KILL BILL VOLUME 1 - Q&A with Quentin Tarantino, Uma Thurman, Daryl Hannah and Julie Dreyfus
Movie Interview by Mark Bayross
October 2003, and two years after superstar director Quentin Tarantino and studio Miramax announced production of his fourth film to the throng at Cannes, his plans for a short, low budget revenge tale have ballooned into a 3 and a half hour budget-smashing epic so sizeable that it has been divided into two films, a decision taken merely months before its release, 155 days late.
But now KILL BILL VOLUME 1 is here, and the director can be proud of the fact that he still has no weak link in his repertoire - it is an adrenaline-fuelled riot of leftfield cinema that manages to stun aesthetically and engage cerebrally, making the four month wait for VOLUME 2 seem agonisingly long (check out the ).
Now, at London's ornate Dorchester Hotel, we are in the company of the man himself, plus his leading lady and two of her co-stars. Settle down, because, as you'll know already, QT does like to talk...
Mr Tarantino, if I could start with you...the violence. Clearly it was your intention, when we hear the voice of Nancy Sinatra singing "Bang, bang, my baby shot me down" to let the audience know this was really a very black comedy?
QUENTIN TARANTINO: Definitely, that's definitely the case. I've done violence before but I've never done it in such an outrageous way. Not that I have a problem with it when it's not outrageous, but this is definitely not taking place on Planet Earth, and it is actually using a lot of Japanese filmmaker influences, where it's a standard staple in Japanese cinema to cut somebody's arm off and have them have water-hoses for veins [makes loud gushing sound].
Miss Thurman, you must have been inordinately delighted that Quentin was prepared to wait for you to have your baby and be prepared and fit enough to take on this role.
UMA THURMAN: I was incredibly pleased, amazed, overwhelmed...it is a testament to his loyalty, his friendship, his patience and his general goodness.
QUENTIN TARANTINO: I felt I may have put some undue pressure on you, though...we wait for six months and now you really have to deliver, then, huh?
UMA THURMAN: Not, Quentin...Quentin would never do that, but they used to phone me from production and they'd say, "Ok, now, so when's the baby coming? Ok, so try to schedule it, the baby comes this day, and that day..." and finally I said, "Listen guys, you put any more pressure on me to have this baby, I'm going to hang onto it! He's going to be overdue, he's going to come out with dry feet, I swear to God!" [Laughs]
QUENTIN TARANTINO: She used to say stuff like, "Everybody, I'm not baking a loaf of bread, I'm having a baby!"
UMA THURMAN: The kitchen timer doesn't work on this one...
QUENTIN TARANTINO: Actually it did!
UMA THURMAN: Yes, it did...that's me, I'm a slave to detail!
Miss Hannah, for you, KILL BILL began backstage in London...
DARYL HANNAH: Yes, I was doing "The Seven Year Itch" at the Queen's Theatre in London and Quentin came into my dressing room backstage and I was like "what the hell are you doing here?"
QUENTIN TARANTINO: I was going to play it cool... I wasn't going to tell her that I was thinking of casting her in a movie or anything, I was just going to say I was seeing the show, but I wasn't going to lie when she said "what the hell are you doing here?" [Laughs]
DARYL HANNAH: ...he said he'd come to see me in the play - thank God I didn't know or I would have been terrified and not been able to function - and then he told me just a little bit about the movie, and that was it until I got the script.
Miss Dreyfus, you have evidence that Mr Tarantino is very much a hands-on director, because not only did he direct you in several crucial and bloody scenes, but he also became your make-up assistant, I believe?
JULIE DREYFUS: It was the last day of shooting in China and the production had decided we would do it in LA so everything had been packed up and the special effects make-up people and their blood had been flown back to LA, and there was no more American blood in China. We ended up doing the scene at the last minute and the make-up artist was just nicely spraying my face trying to make me look beautiful, and Quentin was standing there saying "more" and then she would put a couple more droplets and he would go "MORE!" and then finally he lost patience and he picked up this great big bottle of Chinese blood - it's very different - and poured it on top of my head. I couldn't see what I looked like because I was inside the boot of the car, but when I got out all you could see was the white of my eyes.
