By Kam Williams
With a vibrant imagination and dedication to rich, layered storytelling, Quentin Tarantino has established himself as one of the most celebrated filmmakers of his generation.
His World War II epic, “Inglorious Basterds,” was nominated for eight Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Screenplay, and Best Achievement in Directing, and landed an Oscar for Christoph Waltz for his memorable portrayal of Colonel Hans Landa. Prior to “Inglorious Basterds,” Tarantino thrilled audiences with “Death Proof,” starring Kurt Russell and Zoë Bell. In “Kill Bill Vol. 1″ and “Kill Bill Vol. 2,” Uma Thurman, as “The Bride,” enacted a “roaring rampage of revenge” on her former lover and boss, played by David Carradine.
Quentin wrote and directed “Jackie Brown,” a crime caper starring Pam Grier in the title role. Loosely based on Elmore Leonard’s novel “Rum Punch,” the picture netted Robert Forster an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Tarantino co-wrote, directed and starred in “Pulp Fiction” which won an Academy Award for Best Screenplay.
He wrote, directed and starred in “Reservoir Dogs,” which marked the beginning of his career and made an auspicious debut at the Sundance Film Festival.
Here, he talks about his new movie, Django Unchained, a Western featuring Jamie Foxx in the title role as a slave-turned-bounty hunter, and co-starring Christoph Waltz, Samuel L. Jackson, Leonardo DiCaprio and Kerry Washington.
KW: The last time we spoke, the conversation went so well, the interview is going to be published in the new edition of Quentin Tarantino Interviews.
QT: Oh yeah! Edited by Gerald Peary! Volume 2. Cool!
KW: What was the most challenging aspect of writing the script? Addressing racial issues? Historical accuracy? Did you feel any pressure to conform to political-correctness, or did you feel free to take poetic license, given the glowing reception of audiences to Hitler’s dying in a movie theater in Inglorious Basterds?
QT: I felt no obligation to bow to any 21st Century political correctness. What I did feel an obligation to do was to take the 21st Century viewers and physically transport them back to the ante bellum South in 1858, in Mississippi, and have them look at America for what it was back then. And I wanted it to be shocking.
KW: Have you seen the film yet with a black audience?
QT: Yes I have!
KW: And what was their reaction? I know how an all-black audience feels comfortable enough to talk back to the screen and let you know exactly how they feel about what’s happening.
QT: [Laughs] Let’s put it like this: We screened it for heavily-black audiences quite a few times, where the audience was between 40 and 60 percent black. That’s pretty black. We also screened it for a 100 percent black audience, and you would’ve thought it was 1973 and they were watching the end of Coffy [A blaxploitation era flick starring Pam Grier]. It’s funny because I was sitting next to [executive producer] Harvey Weinstein and he turns to me and says, “I guess we know who we made this movie for.” [LOL] But the film really has a lot of ups and downs, and taps into a lot of different emotions. To me, the trick was balancing all those emotions, so that I could get you where I wanted you to be by the very end. I wanted the audience cheering in triumph at the end. So, as rough as some of the things I show in the movie are, they couldn’t be so rough that you’re too traumatized to enjoy the movie any longer.
KW: Irene Smalls: Why this film? Why now, in the Obama era?
QT: [Chuckles] I would’ve written this story if Obama were president or if he never existed. For one, I think it’s time to tell a story that deals with this subject America has avoided for so long. Most countries have been forced to deal with the atrocities of their past that still affect them to this day. But America has been pretty slippery in the way that it has avoided looking slavery in the eye. I believe that’s a problem. We should be talking about it to get past it and to get over it. Not only that, frankly, this is an American story that needs to be told, when you think of slavery existing in this country for 245 years. In slave narratives there were all types of tales and drama and heroism and pain and love that happened during that time. That’s rich material for drama! Everyone complains that there are no new stories left to tell. Not true, there are a whole bunch of them, and they’re all American with a capital A.
KW: Harriet Pakula-Teweles: What would you say were the most essential components in a script you consider working on?
QT: That’s kind of a tough question. Well, maybe not. The dialogue. But the dialogue and the characters would be wrapped up in each other, because if I’m doing my job right, then I’m not writing the dialogue; the characters are saying the dialogue, and I’m just jotting it down. So, it’s all about me getting into the heads of the characters. I prop them up a little bit, and then they take over from there.
KW: When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
QT: So far, I see a happy guy doing what I’m supposed to be doing. So far, so good.
KW: The Ling-Ju Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?
QT: Frankly, my earliest childhood memories are of watching Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein and Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed. I remember not liking Frankenstein then and going, “Who is this bald guy?” But I love it now.
KW: Well, thanks again for the honor, Quentin, and best of luck with the film.
QT: I always look forward to talking to you, Kam. Good talking to you.