Monday, August 29, 2016

Philip Roth / A Writer and His Books

Philip Roth
by Ruth Gwily

Review: "Roth Unbound: A Writer and His Books", By Claudia Roth Pierpont

A study of a feted author that reflects on his life through the rich imagination of his novels

By Linda Grant

The curse of the novelist is the question ‘Is it autobiographical?’ Is writing down of the events of one’s own life considered to be more authentic than the exercise of the imagination? Philip Roth must have been plagued more than any other writer with this dumbest of demands. For he writes out of his native Newark, sends his characters to his own high school, makes novelists his narrators, and calls one of his characters Philip Roth. After his second wife, the actress Claire Bloom, wrote a tell-all memoir of their marriage, he wrote an answering novel, in which an actress writes a memoir of her failed marriage to a radio star.
Sooner or later there will be a biography. James Atlas has already crawled all over Saul Bellow and Delmore Schwartz and we are bound to hear the laments of Roth’s many ex-girlfriends and perhaps the children of his first wife, as well  as friends and editors. Yet a new book,  Roth Unbound: A Writer and His Books, by Claudia Roth Pierpont (no relation, literary Roths are legion – Joseph, Henry, Philip) binds the books to the man not by mining them for nuggets of autobiographical information but  by talking to Roth himself about what he put into them, by which she doesn’t mean the facts,  but the territory of imagination and self that  creates fiction.
Pierpont met Roth in 2002. A couple of years later she received a letter from him responding to a New Yorker article she had written. Roth, it turns out, has a habit of writing to the authors of writing he admires. This impulse led fortuitously to a series of meetings and eventually the idea for a book which began after he had completed Nemesis and announced his retirement. It has grown out of conversations with him and research in his personal files in the attic of his Connecticut house. Unlike a biographer, she has not interviewed other sources. Like a critic, she has made her own judgements about the work. What emerges is his charm – he has certainly charmed her. “He loves to listen: he’s as funny as you might think from his books, but he makes the people around him feel funny too – he may be the easiest laugher I’ve ever met.”
Roth Unbound is a chronological survey  beginning with the attempts to silence him by a prominent New York rabbi in 1959, after the  publication of his first collection of short stories depicting, the rabbi complained, “such conceptions of Jews as ultimately led to the murder of six million in our time.” Jewish America in those days was still touchy. There had been no writer quite like Roth before, who wrote out of the growing disconnection between immigrant gratitude and the expectations of those born to be, and feel them selves to be, Americans, not special cases. A writer who had no objection to airing the dirty linen of his people because everyone has soiled underwear, and to be part of everyone is the desire. The attacks left him in a state of shock, and this is before Portnoy’s Complaint. It is salutary to be reminded that one of the greatest living writers has been assaulted with almost every book he has written.
Pierpont excavates Roth’s disastrous first marriage in the Fifties to an apparently mentally unstable woman. We can draw such conclusions as we wish from his portrayal of women in his work. Pierpont defends him against accusations of misogyny (levelled by me, among others). Roth, throwing up his hands in bewilderment, says he loves women, and there have been no shortage of girlfriends before, during and after his two marriages. He is open about the women (and men) who inspired his characters. What Pierpont has achieved is to defeat speculation. Whatever we think we know, turns out to be wrong. Which is, of course, one of the great themes of his masterwork, American Pastoral.
I don’t know what Roth thinks of creative writing courses. He has taught, but he teaches literature already written. On page 146, he reveals how his novels come into being: not through a plan, a theme or a message, but a groping forward. “The first draft is really a floor under my feet,” he says. “What I want to do is to get the story down and know what happens... The book really comes to life in the rewriting...  What it’s about is  none of your business... By the third  draft I have  good picture of what my concerns are.” This may be one of the most important counters to creative writing theory I’ve read, for its describes writing as an intuitive process. Roth’s friend, the Israeli novelist, Aharon Appelfeld, told me he thought that writers were stupid people because they don’t know what  they are doing.
Pierpont locates, correctly in my view, the highest peaks of his achievement in two not-quite-consecutive novels, Sabbath’s Theater and American Pastoral. In the former he laid aside post-modern tricks, the character as mask, the constant dialectic which is the essence of Talmudic disputation, and told a story.
Roth, sitting on a white sofa in his elegant Connecticut living room, explains to Pierpont that he could not stand to have Mickey Sabbath in the house, that he was sick to death of his cynicism and nihilism by the time he had finished with him. It was relief to turn to [American Pastoral’s] Swede Lvov, a good man. As far as America is concerned, he reveals himself as a patriot. The study of American society in American Pastoral, almost an historical novel, comes from his understanding of consciousness. If you neglect it, he says, you write popular fiction; consciousness without the gravity of experience leads to “the failed experiment” of Virginia Woolf where it so dominates the novel that “it ceases to move through time the way a novel needs to.”
Roth’s consciousness, moving through  time, from the young Jewish boy in the fifties  recently released from national service, trying  to write, to the exhausting, difficult (for him)  novellas of his seventies are the history of post-war America and a charting of the history of the male psyche with all its wayward desires and impulses. If Roth does not, and I still believe he doesn’t, understand women, my God, does he  understand men.
John Updike, part friend, part rival, neither of them easy with the other, compared him at one point to Bach, meaning that same repetition of, and revolution around, themes. Bach was a mathematical composer, Roth is a roarer, a boiler igniting into life.Life is what it’s all about. I let out a shriek of rage when I heard on the radio that Saul Bellow had died. That Roth is living makes life worth living. Then we’ll have the books. Nothing else to know.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Rebecca Hall / Black and White

