Principal photography for THE HATEFUL EIGHT began on January 7, 2015 with a stellar ensemble, primarily composed of Tarantino alumni: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Walton Goggins, Michael Madsen, Bruce Dern, Tim Roth, James Parks & Zoë Bell. Of the titular eight (Jackson, Russell, Leigh, Goggins, Madsen, Roth, Bichir, Dern) only Jennifer Jason Leigh and Demian Bichir had not worked with Tarantino before.
Jackson plays bounty hunter Major Marquis Warren, who is introduced standing over a pile of corpses he intends to collect upon when he gets to Red Rock. “Major Warren is an ex-cavalryman, an ex-slave. He joined the war to kill. He’s still that guy. He’s smarter than most people think. He’s not a man of few words. He’s a man of many words, but he only uses them when he needs to. He’s pretty quick on the trigger. He’d rather kill you than talk to you,” Jackson says of his character.
“You have eight people that are very different, that are very dangerous in their own way, and to varying degrees hateful. It’s going to be a fun game for audiences to attach to a character,” Jackson says.
Major Warren makes a deal to travel to Red Rock with John Ruth and Daisy Domergue, played by Kurt Russell and Jennifer Jason Leigh. Unlike Jackson’s Warren, John “The Hangman” Ruth brings his bounties in alive. Daisy, his bounty, is chained to him at all times. “When John catches you, he makes sure you go to trial, and you’re tried, convicted, and then you hang. He stays and watches to make sure you hang. He’s someone who has become well-known for having a penchant for the law,” Russell explains.
Thankfully, Russell and Leigh got along famously. “There is no one in the world I would rather be chained to, I can say that quite honestly,” Leigh says of the unique experience of playing off of Russell while attached at his hip. “We joke about it being a marriage. It’s the most dysfunctional marriage. It’s ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’ in the Old West,” Leigh jokes.
“She’s pretty fearless, and she’s a gutsy girl, and a little bit of an animal in her own way,” Leigh notes of her character. “But all of these people have their values, and they all have their soft spots.”
Tarantino made a small adjustment to his script just prior to production that required Leigh to play the guitar and sing a song. Leigh, who had not played guitar before, was a quick, determined student. When she was not filming, she devoted herself to practicing. “I loved it,” she recalls. “There’s something that really focuses you about learning a new instrument, and such a complex instrument, really.”
“I had a great guitar teacher, who was classically trained. That was helpful in terms of the finger picking, because there was a lot of finger picking,” Leigh says. “Quentin said, ‘I know you can do it.’ He didn’t worry about it for a second. That instills faith in you.”
Through their travels, Warren, Ruth, Domergue cross paths with Chris Mannix, played by Walton Goggins. Goggins comments: “When you distill it to the most simple version, Chris Mannix is a person hitching a ride on the road in the middle of a blizzard. He’s a conduit for negativity. He’s a person who can light a match in a room and walk away from it, and stir things up.”
Jackson recalls Goggins’s dedication to his role: “Walt is fearless in what he does. He was the first person off-book. He came to the reading off-book.”
“This story is about liars, and it’s about lies. It’s about people who want to get on with their lives, but can’t. It’s about claustrophobia, and it’s a story about things that are never fulfilled,” Goggins says.