The Hateful Eight marks the fourth time that actor Tim Roth has worked with director Quentin Tarantino, and the first time in 20 years, since the 1995 anthology Four Rooms. Roth was there at the beginning of Tarantino’s extraordinary, eclectic career, with featured roles in his first two classic efforts, Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Pulp Fiction (1994). When Tarantino decided to mount The Hateful Eight as a live reading last year in Los Angeles, he called upon his friend Roth to initiate the role of Oswaldo Mobrey, one of four enigmatic characters taking shelter in a lonely outpost in post-Civil War Wyoming.
Those four characters meet another four — two bounty hunters (Samuel L. Jackson and Kurt Russell), one deranged prisoner (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and a former Confederate soldier turned would-be sheriff (Walton Goggins). The stage is set for a confrontational mystery that also touches — like all of Tarantino’s films — on justice, racism and violence, all delivered in the man’s trademark mix of humor, shock and heightened melodrama. Screen Rant spoke with Roth recently about working with his old friend, how The Hateful Eight developed and shooting the movie in the long-unused Ultra Panavision 70 widescreen format.
This is your fourth collaboration with Quentin Tarantino. How has that relationship developed over the 25 years and how has he changed as a director in that time?
Tim Roth: We’ve grown up. Even when we haven’t been working with each other, we’ve sort of kept with each other and all of that. So we’ve grown old together. [laughs] So there’s that. And the friendship is still strong. But the difference, it’s actually very interesting from my perspective, because mine were a group of films that were made kind of on the heels of each other when I worked with him from the very beginning. And then there was this gap — we’ve seen each other, but I haven’t been on his set.
At the beginning he was never a first-time director in my mind. That was never the case. That just happened to be the first film that he made, that he actually got to physically make. But he had made many, many, many in his head and written feature films before Reservoir Dogs. But then he got to make one and he hit the ground running. It was an extraordinary experience. He’s a great director of actors. He’s a great writer for actors. His dialogue needs zero adjustment. It flows naturally. But his stuff is also performance-based. You don’t whisper your way through one of his movies and just kind of get through it by the skin of your teeth. You have to get in there and not be scared and give something.
So I saw that early progression. Then I came in and suddenly we’re shooting on 70 mm, a very complicated but thoroughly enjoyable tale that takes place just over a couple of days, with dense and richly kind of fleshed out characters.
His writing…I don’t know if he’d say it’s improved. It just is. But his skill set is bigger. When we first shot together, I mean, he knew about film sets. But it was new. He found his feet pretty quickly. But now the knowledge that he’s accrued about how to actually get his stories across is vastly superior to where he was. He’s just a well-oiled machine now. You walk onto his set, the environment, it’s like this incredible circus, but it’s very, very focused. The crew are happy in their work and they are the best you can get.
He’s free now to tell his stories in a way that he sees fit. He has the ability to get that done. He’s incredibly inventive. So the knowledge of his craft I think is the big change. The man is the same. He’s an older version. We’re all older versions. I’m matured. I don’t know how obnoxious I was when I was 30. But we’ve all changed and we’ve grown, but we’ve kind of grown together.
You mentioned the dialogue. Audience members may not realize it, but there’s a difference for you as actors between the dialogue that somebody like Tarantino writes and run of the mill dialogue.
Huge difference. I don’t know if I’m kind of talking out of turn. I don’t think so. It’s not whispering your way through a world, through a movie and hopefully you get away with it. It’s performance stuff. It’s very theatrical in the best sense of the word, I think. It’s like a play. He’s one of the few people that actually writes speeches for actors and beautiful connecting dialogue and rhythm and comedy timing. His timing is incredible. And you can feel it when you open up his script. It’s coming right off the page at you.
You are trained as an actor, but even as an untrained actor there’s a thing about going for some kind of realism. But in his world, although that may be at play, Tarantino realism is a very different animal, I think. You have to be able to, I think, identify with his rhythms and his music and stuff that flow through his dialogue. If you don’t, it will be a hell of a struggle.
