Quentin Tarantino

Quentin Tarantino

This first appeared in the Sunday Independent on September 16, 2007

There’s an unspoken rule with all big stars that they cannot on any account be interrupted mid sentence. Nobody can hiss at them to ‘hurry up’ or even imply that they’re on a schedule. So though the small fleet of minders and publicists would like very much for Quentin Tarantino to finish his point and move on to the next interview (me) they have no way of making this happen. His sentences tend to run on for minutes but this particular one, fragments of which are drifting through the wall, is now reaching epic length. Nervous glances are exchanged. There’s no telling if I’ll ever meet him in fact.

So when I finally take my place opposite the surprisingly stocky auteur, who is dressed today in a sort of priestly smock, there’s a palpable sense of relief. He’s in good form as well, waxing lyrical about his previous visits to Ireland (he’s been here 5 times in 6 years) and contrasting the relative ease of a publicity tour of Europe with the ‘11 hour a day’ drudgery of promoting a movie in his homeland. ‘Oh I don’t consider myself a Hollywood film maker’, he tells me, sounding glad to be off that particular treadmill. ‘I make movies for planet Earth.’

It’s well he might he might have a bit of a sour taste in his mouth from back home. His latest – project a double feature, Grindhouse, which he directed with good friend Robert Rodriguez bombed mightily in the states and a decision was made to repackage and release Tarantino’s half of the project, Death Proof, here without any mention of Grindhouse. And though Tarantino talks grandly of not being beholden to any studio and makes much of his fiercely defended artistic independence, I’m discreetly told he won’t be fielding any questions about his original concept for this project. It’s over. He’s moved on.

If the problems with the double feature have made a dint in Tarantino’s famed ego it’s not apparent today. When asked if the car chase is, in fact, dead in American movies he shoots back ‘not any more.’ Death Proof features several gory non CGI-assisted car chases in which a creepy Kurt Russell hunts down groups of girls before they turn the tables on him in a Kill Bill-style revenge. It’s Tarantino’s usual stylized violence steeped in irony. The film has come under shrill attack from feminist groups, who have claimed it erotizes violence against women, but Tarantino bats off the criticism pointing out that the slasher genre from which he has drawn for Death Proof is one of the few in which women ‘get to kick some ass.’

He has the absolute faith in himself that you would expect of a man who, without the advantage of model looks or useful connections, once hacked his way in from ‘the outskirts of the film industry’ to its glitzy, stone-cold heart. Tarantino has always lived and breathed film. Growing up in California he thought that a cinema usher would be the dream job to end all dream jobs. He dropped out of high school, worked as a video store clerk, hung out with his dateless friends and spent his free time at the movies. All the while however he was writing screenplays and in 1992 when he was 29 he got his big break. Via a complicated string of friends, acquaintances and benevolent strangers one of his scripts ended up in the hands of Harvey Keitel who loved it and wanted to produce and act in the move of it. ‘And suddenly’, Tarantino remembers, ‘I had some credibility.’

The script was for Reservoir Dogs, the movie that would launch Tarantino into the big time. Suddenly he was touring film festivals (he had never been out of the country), getting laid far more often and feeling a bit like Elvis. ‘A friend of mine called it Quentin’s life, part 2’, he remembers. With fame came some pretty hilarious fan mail. ‘There was one (parcel) with a box of tennis balls’ and the note attached said ‘you’ve got the balls, now give me a call.’ Every once in a while, he tells me, he still gets used knickers in the mail.

The success wasn’t without its downsides however. Premiere magazine tracked down Tarantino’s long lost biological father and did an interview with Tarantino senior. ‘I was disgusted by that’, Tarantino junior tells me now. ‘And I have never done another interview with Premiere since.’ Did he want to get to know the father? The usually loquacious director is reduced to a steely glare and a one-word answer: ‘No!’

The studios were queuing up to have him work for them but he turned down the easy money of Men In Black and Speed to work on the film that would revive the career of John Travolta and become one of the most iconic movies in cinematic history: Pulp Fiction. Tarantino was now a name that could be mentioned in the same breath as Kubrick and Scorsese and it’s owner set about living up to his reputation as a rebellious young auteur. He was involved in public spats with Oliver Stone and Spike Lee (who objected to Tarantino’s use of the word ‘nigga’ in his screenplays). ‘I really wasn’t trying to start fights’, is his memory of the whole thing now. ‘With Spike Lee he started it and I was just defending myself. In the case of Oliver Stone he was partly involved in this Byzantine theft of Natural Born Killers and he tried to rewrite it. You don’t rewrite my shit. Every screenwriter in Hollywood is up for grabs in this way insofar as they can be rewritten. Not me. You don’t do it to me. I’m going to let you know you can’t do it to me. And there will be a price you’ll pay for doing it to me. And you won’t ever do it again.’

At this point Tarantino is manically stabbing his finger in my direction and I wonder aloud if he has a bit of a temper. ‘I don’t have a short temper but do not push me physically. You will have to go long and hard at me, arguing like, and I wouldn’t make it physical but the minute you make a threatening gesture to me or even imply you’re going to be violent then I throw you against the wall. It’s like ‘boom’; you don’t do that. I’m not a peace-loving guy. If another male tries to take it to me then I take it to him 100%.’

The record backs this up and Tarantino has in fact been in numerous bust ups. ‘I’ve gotten into fights. Except for one cab driver they pretty much all knew who I was. It literally was a row or maybe I hit them first. You know, I took them out.’

It’s the kind of macho posturing that makes you wonder if he feels he has to embody his own brand but in the same breath he can say something very out of step with people’s perception of him: ‘I’d love to settle down and meet the right woman’ is his take on his seemingly eternal bachelor-dom (he has been linked to Mira Sorvina and Sophia Copploa amongst others). ‘There was a period of time a few years ago when I really had baby fever. Now I still want kids but I don’t have baby fever as much. Guys sort of have this period in their lives where they decide it’s time to settle down and they just do that as though they’re checking something off a box. I’ll wait for it to be right.’

He describes Uma Thurman as ‘my muse’ but generally he doesn’t seem to have too much time for actors. ‘I’m not a Nazi but I’m a better writer’, is his response to the question as to whether he would allow his stars to mess with his dialogue. ‘I don’t hire them to write. Most actors improvisations break down to them cursing or adding ‘mmms’ and ‘aahs’ and stuttering up the dialogue and if they’re doing more than that, well that’s called ‘writing.’ The most difficult person he ever worked with? ‘Laurence Tierney (now deceased star of Reservoir dogs), without a doubt. He was a functioning, no, wait not even functioning, psychopath. He was crazy. He wasn’t ‘challenging’ to me, he was challenging to the entire concept of film-making. Halfway through shooting he got arrested because his nephew had come over and tried to put him to sleep and he said ‘you owe me money you never paid me back’ and emptied the gun on his nephew. He was so drunk he completely missed the nephew but the bullets went through the wall to where a family with a child lived. He was arrested and the production manager had to go to court and take him to the set.’

At this point Tarantino pauses for breath and his publicist uses the opportunity to move him along to his next publicity engagement. It would seem though at some point later in the evening the wheels fell off the wagon somewhat. After attending the ‘Irish Premiere’ of Death Proof at the Savoy he was supposed to have been rushed to RTE to appear on the Late Late show. Instead he ended up at an after party in the Jameson Distillery and cried ‘f**k the Late Late Show’ which was greeted with cheers. It was even more rock star-ish than actually going on the show and swearing and showed that even after all these years, Tarantino is still not afraid to bite the hand that feeds. You have to respect that.


~ by Donal Lynch on January 8, 2008.