Interview with "The Hateful Eight's" Walton Goggins
"The Hateful Eight" takes place in post-Civil War Wyoming; John "The Hangman" Ruth (Kurt Russell) is escorting fugitive Daisy "The Prisoner" Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to Red Rock where the latter will face justice for murder. They encounter a two strangers on the road; another bounty hunter named Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) and Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), a southern renegade who claims he is the next Sheriff of the nearest town. Losing their lead on the blizzard, Ruth, Domergue, Warren and Mannix seek refuge at Minnie's Haberdashery, a stagecoach stopover on a mountain pass. When they arrive at Minnie's, they are greeted not by the proprietor but by four unfamiliar faces. Bob (Demian Bichir), who's taking care of Minnie's while she's visiting her mother, is holed up with Oswaldo Mobray (Tim Roth), the hangman of Red Rock, cow-puncher Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), and Confederate General Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern). As the storm overtakes the mountainside stopover, our eight travelers come to learn they may not make it to Red Rock after all…
I interviewed Walton Goggins while he was in town promoting the movie, which an appearance at a screening of the 70mm print at Regal Atlantic Station 18 Theatre.
Hi Walton, thanks for joining me today.
Walton Goggins: Thank you.
The first thing I want to talk to you about is one of the first shots of the film. It's a shot of large wooden cross with a carving of Jesus on it. As the shot slowly pulls out, we see a very small dot come into the background of the frame. We soon realize that it's a stage coach. My fellow critics and I are convinced that Quentin Tarantino decided to shoot this film in 70mm because of this one shot.
Walton: Ha-ha. It is a pretty magnificent shot.
It's an incredible shot that lasts forever.
Walton: Yeah, it lasts for a very, very long time. What Quentin has done has given the audience a way not to be assaulted by image after image. He lets you contemplate one image before you, and that's very rare for a filmmaker to do these days. And in a life that is filled with ancillary distractions, he says no, let's just be still and be quiet. Let just look at one image and figure out what it means to you, what you take away from it. There is an image that happens very early in the film that sums up this whole movie; he gives you the whole story in one shot. But you don't know it when you see it for the first time. In repeated viewings you will see this shot. He holds on to this shot for a very long time. If you look his movies and the clues that he drops, nothing is by chance. Everything has a purpose.
While this movie is a western, it's also suspense and at its core, it's really a mystery. You are trying to figure out who all these people are and why are they there out in the middle of the wilderness. Are they who they say they are?
Walton: Yeah, it's like it's an 1870s "Clue" with all of these players. This film is like it's a new Tarantino and a vintage Tarantino. It gives you everything you would expect. It's as if you are at a concert, and you want to hear a certain song, and then he surprises you with writing all these new songs that will become classics. Like going back to "Reservoir Dogs" and kind of keeping everyone in one room. There's symmetry between his first film and his eighth movie. This film goes from that same sort of starting point, putting people into a room who don't want to be in the room. They all desperately want to get out. If you have that paradigm, and you have Tarantino writing it, you know stuff is going to go off, things are going to happen. So he paints himself into a corner, and then he takes you on this experience in this 70mm format that most people reserve for landscapes. He does the inverse to that. What you would automatically assume what this camera is built for; he is going to show you what it can do to get inside the hearts and heads of the characters in the film. That's what it does. I saw that when we were watching the dailies in 70mm. I said to myself, I have never seen an actor photographed this way. It really has a way of getting inside their heads, being able to read their thoughts.
What's it like getting a phone call from Quentin Tarantino, and he says "Hey, you are going to be in my film."?
Walton: Before he even says a word, you say "YES! Yes! Yep, I'll do it." You say it as quickly as you possibly can. It's exhilarating. Looking at your phone and you see it's a call from Quentin, that's pretty cool. And beyond that, just showing up to his set every day, where this guy inspires you and has an enthusiasm that is unparalleled in our business. His energy is inexhaustible, and he takes his cast and crew to places that they don't expect. And we just gladly surrender to this experience. It's a real treat and honor to be invited to his party.
And you just might be becoming a part of his acting stable.
