'Hateful Eight' Producer: How Quentin Tarantino and Samuel L. Jackson Interact on Set (Guest Column)

Playbook: The Hateful Eight - H 2015
The Weinstein Company

The guest columnist, also an executive producer of 'Pulp Fiction,' writes that "I see a trust and a bond between these men that is impenetrable."

With some help from Quentin Tarantino, Samuel L. Jackson has created indelible and distinguished screen characters – and that partnership between director and actor joins the ranks of some of the finest in cinema. Just as with Scorsese and DeNiro, George Cukor and Katherine Hepburn, and Billy Wilder and Jack Lemmon, the pairing of Tarantino and Jackson – The Hateful Eight marking their sixth – gets better and better.

Three standouts for me are their creations of Jules Winnfield, Stephen and Major Marquis Warren, in Pulp Fiction, Django Unchained and The Hateful Eight, respectively. I have been fortunate to have a front-row seat, as I was executive producer of Pulp Fiction and producer of The Hateful Eight.

Watching Quentin direct and interact with Sam is unparalleled. Quentin often has his hands full, as his films have a vast ensemble of actors. But my observation is that Quentin and Sam interact the least of all the other director/actor exchanges on set. Of course they spend a lot time rehearsing and preparing together, but no one beyond the two of them is privy to that interaction. On set, the majority of their interaction seems to rely on unspoken, though animated, reactions to each other. They communicate in gesture. It’s mostly in their eyes and often punctuated by Quentin’s approving laughter and grins.

Quentin provides Sam the most leeway in terms of slight alterations to the dialogue or improvisation. I have never once, in of all these films and page-long monologues, seen Sam ask the script supervisor to remind him of his dialogue. Sam never stumbles, never is groping for the next passage and is always on point. Most important, I see a trust and a bond between these men that is impenetrable. They have their own rhythm and sync, and inevitably, what seems to excite one thrills the other, and vice versa.

I have heard some say Sam Jackson simply plays Sam Jackson. I find that an incomprehensible observation. Looking at Jules Winnfield, Stephen and Major Marquis Warren, they are not only completely different characters, they are each infused with specific nuance, purpose and motivation.

Some say it’s because Quentin writes for Sam. So while yes, Quentin is writing with Sam in mind, he is first and foremost writing for the characters Jules Winnfield, Stephen and Major Marquis Warren, and as such, the notes and music are specific to those individuals, events and story. It’s just the same musician playing these very different tunes.

Quentin’s dialogue is not easy, and I have seen very gifted actors stumble in auditions. It’s not the amount of words or length of the scene; it’s a specific cadence that Quentin creates and ultimately demands the actor to discover. And if they do, they seem to fly. And no one flies higher than Sam.

The Hateful Eight finally gives Sam the lead role in a Quentin film. Though we have a large and gifted ensemble in The Hateful Eight, make no mistake that Sam and his Major Marquis Warren is the maestro. Through his characters, Sam always makes his presence felt, though usually it is wonderful supporting turns, as in The Kingsman or The Avengers. Fortunately, though, The Hateful Eight puts Sam front and center, and I am thrilled critics and fans are taking notice.

And I am damn excited to see the next one!

Richard N. Gladstein is a two-time Academy Award-nominated film producer. His films include The Cider House Rules, Finding Neverland, The Bourne Identity, Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, and Jackie Brown, among others, and now in theaters, The Hateful Eight.