Rebecca Hall

Katharine Whitehorn / New ways of being old

Keith Richards
New ways of being old

There’s no longer any consensus on how senior citizens ought to behave. It’s up to us…

Katharine Whitehorn
Sunday 7 August 2016 11.00 BST

t wasn’t a christening, it wasn’t a coming of age, but one agreeable event some days ago was a lunch to celebrate a friend’s 80th birthday. One doesn’t always think of growing seriously older as something to celebrate, but these days piling on the years isn’t anything like such a trial as it was once.

We may not share Macbeth’s view regarding “that which should accompany old age / As honour, love, obedience, troops of friends” – there’s certainly a marked lack of obedience. But we have so much that our ancestors wouldn’t have had, starting (at least for some) with the glories of computers and such, and the good chance of actually getting to old age rather than having succumbed to incurable ailments.
We take it for granted that somebody will do something if and when we are ill. In some places they – or should I say we – have concessions on things like bus passes and cheap radios, and people helping us up stairs or down the escalator.
But even setting all that aside there’s the fact that so many people of Saga age are still working, if it suits them; and that charities and clubs rely on retired people to keep things going. There are, of course, lots of older people who have a rotten time, but what has really changed for the better is that there’s far less assumption that the aged will behave in a certain way, or be too old to enjoy this or that – to which we often say: “How do you know if you don’t let me try?”
Getting old is not the trial it once was. There is no longer any universal agreement on what old people should or should not do – it’s up to us.

David Bailey / Reg Kray said: ‘Ere, Da’. I wish I could have done it legit like you’

 David Bailey.
Photograph by Suki Dhanda

David Bailey: Reg Kray said: ‘Ere, Da’. I wish I could have done it legit like you’

The photographer on drugs, religion, sport, beauty, the reality of the 1960s, politics, Instagram and the Krays…

Interview by Fiona Maddocks
Sunday 5 July 2015 09.30 BST

he veteran portraitist has chosen 250 works for his Bailey’s Stardust show at the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh later this month.

This show, packed with images of the Rolling Stones, Man Ray, Andy Warhol, Salvador Dali, Francis Bacon, Kate Moss, Damien Hirst and the tribespeople of Papua New Guinea and the Naga Hills [on the India-Burma border], has triumphed in London and internationally. Is the Edinburgh exhibition any different?
Yes, there’s another show within it called Moon Glow. Mostly mixed media, oil, collages. Some of it’s completely new. Some of it’s from as early as 1970. I don’t like the idea of a retrospective. I always feel I should try something new. Continuous change. That’s what the Buddhists say. I’d be rather a good Buddhist.

You’d like to wear the saffron robes?
I don’t want to dress like them. I want to think like them. I’m not religious. Not even spiritual. But I’m open to learning. If you want to be really camp you’d have to join the Catholic church. I love all that – pure theatre. The best art, the best smells. It’s operatic. We’re all part of something. Like William Blake said – the whole universe in a grain of sand. He’s one of the thinkers. But I like that Hindu thing, too – we’re all the dream of Krishna. That’s good, nice. I’ll listen to anybody.