Walton: You said it, not me but I got to do two of his films and lord knows, I was grateful for just doing the one. Heck, I was grateful just to go in and meet him for "Django Unchained." I mean, I got to say his dialogue in front of him. That was a milestone for me. And then to be invited to play in the sandbox of "Django" and now to get to be in this film with all of the great actors in this movie are extraordinary. I'm still pinching myself.
Did you create a back story for your character?
Walton: Yeah, well I tend to do it in a very unconventional way. I tend not to like the word "actor," and I don't like the word "choices." I believe it's a child's game, and you just live in your imagination, and you turn yourself over to a set of imaginary circumstances. The word is king, and the story is king. It's not you. You are a vehicle to present the vision of the visionary who wrote it. That's how I approach it. I look at my son, who is five, and there is no better actor than my son. Nobody can turn themselves over to a set of imaginary circumstances than a child can. You know, with adults, you carry all this baggage. And it's a process of removing all of those barriers to your vulnerability. It's just being a child and having that childlike enthusiasm. That's what all great actors have. It's just a process of looking at it that way, and then it is knowing the story better than anybody.
Because this movie was shot on 70mm film, did the set have a different feel to it?
Walton: Yeah it did. I have been in this business long enough that I started working with film and then transitioned to digital. Where ever you get an opportunity to work in film, and very few get that opportunity; it is special. Getting to work in a world that is not based on ones and zeros but is exposed to light twenty-four times a second and then is projected with light onto a screen is amazing. I mean, it lives right there on the screen, right on the film. It is special and for all of us had to get used to the fact that all of the cameras were so big, that the width of these images was so big, we had to get accustomed to it. It had been such a long time since someone had been photographed that way; we had to get used to it. Plus, over time the camera rolled, it cost money. But Quentin did a good job of not letting us think about that.
What I loved about this film is the dialogue. When I saw "The Hateful Eight" I saw another film right before it that I won't name, but what a difference between the two films. The dialogue in your film flows so effortlessly. The patterns in the speech were amazing. There are some great interactions between the characters. And there are some fantastic speeches. Were you blown away by the dialogue when you read the script?
Walton: Yeah, this is like the buried treasure for an actor. Its alchemy what comes out of his imagination. It is as beautiful to read as it is to say. For most people, you just hear his dialogue, but when you read it in his script, his prose is so specific and so visual it's amazing. His monologues are so visual and assessable but also sublime. When you listen to Sam talk about "Royal with cheese,' you can see it. You are not just hearing it; you are seeing it. There is a monologue that Samuel has in this film, which is a significant story point, that when he says the word, you don't hear them. You see them. That's very difficult to do. He is special. A very, very special writer.
The cast in this film is amazing. Were you a little intimidated to be on screen with this cast? Because I mean, Bruce Dern just grunts and he can steal a scene.
Walton: Yeah, they call it the "Dernzy." You know when we were doing a table read for rehearsal, I came in a day later than anyone else. I walked up alone to the door of the room, and I had to pause at the door because I knew who was on the other side of the door. The only person that I really knew in the cast was Samuel L. Jackson, who's a great buddy of mine. I mean, Tim Roth, Kurt Russel, Michael Madsen, I mean that's a cast that can make your shiver a little bit. I walked in and sat down. Quentin said, "We did everything else yesterday, so this day is starting with you, Goggins." I exhaled, and Sam said, "You got this!" That was all I really needed, and they welcomed me into the club. You don't get to the status that the actors in this movie are at, the icons they are, without the personality that graduates them with other people. They are all very gracious human beings. They welcomed me in, not with a handshake but with a hug.
Have you seen the final cut of the film?
Walton: Yeah, I see it as much as I can, maybe six or seven times. I am trying to see it as many times as I can while it's being projected on film.
Talk about the experience to see it in 70mm film with an overture at the beginning and an intermission.
Walton: It really comes back to what movies were originally intended for. It's a form of communion, of silent communion. It's church for a lot of people. People of our generation have gotten so much out of sitting a dark room and watching stories with five hundred other people. Without saying anything, you are experiencing this thing together. That is something that is very important to Quentin. He is giving us an opportunity to experience again. And also, give it to people that have never experienced seeing a movie projected from 70mm film. It's special; you don't want to miss it.
Thank you so much and I wish you much success with the movie.
Walton: Thank you for talking with me.
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