Quentin Tarantino on the set of Inglourious Basterds

We have done some thorough interviews with the actors from the latest epic war film, Inglourious Basterds, but the series really isn’t complete without talking to the man behind the film, Quentin Tarantino. If you haven’t had a chance, take a look at our interviews with B.J. Novak, Michael Fassbender, Eli Roth, Diane Kruger, Melanie Laurent, and Christoph Waltz.

When we spoke to the self proclaimed cinephile, Tarantino revealed how he came up with the idea for the film, his favorite characters, and the lackluster reviews the movie received at Cannes.

Check out what he had to say in our interview below…

In the promotions for this film Brad Pitt’s Aldo Raine is front and center, even though the story focuses more on Shossana and Landa. Where did Raine come from?

QT: I disagree with that take. This is totally not trying to bend over and make Brad [Pitt] seem bigger than he already is, but I think it is a movie with three leads. In no order, Hans Landa, Shossana, and Aldo Raine. The thing is, even the whole structure of the movie to me, was to set up the first three chapters for these three characters. You get Shossana’s backstory even though you don’t know her in the first chapter, and in the third chapter you do. I mean in it’s own way, Frederick Zoller, is one of the goddamn leads. [laughs] You know what I mean? In a way, the whole movie revolves around him. If he hadn’t done any of the things that he did, there would almost be no movie later.

To me, that is kind of the structure of it. The first three stories, and then from chapter four until the end, is like the straight-ahead adventure. If it were a Devil’s Brigade movie from the mid-60’s that Mike Myers scene would be the first scene of the movie; as he sends them on their mission. I really like proposing things and bringing them up, but not answering them, and letting you figure out stuff. You might be right or you might be wrong. As far as you’re concerned, you are always right. The minute I start throwing my two cents in then everyone lets go of what they have come up with. For instance, I don’t explain the scar; you’ve got to explain the scar. How did he get the scar?

How did you come up with Landa’s character, and why did you cast Christoph Waltz?

QT: The thing about Landa is, I honestly did not know who Christoph was when he came in. He is a TV actor in Germany, and he is well known for doing miniseries and stuff. He came in and picked up the script and half way through the reading of that first scene, I knew I had found my guy. Again it was great because I didn’t have anybody in mind, so the character could become the character. If I were writing it for somebody else, maybe he wouldn’t be so multi-lingual, because then he couldn’t do that. If Landa is just Landa, he could speak every dialogue. When I finished writing the character, it was obvious that Landa is a linguistic genius. So, I was going to need an actor who was a linguistic genius. If this character on the page is ever going to get on the screen, that doesn’t mean fluent in languages. That means a linguistic genius and that is Christoph.

How did you end up casting an African American character in a period piece like this?

QT: Yeah, I know. The thing about Marcel is you know he is a Frenchman. There were a whole lot of Blacks living in Paris in the 20’s and 30’s. The thing that is very fascinating is, I have heard some people say, “Well, wouldn’t the Nazis round them up?” No, no, no, no. Hitler was very clear about how he felt about Blacks, but they didn’t do anything to them. Basically, where they were coming from, they didn’t have a “Black problem”, the way they had a “Jewish problem”, the way they had a “homosexual problem”, the way they had a “gypsy problem”, or a “Communist problem.” France was the only place you were going to find them. They weren’t the scourges of Europe as far as Hitler was concerned. The ironic reality is this, if I was a Black guy in Nazi occupied France I’d keep a low profile to be sure, having said that, he would have more rights in Nazi occupied Paris than he would have in downtown Dallas at that same time. Marcel could walk into a restaurant and order a dinner. Marcel could walk up to a bar and sit at the bar amongst white people. Now that’s irony for you.

You have been working on this film for years now, what inspired you to make it?

QT: I just got a kick out of the original. I like the rip-off quality of Italian exploitation movies. They are kind of not serious, and that is what I like about them. This movie has that. Also, I love the title. I really did love the title. Even when I worked at Video Archives, Inglourious Basterds became our name for a bunch of guys on a mission movie. It was like a genre. That was the name that we gave the genre. Now they call it macaroni combat. But you know, it had a really interesting story. There is an aspect about the original story that I don’t do in this movie, but it was really neat. It was a bunch of soldiers that are prisoners, that are on their way to a Court Marshall. Their convoy is attacked by a German plane, so now they are in war torn France. They can’t go to the Americans because they are going to go to jail for the rest of their lives and they can’t go to the Germans, so they are trying to get to Switzerland. Now, that’s a really good idea for a story. When I bought it, I didn’t know how much of this was going to be a remake, but at least I could use the title.

How did the story evolve over time?

QT: When I started writing it years ago, I had all the characters, but I had a different story line in mind. It was just too big. I just kept making it a miniseries as opposed to a movie. It was just getting so unwieldy. I was like, “What am I saying? I’m too big for movies? Movies are just too puny a canvas for me to paint on? I can’t even possibly comprehend making it three hours? That is just too short!” You know? I kind of had to get over myself, to tell you the truth. So, I put it away and did little Kill Bill, which turned into Kill Bill Volume 1 and 2. This tells you where I was coming from at the time. When I came back to it in 2008 I loved the story, but I just couldn’t tell it as a movie. So, I came up with a whole new story, and that story is the Fredrick Zoller story; the story of him being a war hero, then making this movie, and now the mission would be blowing up the Premier. So, that’s new.