UMA THURMAN: You're just lucky you didn't open a vein! [Much laughter]
QUENTIN TARANTINO: It was like, I'm not asking for more base, I'm asking for blood! She just got her arm cut off, for Christ's sake! It wasn't the American blood or the Japanese blood, it's the Chinese blood, which means that after you wipe it off, it stains, you know, like she had a birthmark, alright? Like pigmentation forever!
Given that most of the men in the film are either flunkies or killing fodder, and the women are so strong and resourceful, would you regard it among other things as your feminist statement?
QUENTIN TARANTINO: I would probably use the words 'girl power'.
That was the briefest answer I have ever heard from you!
QUENTIN TARANTINO: That was a very precise question, I was able to give a precise answer! It doesn't happen that often! [Laughter]
Two questions for Mr Tarantino. I was wondering whether you actually sat down and made a list of more inventive ways to hack at the human body with a samurai sword - do you have a wish list? The second question is, we enjoy all you favourite genres mixed up in KILL BILL, but are there any film genres that you loathe with a passion?
QUENTIN TARANTINO: Two good questions... When it came to do the House of Blue Leaves fight where Uma fights the Crazy 88 with a samurai sword, yeah, I was trying to think up every inventive most entertaining way of her to dismember and disembowel and put to an end those bastards. I was up there trying to create one of the greatest, most exciting sequences in the history of cinema. So, I was definitely working overtime... what do I want to see, what haven't I seen? It took me about a year to write that fight sequence. One of the things that I am actually really proud of about that sequence is the fact that the movie doesn't stop while that scene goes on, I think that there is actually storytelling going on in the course of it. I didn't write it as a stand-alone action scene, it was just like the whole rest of the script, I was kind of working my way through it. I know I want to do this, and I know I want to do this, but now I want to get there, I can't just hop from here to here, and can't go "this is just blank now and I'll just fill that in later", that is not the way I work, it's more organic than that. But when I didn't have a middle section there, what I would do is, I would think of something I had seen in a cool kung-fu movie like something that Sammo Hung did in this movie or Wang Yu did in that movie and I'd have that be the space in between and over the course of the year I would constantly re-write it and re-write it until all those scenes I'd taken from other movies were gone, so it was all filled with original stuff.
As for genres I hate, well, loathe may be a little bit strong... I'm not really a big fan of Victorian drama kind of movies, for the simple fact that these movies are about people knuckling under society or trying to fight society and being knuckled under because of it, or movies about people who are following rules or who are destroyed for breaking rules, no matter how slight as far as the social fabric is concerned, and are just not interesting to me. I like movies about people who break rules, movies about mavericks, and I don't like movies about people who are pulverised for being a maverick. One of the genres that is tempting, but I'm not really that into it as far as cinema is concerned, is biography movies. I just don't think they make interesting cinema, they create a great performance, there is a great character for a person to play, but usually they just show the rise and fall. You know, there are few people in this world whose life is interesting enough to make a movie...could make a very good book, but not a movie. If I was ever to do a biography of someone I'd follow someone for three days, not their whole life, not from when they are young, their middle age, and then finally their old age - I would be interested in three days, like if I was ever to do a movie about Elvis Presley, I would do it about the day he walked into Sun Records and that would be it.
Uma, having had your second child, how difficult was it for you getting into shape for such a physical role, and did you feel the pressure was really on?
UMA THURMAN: Yeah, the pressure was immense; denial was probably the best way to move forward, to break it down into the smallest possible pieces. The only thing I had, and the only thing really I ever had, is that - and this is a constantly moving goal line - I will do my best. I will do my best today, I will do my best for the next hour, I will do my best this shot... I will do my best, and I will stand back up again after I fall down. That was how I had to take it, pretty much for five months, because there was three months of training - that was pretty momentous - and when I first put my tracksuit on to go down for my make-up and hair test, which was the first time I was remotely in the presentable shape of someone who is about to take on 88 people, I had tears in my eyes and the wardrobe people had bloody fingers from taking that costume in every week because I was slowly, slowly shrinking. It was getting down to the wire, you know - is she going to make it, or is this going to be kind of funny for Quentin, this very large bottomed samurai?! [Much laughter]
QUENTIN TARANTINO: You say that like it's a bad thing!
