Moviefone recently chatted with Tarantino and, after getting over his initial disappointment that he would not be interviewed by Mr. Moviefone (and, of course, proceeding to deliver his own rendition of "the voice" -- "If the reason you did this movie was to rewrite history, press 2!"), the 'Pulp Fiction' auteur opened up about writing his own bloody ending to WWII, hanging out with Pitt on set ... and living in a world in which Paula is not on 'American Idol.' No one melds smart dialogue, magnetic characters, engrossing narrative and brutal violence into a single filmgoing experience quite like Quentin Tarantino. All those things -- and a Southern-drawling, mustache-sporting, Nazi-scalping Brad Pitt -- are on display in his latest film 'Inglourious Basterds,' a revisionist take on WWII, which not-so-subtly hints that movies have the power to end war.
Moviefone recently chatted with Tarantino and, after getting over his initial disappointment that he would not be interviewed by Mr. Moviefone (and, of course, proceeding to deliver his own rendition of "the voice" -- "If the reason you did this movie was to rewrite history, press 2!"), the 'Pulp Fiction' auteur opened up about writing his own bloody ending to WWII, hanging out with Pitt on set ... and living in a world in which Paula is not on 'American Idol.'
The movie starts out with the words, "Once upon a time in Nazi-occupied France ..." so it has a kind of fairy-tale connotation. What inspired you to write such a revisionist take on history?
That just kind of came up right when I got to that section of the movie. I'd always thought about the whole "Once upon a time in Nazi-occupied France" -- but that didn't necessarily mean it was a fairy tale. I don't really look at 'Once Upon a Time in the West' as a fairy tale per se, even though there's a fable-like aspect or a folkloric aspect to it. I think that would be a closer way to say it -- like folklore almost [laughs]. That wasn't the plan all along though. I thought that I would honor history. But when I got to that point in the piece, I literally had to stop and ask myself, "What am I doing? My characters don't know they're part of history. My characters don't know that there are things that they can do and things that they can't do. I've never ruled any of my characters like that, a now's not the time to start." So ... my characters change the outcome of the war. That didn't happen because my characters didn't exist. But if they had existed, everything that happens is very plausible. And when I say "my characters," I don't just mean Aldo [Pitt] and the Bear Jew [Eli Roth]. I mean Frederic Zoller [Daniel Bruhl. If he had done what he did at that time in the war, Goebbels very well would have made a movie about him [laughs].
The movie shares a title with Enzo Castellari's 1978 film, but even Castellari admits that the movies are completely different. How did you formulate the idea for 'Basterds,' and how has it changed over the 10 years since you first started writing it?
The way it's changed, in particular, was I had a different storyline back in '98 when I started writing it, which was after 'Jackie Brown.' It was a lot of the same characters, and I'd written the first two chapters, which were introduction chapters. It wasn't the storyline of the Castellari film, but it had elements of it. And it just ended up being too big. I was having big-time Sergio Leone-itis. I couldn't introduce a character without giving them a 20-minute entrance [laughs]. And so after five characters, I'm now at three hours, and I haven't even started the story yet. So it would have been a miniseries [laughs], not necessarily a movie. And I even had to live through that stuff -- like, "OK, what am I saying? Am I too big for movies? I'm an artist! And a three-hour canvas is just too puny for a man like me." So I put it aside and ended up doing 'Kill Bill Vol. 1 & 2' and, you know, got it out of my system [laughs]. So then I attacked this again and realized that it was just that story that was too unwieldy to tell as a movie. So I took it out and came up with a new story. And that new story is the idea of Frederic Zoller, this German version of Audie Murphy, and the movie and the fact that he would get to know Shosanna and there would be a premiere and that premiere itself would be the mission. And once I came up with that, I was pretty happy. I was like, "Hey, that's a good idea!"
Quentin Tarantino's 10 best music moments | Quentin Tarantino's best characters
Even though Brad Pitt gets top billing, it's not just a "Brad Pitt movie." All of the characters are explored pretty in-depth ...
Yeah ... I feel like the film has three leads: Aldo Raine, Col. Landa [Christoph Waltz] and Shosanna [Melanie Laurent]. The first "chapter" introduces the idea of Shosanna, but it really introduces Landa. And the second "chapter" introduces Aldo and the Basterds. And the third "chapter" introduces Shosanna. And then from chapter 4 on, that's kind of the beginning of the adventure. In a movie from like 1967 or something, like 'Devil's Brigade' or 'Where Eagles Dare,' that Mike Myers scene would be the first scene in the movie.
Myers was almost unrecognizable in that part.
Mike was great from that role. It was like he was playing Trevor Howard in a mid-'60s war movie [laughs]. There was an aspect about working with Mike where you can just create a whole different character for him, and then you and him and the makeup people work to build a face around that. I felt like I was working with Peter Sellers [laughs].
What was it like working with Brad Pitt for the first time?
It was terrific working with him, in particular because he was just perfect for that character. If Brad Pitt wasn't a big star, I'd be lobbying for him to get the part because he really kind of nailed that guy. He was perfect for it. He really liked the character a lot, so one of the things that was kind of cool was that when he was around the camera on-set he always just stayed in character a little bit. He kept his accent going on. And if you asked him a question, the answer would be a mix of Brad and Aldo [laughs]. And I came up with the character, so I liked hanging out with him [laughs].
You employ the so-called "Mexican standoff," where multiple characters have guns pointed at each other simultaneously, fairly often in your films, and there's a great one in the tavern scene in 'Basterds.' What is it about that device that appeals to you so much?
I like doing a genre movie but breaking it up in a non-genre way -- bringing real life into it. One of the sequences that I really wanted to get into the movie but wasn't able to was a sequence where some characters would be stuck in a minefield and they'd have to get across. Now, we've seen that before, but we've rarely seen it played out how it would be in real life. And there is the same aspect about that in this, as far as the tavern scene is concerned. He has to pull off the German. It's not 'Where Eagles Dare,' where Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood apparently speak German so wonderfully that all they have to do is put on some officers' uniforms, and they can mix it up with the Nazi hoi polloi [laughs]. Since English is standing in for German, we don't buy it. I'm trying to play that scene out for its real -- and hopefully entertaining -- rhythms as opposed to just trying to bum-rush it. For instance, in a sequence like that, you've got the scene that's going on up top, and underneath you've got the suspense. The suspense is like a rubber band underneath it, just kind of stretching and stretching and stretching and stretching and stretching. And normally in a scene, you do try to make it as compact as possible, so it just has the most effect, and it's not boring and the air doesn't come out of it. But in a sequence like that -- and pulling it off is paramount in this -- it's like the longer the scene can go [laughs], as long as that rubber band of suspense can keep stretching, the better. That scene is better at 20 minutes than it would be at 8. And also I like the idea of this big build-up to this white-hot, short burst of violence.
As a big 'American Idol' fan, are you upset that Paula's leaving?
It's the end of an era. It's a little sad. I knew one of those three would break, and it's finally happened ... and it's a little sad.