There were a lot of comments about the length of the film. Do you think you should have cut it down?

QT: Well, no. Look, I am guilty of this too, alright. It is the number one thing you say when you go to a film festival, especially when you go to Cannes. What did you think of the movie? “It was too long!” But, you are also seeing 9 or 10 movies in the course of four days. I didn’t think it was too long, but I heard those comments. You hear those comments, but I wasn’t necessarily responding to them per se. We kind of weren’t done when we were in Cannes. What happened with it is, we did tiny nipping and tucking. It is interesting because the movie is actually a minute longer than it was at Cannes. But you know what? You do some nipping, and pruning, and monkey around with a couple scenes and all of the sudden, one minute longer plays ten minutes less.

QT: It was funny though. The thing is, especially in this script, I really made it a point to be disciplined on this. I didn’t really want an unwieldy movie, and I knew I didn’t have time to shoot a bunch of stuff that may or may not make the cut. I was more disciplined with this script than I have been in a long time. So, it is not like I have tons of stuff left over. I have stuff that I wrote, but it never made the final script.

Were you influenced by the likes of Robert Aldrich, Samuel Fuller, or Sergio Leone? What other directors have had a positive effect on you?

QT: Oh, yeah. You better believe they were big influences. Sergio Leone is my favorite director of all time. I don’t think this is it, but I remember when I first started the movie after Jackie Brown, it was one of the things that I wanted to be my The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, and it was. I love those guys’ work. Oddly enough though, as much as I love Sergio Leone, if you are familiar with a lot of those directors, I think my work resembles more of Sergio Corbucci. Not that I am trying to do either of those guys, but he is the other master as far as I’m concerned. I think my films are closer to his than Leone’s.

This didn’t feel like a WWII movie as much as a movie based on WWII movies. Where do your homages to these directors get your signature?

QT: Echoes of something is not the same thing as recreating scenes. It is very, very different. Look, everyone knows that I love movies, so I can’t hide that, nor do I want to hide that. Because of it, it’s like I have a target on me. Most critics are cinephiles to one degree or another, so there is nothing a cinephile loves more than showing off their knowledge. They want to play games with the mastermind when they sit down to watch my movies, and they start playing a game of “spot the reference” that a lot of is completely of their own making. The other thing is, that was legitimate when it came to Kill Bill. That was very legitimate.

Well, how do you toe the line between an homage and recreating a scene from another film?

QT: It [Kill Bill] was a “movie” movie. There was an aspect of the Bride, not just fighting through her death list, she is fighting through the whole history of exploitation cinema, with every character on that list representing a different genre. That is just such a movie mad thing that’s totally okay to have the checklist. This is different. I am not doing that. I have no problem evoking the macaroni combat. I have no problem saying, “I am working inside of a genre.” I think every movie is a genre. An Eric Rohmer movie is a genre movie, and if you make a movie like his, you are kind of making an Eric Rohmer-style movie. Thus, making it a genre. It is the same thing with [John] Cassavetes.

Your movies are very dialogue driven, and some people have complained about that. Are you concerned about losing that in your films?

QT: I have to say I get a little “huh” when they say it is too talky. When you go to a play, do you think it is too talky? I am in good company. Well, you know it comes and goes depending on the artist. I saw Funny People, and I think it is one of the best movies I have seen this year. I think it is a true auteur piece of work, and that is all dialogue. Comedies are known for having mostly dialogue. Basically, you gotta be able to pull it off. Paul Thomas Anderson, his dialogue is as good as mine, but he breaks it up where he has the 20 minute opening that is silent in There Will Be Blood.

You like to draw attention to the fact that the audience is watching a movie. Some people complain that it pulls them out of the story. What do you think?

QT: To me, that is one of those fake arguments. I don’t know about you, but I always know I am watching a movie when I am watching a movie. I have never forgotten while I was watching a movie that I was watching a movie. No more that I have forgotten I was driving a car while I was driving a car. I can have my heart ripped out, but I know I’m watching a movie.

Is there more footage that may come out on the DVD or a different Director’s Cut of Inglourious Basterds?

QT: Not really to tell you truth. We were working on this at such an accelerated pace, I couldn’t afford to shoot stuff that I didn’t think was going to make the film. I always pride myself on my director’s cut that plays in 3,000 theaters. I take a lot of pride in that. There are two sections that I shot that I’m actually not going to put on the DVD. One is because it is more of Shossana’s back-story from 1941 to 1944, and you know, I don’t want to show that at all now. I really want the audience to actually come up with it in their own mind about how she survived. I want that to be like you own movie in your head, and I want you to figure it out. The other one is a backstory on Eli Roth’s character, Donowitz. It didn’t fit into the section that I had planned it, but it worked so well that if the movie is a hit, and if I were to do a prequel with the Basterds, I could just plug it right into the other movie. So, I think I will save it on the chance that the movie is popular.

Inglourious Basterds is playing nationwide in theaters everywhere.