UMA THURMAN: He wouldn't have minded that really, the large bottomed samurai... He would have had a lot of butt shots... Quentin is a friend of booty I think.
QUENTIN TARANTINO: Nothing wrong with a big backyard...
UMA THURMAN: That's it, you heard it from the horse's mouth...! And then we pretty much went straight into the sequence in the House of Blue Leaves, which was deceptively...expanded [laughs]. In normal film world language, when you look on the schedule, or when you look at a 220 page script and your director says to you "this is going to be a 90 minute film", you think "ok, so that means this is going to be quick, so I'll spend time in that dialogue, and that is going to be quick..." and you sort of pick your way through it in complete ignorance. On the schedule, that sequence was meant to be two weeks and on any normal movie, if a sequence were to go a third or 50% or double its time, would be considered a cataclysmic failure on the side of production... Eight weeks later, when I walked off that set covered in blood, with my sword and my beautiful fight team behind me, I realised I had been involved with something and done something that was going to break every rule of cinema, and I was on a completely different journey.
Quentin, you said recently that VOLUME 2 "ain't going to be pretty" - can you elaborate on that? And have you had any thoughts on the DVD?
QUENTIN TARANTINO: I can't really elaborate on it that much, there's a big dot dot dot there for VOLUME 2, and actually I'm not even being cagey, I still have to make VOLUME 2, that's one of the reasons why we're doing such a whistle stop...if we were all done, we could take a bit more time here, but I have to get home and do it all over again. The thing about VOLUME 2 is that there is a personality change that happens between VOLUME 1 and VOLUME 2. At the end of the film where Sonny Chiba gives that little parable where he says that revenge is never a straight line, it's like a forest and like a forest, it's easy to get lost in, to lose your way and forget where you came in... VOLUME 1 is the straight line, VOLUME 1 is the straight ahead, heart pumping, sit on the edge of your seat, "Wow! That was a night at the movies!" kind of thing. It can be said actually...[adopts faux intellectual accent] "where's the resonance?" [Laughs] My feeling is, it's there, but you don't need it, alright? Growing up, when I watched AVENGING EAGLE and FIVE FINGERS OF DEATH, I wasn't thinking "where's the resonance?", I was getting off, man! This was the shit! It's there, alright, but it don't have to be there - it's there if you want it. The "resonance" is in VOLUME 2 and it's not straight ahead - now it's the forest and now it's easy to get lost and to lose your way as far as The Bride's journey is concerned, because now we slow down a little bit, we get to know the characters a little bit more, and things aren't one, two, three any more for her...real life rears its ugly head into her journey. And as far as the DVD's concerned, yes, I'm thinking about it big time already! I can't imagine a better movie when it comes to great DVD stuff! I'm going to really play fair as far as the DVD's concerned. We'll come out with a separate volume for VOLUME 1, we'll come out with a separate volume for VOLUME 2, I'll do special stuff for that, then we'll come out with a real big version that puts both of them together...then I won't repeat the special stuff that I put on VOLUME 1 and VOLUME 2, I'll do something whole other than that, I might even make some other little movie thing just to go on that special double feature version. Hey, I'm all about a collector, man...come out with all the different junk you can! [Laughs]
Uma, is there anything on film you wouldn't do for Quentin, and what's your favourite method of killing?
