Walt Goggins Is The Briefcase Of The Hateful Eight

I got to know Walt Goggins (he lets me call him Walt) on the television side covering The Shield and Justified year after year. Goggins was always attentive, remembered me and gave a firm handshake, looking directly in the eye whenever we had a new interview. Even now that I no longer have hair or a beard, he still recognized me and we picked up right where we left off.

If you’ve had a chance to see The Hateful Eight already, you know what a major role Goggins plays in the ensemble. If you haven’t seen it yet, you may be pleased to learn that he gets as much attention as the other seven, if not more than three or four. He’s Chris Mannix, who claims to be the incumbent sheriff of Red Rock, but since the whole film is set outside of Red Rock we never see him sworn in. The Hateful Eight is now playing everywhere.

Nerd Report: Do you think Mannix really was he sheriff of Red Rock or was that a lie too?

Walton Goggins: Oh, you know, after reading the script that Quentin had written to shoot the movie, I said, “I have one question for you. Am I the sheriff or am I not the sheriff?” He said, “I want you to answer that question and I don’t want you to tell me he answer to your question. So he doesn’t know. My wife doesn’t even know. I’m the only person that knows.

Nerd Report: You’re the briefcase of The Hateful Eight!

Walton Goggins: Absolutely! That’s exactly right. That’s exactly how I’ve phrased it to other people. I am the briefcase.

Nerd Report: Did having done the live reading help your performance eventually when you got to set?

Walton Goggins: Yes, in April of last year, we didn’t know that the film was going to be made but it was one of the greatest experiences of our life. It was an extraordinary event. There were 1600 people at the Ace Hotel there to listen to a live reading of a Quentin Tarantino script. It was an extraordinary evening. It was as electric as every single day was on this movie. We were shot out of the fucking cannon that night and I think it was based on that reaction that Quentin decided to tell the story. Having done that allowed me to get comfortable with the fact that I was going to be playing in Quentin’s sandbox with the likes of Kurt Russell and Michael Madsen and Tim Roth and Bruce Dern. I didn’t know those actors before this movie started personally. They’re all icons to me, as they are to so many other people. Sam Jackson is a friend of mine. For someone like myself who’s been around for a long time, to get to work with Jennifer Jason Leigh, I didn’t know her either. To get the opportunity to work with these people is a lot to digest on the outset. Very quickly, we became a very close family.

On the set of Minnie's Haberdashery in The Hateful Eight

On the set of Minnie’s Haberdashery in The Hateful Eight

Nerd Report: When you finally got to the haberdashery set, was it everything you imagined?

Walton Goggins: How do I answer this question without it sounding trite? It was so much more than any of us could have ever imagined. Even though I knew the parameters of the room because we rehearsed in a room about the size of it here in Hollywood before we got there. There were just some 2x4s up to represent walls and what not. I don’t know how our production designer was able to create that much detail and that specificity in a room that it became the ninth hater in the story. Everywhere Quentin and Bob [Richardson] pointed that 70mm camera, the room is as interesting as anything that we’re doing. I don’t know how he did that. To this day, even when we were wrapping, when the movie was ending, that day, you’re still walking around Minnie’s Haberdashery looking at all the details. So it was more than I could ever have imagined.

Nerd Report: How cold was it in the Haberdashery?

Walton Goggins: F***ing freezing, man. It was freezing! When I say cold, it was colder on a soundstage in Hollywood than it was in Telluride, and Telluride was freezing. Chris Mannix didn’t have a jacket. He had nothing. He had a very small, thin jacket. So it was cold and there was no place to escape from the cold, because he pumped it under the floors. He pumped it coming out of furniture on the side. They had it from above. There was no place to get away from it. Bruce was in the chair and in between takes they would just put an electric blanket over him, put a little cap on him and he would just sit there. We would all sit there for 18 hours a day, all of us together. And the crew who were bundled up were still f***ing freezing. I remember one day when our prop guy Don, he didn’t know I was watching him, he just walked off the stage. The only thing he said was, “God, please let me be warm. Please let me be warm. Please let me be warm.” I think that was the mantra. But we all went through it as a group and at some points it was just laughable how f***ing cold we were, man. That’s all you could do.

Nerd Report: Was the 70mm camera a different experience for you?

