Quentin Tarantino told a near standing-room-only crowd gathered for a staged reading of his latest film script, The Hateful Eight, that this was the one and only time they would see it with the current ending, in which all of the movie’s major characters die.
Speaking to an eclectic crowd that included only a handful of prominent industry-ites (among them Harvey Weinstein and Tarantino’s WME agent, Mike Simpson), he said the movie was divided into five parts, or “chapters,” and that “I am working right now on a second draft. This is the first draft.”
He said Chapter 5 (which he titled “Black Night, White Hell”) would be removed or rewritten altogether. That move may have been spurred by the script being leaked, and a subsequent lawsuit Tarantino has filed against Gawker for disseminating it online.
The audience members assembled April 19 at the Theatre at the Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles — many of whom had paid up to $200 apiece for tickets, with revenues benefiting Film Independent — were rapturous as film critic Elvis Mitchell introduced Tarantino shortly after 8 p.m. Dressed in a red-trimmed black shirt and black cowboy hat, the writer-director in turn introduced nine castmembers, among them two of his most beloved stars — Samuel L. Jackson and Tim Roth — along with Kurt Russell, Amber Tamblyn and Bruce Dern, among others.
With Tarantino reading stage directions from a podium, the actors (who also included Walton Goggins, James Parks, Michael Madsen and James Remar) began to read the entire, three-hour-plus screenplay, a Western set somewhere between eight and 12 years after the Civil War, which begins with Russell as a bounty hunter chained to his prey, Tamblyn, inside a stagecoach as they travel toward a destination where he will collect a $10,000 reward for her.
The stagecoach is stopped by an African-American Civil War veteran (Jackson), who mysteriously appears with a saddle but no horse; they are then joined by another mystery man who claims to be going into town as its new sheriff, before all eventually take refuge from a blizzard in a “haberdashery” where almost all of the remaining story unfolds — that is, four of the five chapters take place almost entirely within one room.
What follows is a combination of Western and Agatha Christie-style whodunit, as various men and women engage in conversation and shootings in the haberdashery — not least Dern, who plays a Civil War general whose son appears to have been killed by Jackson.
In one of the many moments when the audience roared its approval, Jackson explains in exquisite and excruciating detail how he forced the general’s son to perform oral sex on him before killing him.
Much of the later part of the story hinges on a coffee pot that has been filled with poison by one of the people in the room, and by Jackson’s attempt to discover who did it. Along the way, Tarantino uses flashbacks, and then more flashbacks, to reveal backstory — along with scenes in equal parts comic and violent.
The script is laced with both the F-word and the N-word, and Tarantino turned to the audience when the N-word was used for the first time, joking that this was just the first of more than 200 such uses in the screenplay (a wild exaggeration, as it happened).
More than once, he became slightly impatient with his cast, on one occasion reprimanding one who was slow to get on stage, and on another telling his actors: “Guys are starting to drift a little away from the dialogue. Bring it back to the page. No co-writing.” The reading was as revealing of Tarantino the director as it was Tarantino the writer.
The scene that drew the most laughter followed the poisoning, as one character after another retched gruesomely and bloodily onto the others before dying. But it is the shoot-out at the end and the deaths of all the characters that are likely to inspire the most talk, as this is the part Tarantino says he will change — just how, he didn’t reveal.