“We’ve been rehearsing this for the last three days and we’re not bad,” Quentin Tarantino told a packed crowd tonight at the live staged reading of his The Hateful Eight script. With alumni from his past pics such as Samuel L Jackson, Tim Roth, Kurt Russell, James Parks, Amber Tamblyn Michael Madsen, Denis Menochet, James Remar and Walton Goggins plus Bruce Dern by his side onstage at the Theatre at the Ace Hotel in downtown LA, the director’s 3.5-hour performance of the five-chapter Western set in post-Civil War Wyoming revealed that Tarantino has a career in theater if he ever decided to chuck the whole moviemaking thing.
Despite the controversy and legal action surrounding the leaked script, which Gawker put online in January, tonight’s Film Independent Presents the World Premiere of a Staged Reading by Quentin Tarantino: The Hateful Eight, as it was formally titled, also revealed that the big-screen version might not be as shelved as the director first told my colleague Mike Fleming Jr. on January 21. “I’m working on a second draft and I will do a third draft, but we’re reading from the first draft,” Tarantino, wearing a black Stetson and red ribbed cowboy shirt, said to the 1,200 patrons in the almost SRO theater before the performance started. (The well-heeled crowd included longtime Tarantino producers Harvey and Bob Weinstein.) “The Chapter 5 here will not be the Chapter 5 later, so this will be the only time it is seen ever.”
Regardless of how Hateful Eight lives on, the crowd loved the show they saw tonight — especially the hands-on onstage narration and direction from Tarantino. “Guys, you are starting to drift away from the dialogue on the page,” the Oscar winner told the actors at one point around halfway through. “No more co-writing,” he added to a big laugh from the audience. “He’s directing,” said Jackson at another part when Tarantino ran across the stage to whisper something into his ear. That also got a big roar from the crowd. A couple of other times, the director asked the actors to start a particular scene over again. Near the end of the performance, Tarantino playfully told Goggins to just read the script and not worry about the imaginary guns in his hands. Also during the later part of the show, both Goggins and Madsen broke from the script and joked with Tarantino about a narration line where Madsen’s character was described as looking like “he’s cumming in his pants.” Madsen told the director that “it’s never happened before.” Tarantino shot back that he’d show him one day what it was like.
Besides several standing ovations, only a 20-minute intermission broke up the show. Tickets for tonight’s event went for $150-$200 a pop, with all proceeds going to Film Independent’s programming efforts at LACMA. Security was a top concern, with the crowd having to give up their cell phones and other electronics before entering the downtown theater.
Filled with the sometimes laconic, sometimes sardonic and often violently profane language we’ve come to expect from Tarantino’s screenplays, the sharp Hateful Eight script tells the tale of a small group of stagecoach passengers stranded during an Equality State blizzard in the later part of the 19th century. In this case, the group includes a couple of grizzled bounty hunters, a Confederate general, a transplanted Englishman and Frenchman, and a female prisoner among others in the secluded mountainside Minnie’s Haberdashery. With a boxcar of bullets, weaponry and betrayal in hand, tiddlywinks does not ensue, to put it mildly.
Jackson was there playing the tailor-made-for-him role of bounty hunter and former Union soldier Major Marquis Warren. Although the cig-smoking star’s appearance was tipped ahead of time, his co-stars were not. Introduced at the beginning by Tarantino, Russell played fellow bounty hunter John Ruth aka “The Hangman”; Roth was Brit expat Oswaldo Mobray; Menochet was Bob “from France”; Dern was Southern Gen. Sanford Smithers; and Madsen was cowboy John Gage. Tamblyn was prisoner Daisy Domergue, with Goggins as Confederate soldier Chris Mannix of “the scourge of North Carolina, Mannix’s Marauders”; and Parks played stagecoach driver O.B. Jackson. Parks, Russell and Tamblyn did double duty as other characters and were joined by Zoe Bell, who was in the Tarantino-directed Death Proof in 2007, and Django Unchained’s Dana Gourrier in smaller roles.
The sparse onstage setup saw Tarantino reading from a podium on the left. The actors sat on the half-dozen red leather seat chairs placed in front of microphone stands, though at various points in the night Jackson, Russell, Goggins and others moved around the huge stage with mics in hand. A number of the performers also acted out shooting guns and drinking coffee. Tarantino used a blue coffee pot as a pivotal prop throughout the later part of the reading. A couple of slightly worn comfy plush armchairs were brought on for a portion of the show for Dern’s character and those he interacted with.
Intended to be Tarantino’s next project after 2012’s Django Unchained, the director put Hateful Eight on ice after the script appeared online after he’d shown it to a select few actors earlier this year. “I’m very, very depressed,” Tarantino said in late January. “I finished a script, a first draft, and I didn’t mean to shoot it until next winter, a year from now. I gave it to six people, and apparently it’s gotten out today.” he added, “I’ll publish it. I’m done. I’ll move on to the next thing. I’ve got 10 more where that came from.” Just 6 days later on January 27t Tarantino sued Gawker for copyright infringement and $1 million over the site’s promotion and dissemination of the Hateful Eight script. With a January 27 trial date now set, the two sides are currently in court-ordered mediation.
Originally scheduled for April 24 and at LACMA when it was first announced April 3, the staged reading was moved to tonight due to “unforeseen scheduling issues.” Trust me, except for the people who couldn’t get a ticket to the hottest show in town, no one who saw tonight’s performance had a problem with that. “Good night, Los Angeles!” Tarantino shouted out to the audience after an almost five-minute standing ovation at the end. Yes, it was.