INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS Interview Pt 2: ELI ROTH

by Eli Reyes

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Recently, Mr Black and I got to sit down for some roundtable interviews with the cast of Quentin Tarantino's genre weaving WWII adventure thriller Inglourious Basterds. This may very well be, my favorite Tarantino film. The performances are flawless, the dialogue feels as action packed as the action itself , and the film has plenty of humor to spare.

For my full review of Inglourious Basterds, Click Here.

Yesterday we brought you the roundtable interview with B.J Novak, and today we present you with writer/director Eli Roth. Roth now earns another slash, as Inglourious Basterds marks his first true feature role as Sgt. Donny Donowitz, a.k.a "The Bear Jew."

In the interview, Roth often references and quotes things that Quentin has told him during the course of filming Inglourious Basterds, and of their friendship. So it's like getting two interviews in one!!! I've done my best to cut down, break up and explain certain sections of the 21 minute interview.

I wasn't ever a fan of Roth's film's, and I was skeptical of his acting going into watch Basterds. But he did a good job in the film, and I came out of this interview respecting him as an artist. He owns up to his past mistakes, and has a clear vision of what he wants to accomplish in the future as a filmmaker.

Roth opens up about everything, from: The Inglourious Basterds Prequel, Acting Vs. Directing, How he accidentally made the same film 3 times, his Hannah Montana shame, his Sci-Fi epic Endangered Species, how he almost died during one of the action sequences, and directing the film within a film, Nation's Pride.

Enjoy, and let us know what you think!

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(WARNING: At the very end it gets into spoiler territory, but I will give you fair warning before, and let you know when it ends. Language is uncensored.)

Several of the character back-stories from the original script were left out of the movie. Roth explains what exactly was filmed and why Quentin didn't put it in the final cut:

The Boston scenes(Donny's Back-story) were shot and cut... We filmed all those scenes, but it came right at the introduction. Quentin said, 'I love those scenes, you have the coolest entrance in the movie, and it's just taking away from it.'

I was like, 'Well I don't wanna ruin the grand entrance'. And he was like, 'You have Brad Pitt AND Hitler setting you up! And then you come out. I don't know when in your career you're gonna have Brad Pitt and Hitler taking about you and talking about you.


He goes on to describe how deep Quentin goes into developing his characters, and how it could lead to an Inglourious Basterds prequel:

He wrote so much. He knows every character in this movie; who they were and where they were before the war, during the war, after the war, and if they had lived, what they would have gone on to do.

He's got all of this figured out, and a lot of it written. He had hundreds of pages written that he parried down to this movie. He might do the Inglourious Basterds Prequel. I think [if] people respond, and if he feels like doing it, he'll jump in and do it. Because Brad and I are like, 'Prequel! Prequel! Prequel!'


If all goes well, and we do get a prequel, Quentin plans on utilizing those scenes already filmed.

If he does it, he's not gonna put those [deleted] scenes on the DVD. He said 'I already have 3 scenes from the prequel filmed already.' We may see them one day.


Do you prefer being in front of the camera or behind it?

I actually prefer directing. I mean I love acting. But for me, I get an incredible thrill from having an idea in my head, and projecting it, and watching people responding to it and seeing people connect to it... or throw up from it. Both of them give me an equal thrill. The truth is, I found that acting, I did love it and it was really really fun. But it was such a special circumstance, with Tarantino and Brad Pitt, Diane Kruger, BJ Novak, and everyone I worked with, Christoph Waltz.


Roth explains that even though he may not have another opportunity like this, and doesn't plan on making acting a career, Quentin gave him a doorway to use his new skills a different way.

I said to Quentin, 'Well how am I going to top this experience?' And he said, "Well. Ya might not. But now you have permission to write great parts for yourself." And that is something I think I would do.


So what are some of the differences in your approach to directing a scene, and acting in a scene?

[When I would direct] I would get more and excited as I'm chopping up the body parts. Because I have this empty jigsaw puzzle, and the pieces are being filled in. When I'm performing I have to conjure up the most painful, upsetting experiences of my life, continually. And I have to make it feel like it happened 15 minutes ago.

Think of your worst worst worst break up, the most awful death, and the worst thing you've done. It makes you crazy, and you have to stay in that state. And at the end of the day, even though that scene is fake, that stuff you're thinking of is very real. I had no idea how draining it was. When everyone was going out for drinks, I didn't want to tell everyone that I would [rather] go into my apartment and just sit and cry. But that's what I felt like doing.