That could be dangerous.
Yeah, very dangerous. I know what I think. But I could be wrong. I can always see the other side. That’s why I’m not political. I’m glad the Conservatives won the election. I’ve spent all my life reinventing the class system, then Ed Miliband comes along and screws all that division. He’s set the class war back years.

You like the Conservatives?
No, not particularly. That guy George Osborne is pretty clever about the economy, even if his hairstyle is awful.

How is it you’re always called Bailey? Do you insist on it?
No way. That was Jean Shrimpton. It stuck. In the East End I was Dave. Or Da’ – as in “day”. I suppose it’s a bit public school to be called by your surname. At Condé Nast they just credited us as Avedon, Horst, Bailey.

You’ve said about some women, “the camera loves her”. What do you mean?
I’ve said it often, but there are very few. They’re not necessarily the most beautiful women ever. Jean Shrimpton, Kate Moss, Dietrich, Garbo – they all had that quality. It’s a mystery. The idea of beauty has expanded. The Romans had a very particular idea. I think a lot about the seeds of beauty. As a kid there was a shop that sold packets of seeds. I was obsessed with the idea of these little black things growing into different kinds of beauty. Magic.

Instagram, Snapchat, we’re all photographers now…
Anyone can take a photograph. Like anyone can use a pencil and paper. But can anyone be Picasso? It’s the same with photography. A chimpanzee could take a good picture. It’s like when the Box Brownie was invented in 1900. Everyone said, that’s the end of photography. And the same when digital came along. It’s a kind of doodling. It might come to something, a happy accident. Good luck if it does.

You say you make photographs, you don’t take them …
It’s more how you feel than how you see. It’s the emotion. I spend an hour chatting and a few minutes taking the picture. I wish my ears could do the snapping. I’m thinking of inventing an ear camera. Even seemingly boring people have stories. That’s what keeps me fascinated. Landscapes are OK If you’ve got time to sit around and wait for a cloud to arrive. I can’t talk to the trees – unless I’m an Ink Spot. You know who they are?[starts crooning]: “Whispering grass, don’t tell the trees / ’Cause the trees – don’t need – to... know-ow …” Of course they fucking don’t. They’d probably feel incredibly bored. But I love trees. I think they’re here to stay.

Your East End past, your friendship with the Kray brothers … does that world still exist? 
Yes and no. I’ve gone back and put it in my three volumes of East End books. You have to understand people ate tea leaves they were so poor. They’d do anything to feed their children. Women sold their bodies. It’s time and place. Easy to judge, easy to be pompous. The Krays were a bit like Tolstoy’s Cossacks. Fucking anarchists, but with their own morality. They didn’t do prostitutes or drugs. I quite liked Reg, even though when he was 19 he slashed my father’s face with a razor. Ron was a basket full of rattlesnakes. They were dotty guys. Reg took me aside once – everything always had to be secret with Reg – and he said “‘Ere, Da’. I wish I could have done it legit like you.” That was touching. There was me, a fucking dyslexic cockney with no qualifications, and I got out.

The Krays were a bit older. How did you meet? In the street? Playing football?

Playing football? Football? Are you fucking mad? Silly sods kicking balls around. I detest sport. The idea of competing… now that’s vulgar, even for an East End boy.

Were the 60s, the time that made you famous, all they were cracked up to be?
Yeah for about 2,000 people living in London. For everyone else, steelworkers or coal miners or the very poor, it was a shit time.

You’ve kept the hard-living image, but you gave up drink and drugs long ago?
Yes, 40 years ago. Drugs and prostitution should be legalised. The politicians know. But it’s not a vote winner. “Excuse me, madam, we’re going to legalise cannabis.” Ha. People only want to know what’s in their pay packet.

Do you agree that most of what you do comes from the past?
Yeah… but from my past. The Renaissance is bad shit! I’m still fascinated with Hitler and Churchill and Mickey Mouse and the war and living down in the coal cellar. Growing up in East Ham by the river, I had a sense of the foreign. It was like being in Twin Peaks. You know – the sound of the foghorn? My uncle – who was gay and lived with us; I just knew, no one told me – he was in the navy. He came back with a wind-up gramophone and records of Maori songs. I loved them. My dad was homophobic. My mum – it was her brother – was in denial. She was the one who pushed for a better life. It’s always the woman. Mum was the tough one. Even the gypsies were scared of her.