UMA THURMAN: I, The Bride, have a very self-sacrificing, kind of noble, hard way to go about it. Me and my sword...I'm very possessive of my sword. I earned it, I became one with it. It took a long time...when I first had it, they were like "go like this" [mimes slashing motion] and was, like "sure..."...thwack! [mimes swinging and slaps herself in the forehead] I learned the hard way how to handle that thing. So, while not my favourite way of killing, my favourite thing was that journey that took me to that sword, and it was the hardest journey - through the House of Blue Leaves - that you can go through. You know, choking the girls, having a big slap-fest with Daryl, which you have to look forward to...we had a good time...chopping off Julie's arm...sorry Julie! [much laughter] Could have been worse, I know, but she sprayed me with her blood though, and I got really messed up in my good suit right away! [more laughter] And the other question, "is there anything one wouldn't do?" - of course there's always going to be things you won't do...
QUENTIN TARANTINO: Well, there's a lot of things I wouldn't ask her to do too, by the way...! Not many, but a few! [Laughs]
UMA THURMAN: A long time before production, he called me up and he was all blushing and nervous on the phone and he said, "I...I'm going to...er...read you something...I feel really bad about it, ok? You can have any reaction you want...", and he preceded to read me a far meatier version of the "Fuck Buck" scene - he read me the goriest, most violent, multi-Frances Farmer-style sequence, complete with a fantasy sequence that went to hell and it was really something...
QUENTIN TARANTINO: You liked the hell part...!
UMA THURMAN: I loved the hell part! The villain ended up having his behind smacked by a cloven footed...
QUENTIN TARANTINO: I'll describe it... After she kills Buck and bashes that door into his head, it cuts to a title card that says "One Week Later...In Hell!" And all these centaurs and minotaurs are lining up to gang fuck Buck, alright? He is held down and this minotaur with a big, bald, blue veiny dick comes over and is ramming it up his ass, and a cloven hoof is smacking his cheek, he's crying in pain, the devils are laughing, they're playing little violins...! [Laughter from audience]
UMA THURMAN: You see that's Quentin's conscience in action...! He felt so badly about this gang raping of The Bride that he had to add in - maybe just to get through the call with me - this hell sequence!
QUENTIN TARANTINO: Hey, I worked hard on that hell sequence!
UMA THURMAN: It was quite fantastic...! My response to it was to be completely amused, and therein was the journey, so everything works out okay with him. It's hard going sometimes but it comes out pretty good.
Obviously the film owes a lot to the great kung-fu films - if you had to choose the quintessential martial arts movies, what would they be?
QUENTIN TARANTINO: I think I'd probably include FIVE FINGERS OF DEATH; I'd have to mention a couple of Angela Mao movies - I'm a big Angela Mao fan, big into the female adventure -LADY WHIRLWIND would definitely be one, BROKEN OATH would be one as well; as far as I'm concerned almost anything by Zhang Che - to me he is to old skool kung-fu films what John Ford was to westerns - and I have to go out on a little bit of a tangent here because Zhang Che died while we were in pre-production and any time we put the camera up in the ceiling and looked straight down, I'd call it "Zhang Che's POV", and there was one moment in the movie where I was getting frustrated by all the modern day pyrotechnics of making movies...we had a really great make-up crew, but they were doing everything the modern way where to get some of these blood effects, everything involves hydraulics, kind of fire extinguisher canisters and tubes going up legs, and I go, "screw this, guys, we're not making a goddamn horror movie here, let's pretend that we're little kids and we're making a Super 8 movie in our backyard and you don't have all this shit...how would you achieve this effect? Ingenuity is important here, alright?" I was getting pissed off, and Wo-Ping came up and goes "Well, Quentin, you know what Zhang Che developed in the 70s don't you?", and I go, "No, what?", and he goes, "Well, to get some of those cool blood effects that he had, you would take a Chinese condom and fill it full of blood", and, by the way, to make the record straight...a Trojan doesn't work! It has to be a Chinese condom! And the fighters would have a sword in one hand and a blood-filled condom in another and when they were like foom! swinging at the bad guy [mimes swinging sword], as they go "aaargh!" [grabs neck], they'd squeeze the condom and fooosh! blood would spurt out [mimes blood spurting from neck], and it was great, no canisters, no tubes, no nothing, just fooosh! [mimes blood spurting again] - a Chinese condom and it worked like charm. So anyway, I'm doing the shot where Uma swings her sword at this girl's throat, and the idea is that the camera's behind the girl, Uma's like this, swings, and the camera's right over here [over her shoulder], and the girl is supposed to grab her throat...as she grabs her throat, she squeezes the condom and the blood fooosh! spurts out like that towards the camera. And we did it, but it's not directional, it's a Chinese condom - who knows where the fuck the blood's going to go? So we're doing it ten, 12, 13 times, and the blood keeps going fooosh! down her front as opposed to wooosh! out like that [spurting out of neck towards the camera]. And I was just starting to get frustrated, alright...it's not her fault, it's nobody's fault - aerodynamics are not on my side so far - and I swear to goodness, at some point, I felt like Zhang Che talked to me...he kinda came to me and said "Hang in there, Quentin, it's going to work out...you have no idea how many times I had Wang Lee do this or that or the other...it's bound to explode the right way once, just hang in there, you're one time away from it...", and sure enough, about four times later, it did it perfectly. And to this day, I'm almost positive Zhang Che came to me and just told me to "calm down and don't worry, it just takes a little patience, you're almost there".