There was a moment when Roth seemed pretty offended when one of the reporters asked him this next question. But he handled it quite nicely.

I don't think the guy meant any disrespect, but his phrasing didn't come off so great , "You and Quentin are buddies. And he obviously knows you're a Horror Director.(Roth inhales loudly) In the scenes when you are doing horrific things, does he confer with you on how a "Horror" director would film this or that? Or is it Quentin's show 100%?

I'm no more a horror director than Quentin is a violence director. I'm a director.


The reporter very quickly responded, "Ok." Roth continued, handling it like a pro:

I've told scary stories. But I made 20 animated short films, all of which were comedies before I did that.

We both love horror movies, they're my first and foremost love. And I plan on making lots of different types of movies. In the Hostel movies, it's very much about those gore moments. People are paying money to be scared and to be shocked. They wanna see it, (ducks down)they don't wanna see it. But they wanna see how much they can take. And I milk those moments. I milk the the build up, I milk the moment then move on.

This is war. It's a story, the violence is one component of it. We shot [Nation's Pride] realistic. But it was never about making it gratuitously violent as possible. Because that wasn't going to serve the story.


Do you feel like Quentin's fans are expecting some good war type gore and violence the way people would imagine that Quentin Tarantino would deliver?

Quentin always says that his movies take a couple of viewings to get used to. Because people have very specific expectations. And if you think about Quentin, he's continually defied expectations. After Pulp Fiction, nobody expected Jackie Brown. It took people awhile to get into the rhythm of Jackie Brown.

Quentin said that with Kill Bill, the reviews were terrible. Everyone said 'Where's the great Tarantino dialogue?' Then in Kill Bill 2 it was all dialogue and got bad reviews. People said 'Where's the great action from Kill Bill?

No matter what he does, the movies take a few times to get used to. They've gotta watch the movie to get out of their head whatever it is they had in their head. And then they can start to watch the movie to see it for what it is.

He said even with Pulp Fiction, the first time critics saw it in Cannes the reviews were pretty bad. They were mixed. Some people loved it but other people were like,'This is terrible, it's so violent.' Then they saw it again and they go, 'Well, this really isn't that violent. It's actually quite funny.' And then the third time they're like, 'This is amazing.'


Roth explains how Basterds incorporates so many types of films, which makes it difficult to pin down what category the film falls into.

The challenge of this movie, is how do you sell it in a 30 second TV Spot? And that's always been the question. We could sit here for two hours, and it'd be difficult to categorize what the film is. Cuz it's so many different things.

Quentin said, 'Every chapter change, every twenty minutes, I want the audience to go 'Wait a minute. What movie are we in?'' He was continually playing with tone. Where you kinda go into this 1940's romantic movie for awhile. At the end you're almost in a Marx Brothers movie for awhile, it almost goes into farce. But it's always continually in this Tarantino Universe. There are going to be people expecting two and a half hours of action and man on a mission. My job is to get out there and explain that it's more than that.


This is one of the most interesting points Roth brought up. And I completely agree with  it. Roth explains how advertising and perception of a film can completely change your movie going experience, how this has affected his own films, and why it hopefully won't affect Basterds.

I think people's enjoyment of films is directly related to what their expectations were. And I learned that on Cabin Fever. Where if people heard that it was like the scariest movie ever made, they didn't like it. If they heard it was like an 80's movie that was funny and scary, they loved it. They thought it was fantastic. And it was the same movie! It's just what they were set up as [to what] the movie was.

But people know Tarantino enough, to know that you just pick up more and more on repeated viewings. And hopefully that'll be the case here. So far audiences have responded and been pleasantly surprised by the humor in it.


Are you ready to walk away from the Hostel Franchise?

I have walked away from the Hostel franchise. After Hostel 2 it was over. But contractually they have the right to continue it. So if that's what they want to do they can, and I have no... problem with that. It's just not something I'm gonna be apart of anymore. I've done what I have to do, I've said what I have o say. And I have other ideas I want to explore. But that's the dilemma of any artist. How do you continually evolve and stay fresh? You don't want your audience to feel betrayed. You also don't want to be trapped by making movies you feel you [owe the] audience.