What was school like?
I was in the silly class. Kids with a limp or a twitch and people like me. I was at the top. Being at the bottom of the silly class – now that would have been bit of shit wouldn’t it? I left school on my 15th birthday. Out. End. The headmaster said, someone has to clean the roads.

Did you have a sense, deep down, that you were going to have some starring role in life?
No, no way.

Where next?
Heaven or hell, I imagine. I was feeling pretty dicky yesterday. But I’ve had a fucking good time.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

30 minutes with Natalie Portman / 'The less I’m in a movie, the more I like it'

Natalie Portman
by Raymond Meier-


Natalie Portman: 'The less I’m in a movie, the more I like it'

The actor talks about directing herself, the things she learned from Terrence Malick and Mike Nichols, and making a tourist trip to the Star Wars universe

Nigel M Smith
Friday 19 August 2016 09.47 BST

Natalie Portman
Photo by Mark Abrahams

Hi Natalie. You’ve moved back to LA after two years in Paris (1). What’s it like to be back in the belly of the beast?
People in LA are just wild. French people are very judgemental, or in Paris at least, about how you are and how you look. You would never wear workout clothes on the street or sandals or shorts or wild colours. It was fun to get back to where everyone’s just being free.

Did you move back because of the vegan cuisine? (2)
[Laughs] Took the words out of my mouth. Actually, Paris has improved a lot for vegans in the past few years. It was a lucky moment to be there as a vegan.
You premiered A Tale of Love and Darkness at Cannes (3), where critics are notorious for booing. Was it scary opening yourself up to that?
Amy Adams once said this thing that I remember all the time about how artists have to have a very thin skin. You have to be very emotionally ready, emotionally connected to everything but then, as a public figure, you have to have such a thick skin. People will say such harsh things (4). You need to be vulnerable for your work but you also need to be tough as nails just to keep up, and that combination is really hard to maintain.
Do you read reviews of your own films?
No. I avoid it. It’s inhibiting to hear bad things about yourself. It makes you afraid, and you can’t be afraid when you work.
So many actors hate watching themselves. How do you get past that?
I usually see a movie once when it comes out at the premiere and then never see it again. Usually I cringe through the premiere and hate everything I do. The less I’m in a movie, the more I like it.
How do you rate your performance in this film?
I will never tell you anything good about myself. I promise! At least I was able to have the distance to be like, “OK. This could be better.”
Would you cast yourself again?
[Laughs] Yes.


You’ve worked with some incredible filmmakers (5). Who influenced your directorial style?

Mike Nichols was a huge influence. He emphasised story so much. He was always telling the story over and over again to the cast so that everyone’s in the same moment. This is the moment they fall in love … this is the moment she realises he’s cheating … this is the moment he sees his mother as flawed for the first time. You name the big event of the scene and that helps you connect the dots.
Terrence Malick was a huge influence also. He’s completely different. He’s just constantly pushing to paint from life and not from other films. Whenever they say “It has to be a three-act structure” or whatever, he’s like: “That’s not true. You portray the world as you experience it.”
I read that while shooting Annihilation (6) at Pinewood Studios in London you visited the Rogue One and Episode VIII sets. What was it like to step back into the Star Wars universe? (7)
It’s always fun getting to visit a movie set as a tourist. When you go and it’s your job and you go everyday, you get a little immune to how magical it is. To experience it as a tourist just makes it magic again.
You have Jackie coming up, in which you portray Jackie Onassis. You’re being tipped for an Oscar. You seemed to enjoy yourself while on the awards trail for Black Swan ... (8)
Being sober the whole time is a trip! (9) I’ll tell you that. [Laughs] I felt unusual being that way relative to the room.


(1) Portman moved with her husband, Benjamin Millipied, and their five-year-old son Aleph, after Millipied became director of dance at the Paris Opera Ballet in 2014. He returned to LA Dance, the company he created in 2012, this summer.
(2) Portman has been vegetarian since her preteen years. In 2009, she declared herself vegan after reading Jonathan Safran Foer’s book Eating Animals.

