    anonymous said...

    There is no question that Tarantino is an American treasure, as a director. I was glad to see him come back from the garbage pail that was his last film, to make something that had the old wit of some of his earlier entries. “Basterds” wasn’t “Pulp Fiction” and it could have used some more rigorous structuring, but it was fun. Was it the best film of the year? Nah. But it doesn’t have to be. Was it the best screenplay of the year? By Tarantino’s own standards, probably only a 6 out of 10. That’s okay., it’s still better than most of the garbagio out there.

    But how great is it to have him included in the race for best director and best picture? I’m always glad when someone like him or a Scorsese or a Spike Jones or some kind of oddball makes it at least to the nomination phase. I’m rooting for Bigelow and team “Hurt Locker” to sweep, but I think it’s cool that finally we have a nice selection of top directors to choose from. Yeah for that!

  • 16 1-25-2010 at 8:54 pm

    Speaking English said...

    “Can’t you very well echo the same sentiment about the other four major contenders this year? Face it, they were all solid films for their own separate reasons, but each at one point or another got exhalted.”

    Nah. I think “Up in the Air” is actually quite underrated at this point and deserves much much better. I love “Avatar,” obviously, and don’t care for “The Hurt Locker.”

  • 17 1-25-2010 at 8:57 pm

    Megan said...


    Dude, I thought Death Proof was awesome, and I know I’m in the minority [rubs toe on floor dejectedly]. Although the first half was FAR better than the second.

    As for which work is QT’s very best, well that’s like picking among favorite children. I like them all very much. Except for Jackie Brown. Loved Pam Grier in it, but for some reason the film left me with nothing.

    I do think this is a fantastically eclectic assortment of directors representing all different kinds of interests this year, so I second that “yeah!”.


    Man, that is so not true. Why do people keep saying that?

  • 18 1-25-2010 at 9:32 pm

    Adam Smith said...

    @Megan: Yeah, about Death Proof. Here’s the way I like to look at it:

    Jackie Brown is Quentin Tarantino’s love letter to blaxploitation
    Kill Bill is Quentin Tarantino’s love letter to grindhouse
    Inglourious Basterds is Quentin Tarantino’s love letter to all movies
    Death Proof is Quentin Tarantino’s love letter to Quentin Tarantino

  • 19 1-25-2010 at 9:42 pm

    dane said...

    nice interview.
    QT is a genius.
    rooting for basterds for the win, my top film for 2009.

  • 20 1-25-2010 at 10:20 pm

    D said...

    I watched Pulp Fiction tonight and well…as much as I love Forrest Gump, I still can’t believe that Tarantino didn’t win either Picture or Director with that one. Pulp Fiction is such a Tour De Force all the way around. Inglourious Basterds is the closest he’s come to reaching that level again. It’s not quite there, but then again there’s not a single movie this year that is anywhere near the likes of Forrest Gump. Basterds should win Picture and Director, but I’m guessing it won’t.

  • 21 1-25-2010 at 11:46 pm

    david said...

    I’ve never been a huge fan of Tarantino’s work outside of Pulp Fiction, but what I do like about this guy is his passion for cinema. He loves what he does, and it really shows.

  • 22 1-26-2010 at 9:07 am

    Duke said...

    Basterds is better than Pulp Fiction, imo.

  • 23 1-26-2010 at 9:25 am

    /3rtfu11 said...

    “Depressingly weak my arse.”

    You’re right! All I have to do is see a movie a magic 4 times.