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Roth explains how even though he stayed true to his own vision, how he accidentally made the same movie three times:

All the things you naturally like, your personality will naturally get fed into the film. People will watch them and see similarities. I thought Cabin Fever, Hostel, and Hostel 2 were completely different movies. When I made each movie, I was like 'I'm gonna completely change it up. I'm gonna totally reinvent this.'

And three times now, I've made movies about: groups of kids that are sheltered and protected. That go to a foreign environment. Kinda piss off the locals, act like they can buy them and sell them. Then get into trouble, then need their help, and then pay for their mistakes. If everybody in my movies had behaved, there'd be no problems.

I didn't realize it. I'd made the same movie three times, without even consciously trying.


Roth addresses some of the hurdles he had to overcome to win over the audience, and how he approached his character.

I know people are grading me on an extra hard curve. They know I'm friends with Quentin, and they know me as a director. But I had to very quickly earn the respect of the audience. And it couldn't just be from lifting weights. People had to see that real pain and that anguish, and that fury in this guy's eyes as soon as he comes out with the bat. That he has this murderous rage to kill these Nazis. He's so angry at them. You have to see that terror and violence.

I really pushed myself like I never have before. When I come out, people are expecting something brutal. So we made sure to deliver that in my very first scene.


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Can you recount the interrogation scene?

It was six days to shoot the whole sequence, interrogating Rachtman. I was back there in this cage. I set up a punching bag, I asked the guys to set up a pull up bar so I was loose and ready to kill.

I was listening to music like Misfits, Iron Maiden and all this stuff. And then as a joke, my girlfriend at the time had put Hannah Montana in the mix. So I was listening and was like what the fff... 'Everybody makes mistakes. Everybody knows, what I'm talking about. Everybody goes, NOBODY's PerFECT!' Oh my gosh, I caught myself kinda rocking out to Hannah Montana, and missing my girlfriend. What if Brad Pitt caught me and was like, 'What are you doing dude?! Listening to Hannah Montana? My kids don't even listen to that!'

I had this Hannah Montana shame, and so I just came out and just went psycho and just pummeled the guy. I did it all day, and had no voice left. I did the full rant. I was heaving and sweating, and I stank like a bear.

 

And the next day I had to film the reactions of the other guys. The first take I was beating and miming it out so we could get their reaction. And to get more of a reaction I just started fucking the dummy. And they were like 'YEAAAAAAH!!!' So when you see the guys cheering, they were actually reacting to me. And I fully had sex with the dummy. I was like, "Greg, I'm sorry I defiled your dummy... again.'


What's your next project?

As soon as I'm done with the release of Basterds, I'm gonna jump into my Sci-Fi movie Endangered Species. I'm gonna do movies like Jurassic Park or Transformers or Cloverfield. I have an idea that I think is really really great for PG-13. Something that's scary but fun and big with lots of mass destruction. And I'm also working on a script for Thanksgiving, my Grindhouse film.


When asked what he learned as a director, while being directed by Quentin, I was shocked but not surprised by some of the luxuries that Quentin does away with while filming his movies. Roth explained:

I learned that when you're on a set: No cellphones. No Blackberry's. No Computers. At all. We had a guy we called "Checkpoint Charlie", and you handed him your cellphone. And if your phone went off, you're out. You're there to make a movie, and all that other bullshit you can do in your trailer.

Quentin was very strict about it. One time a cell phone went of and he shut down the set. It was terrifying. It was no joke, he made a big thing about it. Zero tolerance policy on this. It gave everyone a focus. He didn't have a playback monitor. Except for the fire sequence he had a playback monitor. He didn't want everyone around "Video Village" or "Chair Town". If there was too many people in the chairs chit-chatting, it was dissolved. We were like, 'What happened?' and we're like, 'Oh, the mayor came and shut down Chair Town. No more chairs." Because this isn't a party, we're here for work.

 

Quentin did not have a trailer. He's like 'What the fuck am I doing in my trailer? I should be on set. If we're not shooting, I'm setting up the next shot. That's my job. To be here, focused on making this movie.'


Roth also went into some of the creative freedom Quentin gives his actors:

I notice that with actors off camera, if you did something great, and Quentin really loved it, he'd turn the camera back around. He noticed actors are much more relaxed off camera. That's when you're not self conscious. You don't second guess. You just start throwing stuff in and coming up with things 'cuz it doesn't really matter.