(3) Portman’s feature directorial debut, an ambitious, Hebrew-language adaptation of Israeli writer Amos Oz’s autobiographical novel of the same name. She stars as an Eastern European Holocaust survivor who struggles to adapt to life in what will soon become the state of Israel.
(4) A Tale of Love and Darkness premiered in the festival’s Un Certain Regard section and earned mixed reviews. The Guardian’s Andrew Pulver called it a “serious, well made adaptation.
(5) Portman has worked with film-makers including George Lucas, Mike Nichols, Terrence Malick, Darren Aronofsky and Anthony Minghella.
(6) The next film from Ex Machina film-maker Alex Garland. Portman plays a biologist who signs up for a dangerous secret expedition.
(7) Portman played Padmé Amidala in Stars Wars Episodes I, II and III.
(8) Portman won her best actress Oscar in 2010 for her performance in Darren Aronofsky’s ballerina thriller Black Swan.
(9) She was pregnant while campaigning for the award.
 A Tale of Love and Darkness is released in the US on 19 August

Friday, August 26, 2016

30 MINUTES WITH Rebecca Hall at Sundance: Hollywood is scared of 'ugly' female characters

Rebecca Hall
Poster by T.A.


Rebecca Hall at Sundance: Hollywood is scared of 'ugly' female characters

The actor on starring in an acclaimed Sundance drama about Christine Chubbuck – the news anchor who achieved notoriety in the 70s for killing herself on live TV – and why she’s rarely offered parts this complex

Nigel M Smith in Park City, Utah
Friday 29 January 2016 12.02 GMT

Hi, Rebecca! How are you?
Full of a head cold, but otherwise fine.

I think so. I think it’s just travelling and generally being over-adrenalised and happily pulled in too many directions. But yes, cold!
The last time you were in Park City was with the broad comedy Lay the Favourite(1). 
It’s a completely different thing to go with a film that doesn’t have distribution(2); it’s a really different animal. I had no experience of that. The two I came with before both had distribution; premiering them there was more like just having a coming-out party. There were stakes with Christine. It was also playing in the competition, which was a different thing as well. There was a lot more nerve involved. You wait for reviews, for buyers to circle it, and then you wait for the juries. It’s a nerve-racking process.

I was at the Sundance premiere of Christine: did you sit through the entire movie?
I did, yes! I saw a cut, but it wasn’t with music. And I think there is a difference when you see something with an audience, so I wanted to sit through it. I don’t think I’ll ever do it again. I found it really hard.
It’s a tough watch for anyone. Watching it took me back to the space I was in when I was doing it. I wasn’t really conscious of it while I was watching, but halfway through I thought: God, I’ve got this really bad tension, and why is my shoulder seizing up? My posture was changing in my seat as I was watching.

Rebecca Hall

Then you had to face the audience after for a Q&A.
I’m happy to talk about this film, because I think it needs talking about. Part of the reason I wanted to do it is because I wanted to portray some sort of empathetic version of a mental-health disorder, which often doesn’t get portrayed truly. I wanted to do it with no filter or worrying about being liked – but also for the audience to sympathise with her on some unimaginable level.
Getting up and doing a Q&A after people have just seen it is not exactly comfortable. You’re looking at a group of people who have the expression of: what did you do that for? And there are always people who are going to ask: why did she do it? I don’t know. None of us will ever know. I can make a guess as to why my version of Christine did it, but we will never know what was going on inside her head.
That’s not the focus of the film, solving the riddle that is Christine.
Absolutely not – exactly.
Before learning of your film, I was totally unaware of her story. Had you heard of her?
No, I’d never heard of her. It’s a funny one, because when I talk to people about it, lots of people have an odd reaction, like you have towards some urban myth or legend. People say they’ve seen the footage, and I’m always thinking: no you haven’t, because it doesn’t exist (4).

But there’s something in the consciousness that people vaguely understand the story, or the way in which it’s been filtered down through films such as Network (5).
Given that you had so little footage of her to play off, how did you prepare and feel you were sufficiently ready to embody Christine and do her memory justice?I felt that I had to be faithful to the script, above anything else, to bear in mind always that this was a piece of art, that I wasn’t trying to re-create someone who existed – and in the process, capture the spirit of someone who did something tragic. I thought it was important not to glorify the act, not to turn it into some sort of macabre act of heroism, leaning into the political statement of what she did. It’s first and foremost a tragedy. She should have led a good career and died of natural causes.
I had 20 minutes of her on TV, and that was incredibly informative because it was 20 minutes of her presenting a show that was in no way indicative of how she walked or talked throughout her whole life. To do an impression of that would have been a mistake, but it did give me a jumping-off point in the same way you can have a first impression of someone you meet and how often that gets misguided the longer you know them.