Walton Goggins: Well, what was different, nothing changes when you’re telling a story. When you’re playing pretend, it’s just an imaginary set of circumstances and here we are, let’s go. Let’s go there. You ready? So that doesn’t change. What changes is maybe like a horse wearing a new bridle that very few horses have ever worn, because the lenses are so big. The body of the camera is so big and the frame for this movie is twice or three times as big as most actors are ever used to. So once you wrap your head around a closeup where most closeups see here, and you’re asking Bob the question, “Do you see here?” He says no. “Here?” Keep going. “Here?” Keep going! “Here?” Yes. Once you just get past that visual experience of how people will see you, then it’s business as usual.

Nerd Report: Do you give a different performance in the digital version, if he’s using different takes?

Walton Goggins: Oh God, I had not heart that. I know there’s some footage in the film release that will not be in the digital release. I have no attachment to it. For me, it’s not a matter of getting it right. It’s a matter of having an authentic experience. So is it different? You bet it’s different. Every take should be completely different as far as I’m concerned because it’s a different moment and you’re reacting to different things and it’s alive and it’s breathing. I think that’s what Quentin wants. That was certainly my experience on Django and certainly my experience on The Hateful Eight.

Grim, But Fun: Bruce Dern on The Hateful Eight

Bruce Dern is one of The Hateful Eight. He plays General Sandy Smithers, a Confederate general who’s still bitter his side lost The Civil War. So when Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) shows up, they have some beef even before the hateful situation transpires. Warren ends up at Minnie’s Haberdashery after hitching a ride with bounty hunter John Ruth (Kurt Russell) who’s taking Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to hang. Trapped in a blizzard, The Hateful Eight are forced into a standoff as they suss out each others’ intentions, all captured in a 70mm frame.

After I got to speak with Dern about The Hateful Eight, he paid me a very Bruce Dern compliment. He said he liked our interview because “you do your homework, and you give a sh*t.” I didn’t have to do that much homework because Dern fills in the answers with such details, but here is our interview. The Hateful Eight is now playing in 70mm roadshow engagements and a wide digital release.

Quentin Tarantino on the set of The Hateful Eight

Quentin Tarantino on the set of The Hateful Eight

Nerd Report: For Nebraska, you said Alexander Payne didn’t want any of your “Dernsies.” Does Quentin want Dernsies?

Bruce Dern: He asked me specifically in two occasions for a Dernsy. The other actors were kind of wondering, “Why does he get to bump in and do something?” Quentin said, as a quote, “I can’t write that sh*t down that he does. I can’ write that. You don’t know when it’s coming, you don’t know how it’s coming but it always fits the story and is correct so they’re valuable. But I can’t write that.” In Nebraska, I was only allowed two Dernsies.

Nerd Report: I remember one was when you tell Will Forte “I’m here” at the end, I remember that.

Bruce Dern: The other one is when we look in the bedroom upstairs of my old house. June Squibb says, “This was Woody’s room. He shared a bed in here with Davey.” You see the little broken crib and all that. “He shared this room with Davey. He slept in the bed with him and he never got what David died of when he was two years old.” Will Forte says to me, “Do you remember that dad?” There was no line written, and my line was just, “I was there.” Alexander says, “I can’t beat that.”

Nerd Report: What were the Dernsies in The Hateful Eight?

Bruce Dern: A couple to Sam in his long speech, when I interrupt him. It’s like, “I get it.” He keeps going on and going on and going on and I say, “I get it. I get it.” Another one is with Channing Tatum. He said, “Okay, we’ll give it a try.” And I lean forward and put my hand out, shake his hand and said, “Thank you.” Everybody on the set said, “But that’s not in the script?” And Quentin says, “What’s the moment about? He’s just had his life saved. He’s got a little bit of a con too. He wants to live, so he thanks the guy for saving his life.” That’s a Dernsy.

Nerd Report: Have you worked with these 70mm Panavision cameras back in the day?

Bruce Dern: Panavision but not 70mm. They only made seven 70mm movies, I mean Cinemascope. The first was The Robe and then Lawrence of Arabia, and then Khartoum which starred Charlton Heston. I forget the other two, and the last one was It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World which was in ’63. I never worked in a format, like here, where everyone is in every shot. Which means you’re a prisoner on the set. Even days when they’re just gonna see you in the background. I didn’t have a good time in Telluride because it was the middle of winter. You can’t go anywhere and you can’t get out. You gotta drive 180 miles to get a plane to go back on a commercial flight. They have a jet runway but it’s less than 100 yards, so I would never land a jet there, no way. Even Harvey and them didn’t come in. They’d go to Montrose.