 

Sometimes that's when you come up with the best stuff. If Quentin catches it, and feels it's really worth while, he'll turn the camera back around. As a result everyone is on 100% all the time. It just elevates everybody's performances. If you give him the line exactly the way he wants, and afterwards you've got something you wanna try, he'll let you do it. If there's something special you wanna give him as a choice, he'll let you do it.***


What was your reaction to the subject matter of the film?

You're making a movie about Nazis. It's hard not to react about it. But I also felt it was important not to pussy around about it. To not be too precious with it. I think the death of a lot of these World War 2 movies, is that they're so precious and reverent. Suddenly they get caught up in these details of the subject matter, that they don't realize how absurd it is to have these British people running Concentration Camps, with German accents. And have German people speaking English in these "historically accurate" movies.

Well what the fuck was that? When my relatives were being killed, I don't think they heard English. Don't tell me that's historically accurate.

There were moments where it was shocking of course seeing the swastika. It's also important to remember what happened and make sure it never happens again. As much as it was upsetting.. good. It should upset us. If I see a swastika and I wasn't upset, that's when there's a problem.

You know it's a movie set. It's not like driving by a neighborhood and seeing a swastika spray painted. That's where I get really upset.

The first time I showed Nation's Pride to 300 Nazi extra's, even though they were in character, to be in that theater with 300 people dressed like Nazis screaming 'Hail Hitler' and 'kill the Jews.' My fucking stomach turned. And I looked at Quentin and went, 'Oh, God. What have I done? What have I started? I started The fourth reich. And they're gonna make me their Sarah Palin'


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I heard you almost I died during filming?

Omar Doom and I were almost killed in the fire sequence.

Quentin was like, 'Look guys. I'm not gonna lie to you It's gonna be fuckin' hot in there. And we're like 'Good! We'll go home with our battle scars. We'll take one for the team.'

They had done these fire tests on the set and it's just me and Omar up in this balcony and two guys under us with fire extinguishers. And the only person up there on a crane is Quentin in a full fire suit, operating the camera. In the tests, it had gotten to 400 degrees centigrade. They're like, 'It's never gonna burn closer than this.'

Well, they never tested it with the flags, and all the shit caught fire. It burned way out of control, the flames came right up to us. And it got up to 1,200 degrees centigrade, which is about 2,000 degrees farenheit. The ceiling was 2,000 degrees. It was 45 seconds of us firing machine guns.

You see me wince, and that's just me getting charred. I had never been in a fire. I had no frame of reference for that kind of pain. But we also knew we had one chance to get this. There was no second take... burning the set to the ground just to completely rebuild another one.

I had done so many hundred of clip changes that I was just on autopilot. As soon as he yelled cut, we just dropped everything. And I had fire gel on me, but it was so hot. You went into shock, you were numb. We went down the stairs and it was zero degrees out, and we had to walk to this tent. That was the day he had the playback monitor because it was such a big effect. So we watched the playback and Quentin just [gives thumbs up]. And I konked out.

The next thing I woke up and I had ice on me, aloe, and people standing over me... It was zero degrees and I had my hands in ice buckets up to my arms. I had towels with ice on my neck and I sat there for five hours and covered myself in aloe. We were getting blisters and had to go to the hospital.

The fire Marshall's were apparently a wreck. They were watching it going, 'Please tell him to cut. Please tell him to cut!'

They said another 10 or 15 seconds and the structure would have collapsed. You can see a swastika fall, that was not supposed to fall. It had 6 steel cables, and the steel liquefied. And the thing crashed to the ground. Which made for a great shot, but we were almost that swastika.


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Tell us about how you came about directing the film within the film, Nation's Pride.

I told Quentin, 'I'm here for six months. Let me help you make the Cannes Film Festival.' He said, 'I've never done a second unit, but I'd love to have you shoot Nation's Pride.'

He'd seen my Grindhouse trailer, I knew I could give him something no one else could do for him. He said, 'Maybe I'll give you three days to do it.' I said, 'Give me two days, and a second camera. And my brother Gabriel will be my second unit director. And I guarantee you in two days you'll have a battle film.'

He had three shots written that he was gonna do. And the rest 'I just need guys firing guns.' I gave him two hundred shots. It was the fastest I've ever moved. It was November, we were light by 8:30, and dead by 4:15. Quentin was so happy he gave me a third day with Daniel Bruhl in the tower. He was like, 'Just take over this thing. I don't wanna think about Nation's Pride. So I cut the whole thing. It was exhausting.

I gave him my film, and I feel like I gave him another character.

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