The script alleges she was a virgin her whole life. How did you factor that into your performance?
In my head, she was someone who got stunted at the point when most of us are developing who we are and how we are: in adolescence. It was a conscious choice for all of us – it’s why she had a pink bedroom and an interest in romantic songs. Behind this severe exterior, there is this adolescent little romantic girl, who’s not developed really. That was very informative.

What do you make of the irritating fact that often, the best roles for women are found in smaller films?I really think that Christine is one in a million, in terms of independent or studio. But I know what you’re saying: that there are many more opportunities in independent film for women. But I do think that Christine is unusual, in that I was allowed to be bold and not be concerned about being liked.
I think that female roles: they can be victims, they can be sympathetic, they can be in pain, they can be in suffering – but they can’t be ugly. I think there’s so much fear surrounding that, that it makes a film unlikeable, that it won’t sell. If I’m going to be honest about it: I think men get to do this sort of thing all the time. You look at countless performances by great male actors who get to play the whole gamut of human emotions. Women aren’t regularly allowed to do that, and I don’t know why people are so frightened by it. The moment you do, I’m struck by how many people come up to you. Since Christine started screening, I’m overwhelmed by the response from women and men – that it’s so rare to see something like this. We’re just not given the opportunity so much.

Rebecca Hall


(1) In the Stephen Frears-directed comedy, Hall played an ex-private dancer turned gambling prodigy. Bruce Willis and Catherine Zeta-Jones co-starred.
(2) Christine is still seeking distribution in the US.
(3) The footage of her suicide is untraceable on the internet.
(4) It’s believed by some that the 1976 newsroom satire was loosely inspired by Chubbock’s suicide.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

30 MINUTES WITH Jennifer Jason Leigh: 'Until Tarantino, I had forgotten who I was as an actress'

Kurt Russell and Jennifer Jason Leigh
The Hateful Eight by Tarantino


Jennifer Jason Leigh: 'Until Tarantino, I had forgotten who I was as an actress'

The Hateful Eight and Anomalisa actor on why she thought she was out of touch, and how to wash fake brains out of your hair

Nigel M Smith in Los Angeles
Friday 8 January 2016 11.36 GMT

Hi, Jennifer! How would you characterise your past year?
I would characterise it as: a hell of a year.
What accounts for this comeback you’ve had (1)? Was it a change of management or just good fortune?
I am well over 40. I feel like the door was closed, and I had made my peace with it and I was fine. I worried a little bit about money. “Am I going to work again … Maybe I’ll go more into writing.” But I’m very happy being a mom. I just thought I had a great run and that’s that. Anomalisa we voiced two years ago!
We did that two years ago, they lost the financing; or not “lost”: they ran out of money. I didn’t know if the movie was ever going to be completed. Charlie [Kaufman] didn’t know. To have that and then getting The Hateful Eight was beyond surreal.

Jennifer Jason Leigh
The Hateful Eight by Tarantino

That shouldn’t be surreal for someone like you. Sure, Tarantino’s great, but you’ve worked with the Coen brothers, David Cronenberg - the list goes on …
Thank you, I appreciate that, but a lot of times, this town, or this business, really only looks at your last three projects. Quentin is the exception to that. He looks at your whole body of work. He would talk to me about moments I had in Flesh+Blood as though they were yesterday. He’s that thorough and that’s just how his brain works. When he looks at you, he doesn’t see just what you did the last two years and he doesn’t think you’re not that person you were in, whatever, 1985.

He doesn’t think in terms of box-office draw.
He just sees you and what you’re capable of. That’s such a blessing, and it really made me remember who I was as an actress; I just had forgotten. Not in a bitter or sad way; it was just like I didn’t feel particularly meaningful or relevant right now. I was OK with it, I had other things going on and that’s fine. It’s just the way things go.

This is really remarkable for me. Honestly, I still look at the poster for The Hateful Eight and I can’t believe I’m in the movie. I love it so much and the experience was so grand. It really was exceptional.

Jennifer Jason Leigh as Dorothy Parker in Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle (1994)

It clearly lit a fire under you. Did making it make you more ambitious going forward?
I’ve never been a careerist and I live in the present, so I don’t know where this is going to go, but I know I just had this experience and now it will live on forever and I feel really lucky.
Funnily enough, you were in the audience for Tarantino’s staged live reading of his initial draft of The Hateful Eight (2). Did he invite you?
No, I just happened to go. I didn’t think he was going to do it as a movie. Then, when he decided to do it as a movie, I was one of a handful of people that he was thinking of to come in and read.
Talk about a fluke!
Yeah, right!

