“D-jango, you black son of a bitch!” is a line and delivery from Django Unchained I deeply had to resist mentioning my love of to actor Walton Goggins. When time is short in an interview, you tend not to make time for such indulgences, and time was short with Goggins. No matter, as there was plenty to discuss when it came to his latest role in Quentin Tarantino’s western, The Hateful Eight.
Goggins plays Chris Mannix, a “sheriff” who couldn’t be more gung-ho about the South and their failed war efforts. It’s a juicy role, with Goggins once again expressing tremendous range. To say more about where his performance goes would qualify as spoilers, and The Hateful Eight is not an experienced one should spoil.
The character is very loosely based on William Clarke Quantrill, who’s “probably one of the architects of guerrilla warfare in America,” Goggins says. “He was never an official member of the confederate military, but he operated on the fridges of warfare, to help the South. He killed 72 innocent people in Lawrence, Kansas.
Tarantino told the actor to read up on Quantrill for the film. Goggins was in good spirits at the press day, as he should be, and couldn’t have been more enthusiastic about Tarantino’s newest picture. Here’s what the actor had to say:
How’s your day going?
It must be easy to promote a movie like this.
It is, it is. It’s very easy to promote a movie like, it’s very easy to promote an experience like this, it’s very easy to promote the friendships and lifelong camaraderies that were formed during the making of this movie.
I have a feeling this movie is going to have great rewatch value. When you replay certain scenes in your head, you start to wonder what you’re not seeing.
How many times have you seen it?
Just once. I’m planning on seeing it again with my family on Christmas.
Me, too! So we’re the same. I have seen it multiple times now, and it is like decanting an incredible bottle of wine, because you stop looking at what you think you’re supposed to be looking at in the 70mm frame, and you start looking at all the details, and the story that is playing out of focus or over there [in the corner]. Everything is happening in that frame for a reason, down to the blizzard in almost every shot. Look at the snow, and look at how the day turns to night how much angrier the snow gets. When you can see it all at once, it’s all informing your experience.
Right. Some people have been asking Quentin Tarantino about how he was going to make a movie set almost entirely in one location cinematic, but that room feels lived-in and really informs the story.
Yeah, yeah. This isn’t the reason, but it’s one of the many reasons why Quentin Tarantino is a genius: I couldn’t understand how you would forget whenever you were focusing on one or two characters that there were five or six other people in the room. How do you do that in a room that size? How do you do that with a camera that sees so much? You just do. These conversations just flow from everyone in the room. Even though you see one character in the frame sitting down, you just… I’m still blown away by it, man.
And you leave curious about what conversations are happening off-screen.
Yeah, yeah. I can’t wait for you to see it a second time or a third time. To see it on 70mm, you may never see that again. These images haven’t been seen on film in 50 years. You’ve read about it and seen the feature Quentin and the Weinstein Company did ‐ and it’s special, man. It’s a celebration of the medium, and a way for audiences to be given an analogue Christmas present by Quentin Tarantino. It’s a once in a lifetime experience.
That’s well put. Acting in front of those 70mm lenses, how much do they affect or alter your approach to a scene?
What’s daunting is the size of the lenses themselves. More often than not, you have this conversation with the DP ‐ who, in this case, happens to be Bob Richardson ‐ but you ask, in a close-up, “Am I here?” “No.” “Am I here?” “No.” “Am I here?” “Yeah.” “All right. Are you seeing this here?” “No, keep going.” “Are you fucking serious, Bob?” It was understanding the frame for a close-up.
Nothing changes because you’re truthful and authentic, so there’s no adjusting for the camera. I don’t believe that. I believe you play pretend, and that’s it. Children are our best actors, to be quite honest with you. Children and these cast mates and I play [Laughs]. You don’t adjust for the lens, but you do want to understand the room and the parameters of the space you’re playing in. We’re all familiar with those walls, but this is a room we never walked in.
How specific was the blocking? How much did the character and motivation inform where you would be standing?
We would block it. Every chapter we would spend a day blocking moments of it, which would take us to the next thing. He was so detail-oriented. Not only was he editing the movie in his head, he was seeing it visually and six steps ahead of all of us in the sense of, “If I have Walton here, Bruce here, Sam here, and Madsen here ‐ I can tell all these different stories at once.” People will only understand that after they see it a second or third time, to see what’s not in focus. It was extraordinary, because Quentin left no stone unturned. His attention-to-detial and blocking was more focused and precise than any film I’ve ever done, and it was all in his head.
Did this experience make you miss acting on film?
Oh yeah. There’s nothing like the moment you hear “action” when you were shooting on film. Of course you didn’t know that, because you didn’t know digital was coming. I mean, you know how expensive it is and you’re only going to get three or five takes, so then you multiplay how much that costs times, I don’t know, on 70mm film. There was this electricity running through the room when Quentin called action, for all of us. “Here we are. We’re out. We’re in a space not many people have ever given to be in.” It was very exciting and different.
It’s nice to hear you say it was exciting, not that it was pressure.
No pressure. Yeah, I think there’s pressure in your job, isn’t there? The first time you walk into a room you want to ask the right questions and wonder how the article will turnout, right? Once you do it, you have to let all that go, and it’s really an enjoyable experience. Even when the experience isn’t enjoyable, it’s electric. We’re lucky to live the life of storytellers. We’re all storytellers.
One of your big moments in the movie is Chris explaining Major Marquis Warren’s backstory, and it’s exposition that doesn’t feel like exposition. What do you recall from the day you shot that speech?
It was a scene that we had hoped to get in Telluride, but we needed to save for the weather. Whenever we had snow, we needed to be outside to get those shots. Filming in the buck ‐ which is what we called the stagecoach ‐ just wasn’t going to happen in Telluride, for that scene. We were there all on stage, and he said “action,” and if you look at the course of that dialogue and the way he constructed that scene and how Mannix leans in and pulls back, he gets extremely aggressive and extremely passive. Mannix ends it with this vitriolic, defensive posture for his father and the institutions for the South and what the South stands for, and then Marquis pulls out his gun and Mannix says, “[Puts on the character’s voice] Oh, no, no, no, you got me talking politics.”
It’s extraordinary, because not many people can write like that. Not only does he give you exposition that doesn’t feel like exposition, which Quentin is able to do with his eyes closed, but give it in a way that allows every character in the room, even Daisy, who says 5 or 6 things in a 15-minute scene, something to do. It’s unbelievable, man. He gives all the actors an opportunity to be three-dimensional.
When the character pulls back or gets more aggressive, how much is that described on the page?
That’s not charted on the page. When I say Quentin leaves that up to us, I mean Quentin works with actors who bring him 90% of what he has in his imagination. I think all great directors do that. Casting is one of the most crucial elements of making the film. He also hires actors who aren’t result-oriented. Who gives a shit about the result, right? It’s about the experience.
Quentin allows actors to make suggestions. He loves actors. For me, as Chris Mannix, it was a balance of getting this ride, to not freeze to death, and then to ingratiate himself through this story, because he’s there with an African-American. “Who is this guy? Maybe I can alienate him…” Once he realize that’s not working, he tries a different road.
Mannix is constantly shifting. He’s a real interesting guy in an arrested state of development, and you feel that in the stage coach. Everything that comes out of his mouth, at least for me, is regurgitating a worldview he got from his father and the people around him. None of those thoughts are his own, because he’s not a man; he doesn’t have the ability to think for himself until later in the movie. It all starts in that carriage scene, man.
The Hateful Eight is now in theaters.