You did the staged reading of this, right?
Did you play Oswaldo?
Yeah, yeah. He wrote it for me.
What do you remember about doing that version of the story?
He wanted to put that version of it to bed. [laughs] So he said, “We’re going to do a reading.” “OK.” Some of the cast remained and there were some other people who came in to read and do all of that. But he did it properly and meticulously. And it was a chance to get some of the words up and off the page and see how it was moving, what was good about it, what was wrong. But he did it for real.
We came in and we did three days of rehearsal. Everyone kind of got to know each other a bit and got rid of their nerves about speaking this stuff out loud. And it was incredible. I just came straight off a film, out of the airport, and into a theater room that he found, and we did it. And it was great.
And it carried on that way, because when he came back with this version of it, we rehearsed for about two and a half weeks solid till he was done with it and said, “OK. I’ll see you on set.” It was a really interesting because it now has that feel that we’ve done a play for 5 ½ months. It has that. And as actors, we grew very, very close in that way.
What themes do you think he’s getting at with The Hateful Eight?
That’s the question that arose even when we were rehearsing the reading version of it. At that time I think Ferguson was happening. We were coming in and some of what Sam was saying, and some of what Bruce was saying, and also, my thing on justice, we were going, “Why are we still having the same fucking conversation?” And he identified that. As actors, sometimes you are a bit like blunt instruments. But when you start to actually say it, when it’s in the air you start going, “This is the same conversation. It’s the same.”
You were filming Selma around that time too.
So for you this was in the air constantly.
Yeah, which was a trip in itself. [laughs] So, again, same conversation. I mean different versions of it.
SLIGHT SPOILERS AHEAD
Without spoiling too much, there’s a patch of this film where you are bleeding on the floor. Does Quentin take some sort of perverse pleasure in having you bleed on the floor?
No. it was a nod to…
Yeah, yeah. He discussed it with me. But it was that. It was a nod to that guy, in a sense. [laughs]
END SLIGHT SPOILERS
Quentin has been very vocal about the fact that he shot this movie in the super wide Ultra Panavision 70. Did that have any impact on your performances or in the way that you have to relate to the cameras?
First of all, he announced it on the stage directions (at the original reading) when he first said it was in glorious 70 mm. [laughs] For us, to be honest with you, it’s more fun. First of all, those are some big pieces of glass we’ve got. You know, the actual lenses that Ben-Hur was shot with or Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World was shot with, and a plethora of other films. But we would actually kind of go, “What lens have we got? Ben Hur? Ready.” So there’s just that.
Quentin is very good about this. I’m not so good about this. But the only time I directed a film, I used anamorphic (lenses). I used a big frame in enclosed spaces and understand how that serves you. But what was fantastic about this for us, a lot of us have not shot in film in a long time, and the vastness of the frame meant it does serve the theatrical nature of the piece, but it’s also wonderful in movement and wonderful in close-up.
And there’s always background action. There’s always a thing that’s going on in the back. If you go back and look at the film a second time, you’ll see what we’re up to. So we’re constantly on. Even if you are off, you are on. It gave him an extraordinary format to play with to tell his story.
So as far as we were concerned, we were just relishing it. It didn’t cost us any time. It was a bigger playground. And we got to see what he was up to, what mischief Quentin was up to during the filmmaking. [laughs] It was a big toy and a wonderful toy. I know he’s been talking about it.
There’s an element of roulette about filmmaking that has, with the digital world, left the building. His thing is, “I don’t want to watch TV with a crowd. I’ll just watch it at home.” His sense of celebration of the event of going to see a movie — he’s clinging onto that. I admire that 100%.
What are you working on next?
I’m doing something now which I can’t talk about, which is fantastic. And then, I’ve got one or two things. One is in Texas and one is in Columbia. So I have to decide what I’m up to with that. There’s a bunch of stuff coming out, too.
The Hateful Eight opens on December 25, 2015 in limited release — in glorious 70mm Ultra Panavision — and expands on December 31.