Daisy gets a beating in The Hateful Eight (3). Were you at all apprehensive about how that might be perceived?
She’s one of the Hateful Eight. She happens to be a woman, but it’s not about that. I never felt like the set was about that at all either. She’s as tough as they come. She’s seen a lot of violence in her life and you can tell by the way she takes a punch. She gets her sense of self from that, too.

She seems to enjoy it, somewhat.
Yeah, because she’s tough. They’re not going to break her. I don’t consider myself very tough. I could be this tough in this movie, because I was working with Kurt Russell and I knew I would never get hurt. He’s the best dance partner in the world. I really felt I was in safe hands, so I never anticipated one single blow.

Jennifer Jason Leigh

You never got one?
I never did. Really, that’s a credit to Kurt. A lot of my performance is a credit to Kurt – Quentin, too, of course, but Kurt, a lot. He was so there for me.
I’ve had a competitive streak and sense of focus from a very young age – I can really focus in. Daisy has that. She’s not going to let them see that it hurts her. She’s not going to let them see her vulnerability. She’s not going to let them win in any way. She’s going to win.
Was that your real hair in the movie?
Yeah …
I’m asking because the brains and vomit must have been a pain to wash out.
Yes, it was all a bitch to get out, but luckily, we had dressing rooms. Luckily, that stuff was done on a stage here, so even though the stage was freezing, when you walked out of the stage, it was not freezing (4). We had these little bungalows with good water pressure.
Sitting in a chair at the end of the day and getting all my makeup taken off and the black eye, and the facial massage, was like a little luxury.

Did you relish the opportunity to get all mucked-up on screen?
I loved it! Also, there’s a funny thing that happens. There are moments where Daisy’s covered with blood with teeth missing and it’s maybe one of the prettiest images of me that’s been done, because it’s Bob [Robert] Richardson, and the light just happens to be beautiful. In that moment, that character shines. What is beautiful changes from moment to moment. Yeah, there are moments in the movie where it’s just like, oh, my gosh, right out of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, and it’s “the ugly”, but I love every second of it. It never even occurred to me to …
… think about how you would look?

Jennifer Jason Leigh

Were the fake teeth painful to wear?
At first they hurt, but then you got used to it and they didn’t hurt at all.
You’ve done your fair share of theatre over the years.
The Hateful Eight is like theatre.
Did Tarantino ever talk about doing it as a play?
Yeah. I think it would be an amazing production, to see that kind of violence on stage. If you could figure out a way to do it, it would be such an exciting theatre piece. Even just seeing the reading was an exciting theatre piece and that was just people sitting down and reading.

You strike me as a director-centric actor. Is that how you typically sway when it comes to projects?
Yeah, I do. It’s the director’s medium. There have been been some mistakes I made in the past, which I wish I hadn’t, because either I was tired at the time, or it was a great director I wanted to work with and I, for whatever reason, didn’t want to do the project. Now, with time, you realise: oh, that was dumb. If it’s a great director, you always do the project, so these were life lessons learned. Still, given that, yes, I’ve been really fortunate and worked with some of our greatest directors.
Pick your favourite working experience.
I would think it was this, really. Georgia is very personal to me, Anniversary Partywas great. Anomalisa is also another one that, particularly, is in my heart and will be forever. I do think it’s a masterpiece, I really do. This experience, doing this … I wish we were still filming.

Jennifer Jason Leigh and Quentin Tarantino


(1) Leigh has had many roles in movies over the years, in addition to recurring turns on the TV shows Revenge and Weeds, but her role as Daisy Domergue, a foul-mouthed criminal in The Hateful Eight, marks her first major role since Margot at the Wedding in 2007. Last year, she also received major acclaim for her voice work in Charlie Kaufman’s animated romance Anomalisa.
(2) Following an online leak of Tarantino’s script for The Hateful Eight, the film-maker hosted a staged reading of his screenplay in front of a live audience in Los Angeles in 2014.
(3) Leigh’s character, Daisy, is chained to a bounty hunter, played by Kurt Russell, throughout The Hateful Eight.
(4) To achieve authenticity, Tarantino had his set chilled to mimic the frigid temperature inside the cabin.