Tarantino looks through the 70mm camera.

Tarantino looks through the 70mm camera.

I had never worked with anyone who was able to do what he’s done here, which is he made an opera. This is opera. It’s bigger than life but it still is a movie. But by that, I mean, that’s what the 70mm does. Yes, a lot of it has to do with the magnificence of the stagecoach coming through the snow and how tiny everything is compared to what’s really going on. The other thing is with the Cinemascope camera, I can shoot him, but I can’t pan to you because the camera will blur because it’s Cinemascope. You have to cut the camera after I’m on you. This is even in a scene with two people. And put it on tracks. Then you can move the camera on little railroad tracks but you can’t move it with the arm. That’s what takes the time.

The other thing that takes the time is you had to shoot every single scene eight different times from eight different points of view, because we’re all reacting to everything that goes on. The whole movie takes place in five hours. It runs three, but from like one o’clock in the afternoon until just after dark. It was a long shoot. We were there I think 161 shooting days, but we shot seven weeks back here. When we walked on the stage, he refrigerated it to 27 degrees. Oh my God, so we’d be sitting outside in Santa Ana and go inside 25 times a day, and that was not good for us. In Telluride it was okay because we were always at the altitude and there was cold wherever you went. But this was not cool and a lot of people got coughs. The crew would get it, we’d get it.

Nerd Report: Did having played the live version ultimately help you when you played the character on film?

Bruce Dern: At the reading, it worked as a play. That’s basically what this reading was. We all sat in a row, Quentin was the narrator and he’s the narrator in the movie. People got it in that form. Now the question to Quentin was, how do I put it in the camera? He had no idea when he had the reading, at least to us, that he was going to make the movie. He wanted to, he tried to, but from the circumstances of other people reading the script before and everything, he felt, “I’ll move on to something else. Everybody knows what I’m doing.”

Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Bruce Dern in The Hateful Eight

Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Bruce Dern in The Hateful Eight

There were two actors in the reading that are not in the movie. Jennifer was not in the reading. That was Amber Tamblyn. Channing Tatum was not at the reading. That was James Remar, who’s a Quentin favorite. Those are the only changes. He auditioned extensively actresses. I know my daughter met with him. Geena Davis met with him. Whoever’s out there in that age group met with him. Geena’s a little older but he wasn’t sure what the age had to be. How he picked Jennifer and where that came from, I don’t know. I don’t know how he picked any of the people. And he made it fun. It was fun. Grim, but fun. And I felt trapped in Telluride. That’s me, I’m claustrophobic, and you can’t get out. It was the middle of winter so you had to drive 180 miles to Montrose to get a plane that could go just to Salt Lake City to get you to L.A. You feel trapped because the sky’s overcast and it’s going to snow every day. If it snows, the planes won’t land in Montrose so you have to drive 600 miles to Salt Lake City to get a plane, because this is Western Colorado. This is the end of the Rockies where Telluride is, not the beginning. That’s over by Denver. From Telluride to Denver is a seven hour car drive and over two passes of 12,000 feet.

Nerd Report: Are you actually doing whole scenes in the background while we’re looking at someone else in the foreground?

Bruce Dern: You’re not in a scene but you’re there, so you’re there. And the actor who realizes he’s on camera all the time is the actor who succeeds in those scenes. Some actors go and take a nap. Not in this movie because it’ll catch you doing it, and he wants that. He wants the operatic thing of everybody being [active] and the camera sees that. It’s not tough because you’re in the scene. You’re still acting. You’re being hired to act and play a character, so play your character. And live with the fact that sometimes you’ll be in the background. Every single one of us had to go through that, because most of the scenes are two or three pairings of people over by the bar, over by the stove. Me, I’m alone on the fireplace and they had all had these big coats on. I had nothing but the simple little general’s uniform, without the coat even. It’s hanging on the peg, and I was cold. Because the fire is a fire, it’s a real fire. However, it’s not a fire that throws heat into the room because that would distort and make waves in front of the Panavision. And Bob Richardson is a genius. When you say Quentin made the movie, Quentin and Bob made the movie, and Quentin will be the first one to tell you that. He wouldn’t have done it without Bob. No way.