Quentin, you're obviously quite a wild character yourself, can you explain to me why you went for David Carradine?
QUENTIN TARANTINO: Good question. David Carradine, when it comes to the actors of Hollywood, is one of the great mad geniuses. When it comes to wild actors in Hollywood, Nicholson would be up there, Christopher Walken would be up there, and definitely David Carradine would be up there. One of the things that was a big thing about David getting the role was that I had actually read David's autobiography - it was called "Endless Highway", and it was one of the best autobiographies I have ever read in my life; it was just fantastic! To read about this guy's life and to imagine him, John Carradine - the Shakespearian actor's - son, being in Hollywood and New York and all these places he lived in, it was quite a fascinating journey, and I as was reading it, I was like "God, this guy is like...Bill! He could be Bill, this could be Bill's story...it would be different, but it would be just as inventive and just as character-filled". So that went a long way towards me casting David in the role.
When did one movie become two movies, and how soon were you aware of the change?
QUENTIN TARANTINO: Actually, if I could have done it as two movies from the get-go, I would have. But to bring it up to Harvey Weinstein right from the beginning and go "Hey, why don't we make it two movies?!", that maybe would have set up a warning sign or a red flag right off the bat, which I thought might not have been prudent! But what ended up happening was that the crew pretty quickly realised they had made two movies, because, you know what, the crew make movies all the time, and normally they make about two movies in the course of a year. With this movie, they made one movie in the course of the year, and they realised, "hey, you know what, this it two movies!" So there was all these two movie jokes going on on the set, but what actually happened was Harvey Weinstein came on the set in the last month of shooting, and said, "Quentin, I hate like hell to have to lose anything, why don't you make it two movies?" And I was like, "That's a great idea Harvey! GENIUS!!" And I went back to work and directed for another hour, and in that hour, I kind of figured it all out - "ok, this would happen here, it would end here, the second one would start here..." and in an hour I kinda had it all figured out, and that's what we're doing.
How important was it for all of you to have filmed in China?
JULIE DREYFUS: For me, it was important in that we had a great set that took us right into the heart of the exotic Asian film genre.
UMA THURMAN: I probably saw the least of China, as I was in the studio every day. But we wouldn't have had that scene with the Crazy 88 if we had not been in China.
DARYL HANNAH: Yes, the fight team was the heart of the film...
QUENTIN TARANTINO: I wanted to go to China to capture the vibrancy of a place like Beijing. I wanted to do it the Chinese way, not to have to stick to a schedule. I wanted to go on an adventure making this movie.
Lastly, Quentin, there's a dedication to Charles Bronson at the end of the film - would you have wanted him in one of your films, and if you could pick your dream cast, who else would it include?
QUENTIN TARANTINO: I'd have to say Charles Bronson, definitely. Who else? Lieh Lo, who created the character of Pei Mai; Aldo Ray; Ralph Meeker... I don't need Dietrich as I already have her...!
[..."aaah"s all round]