Eli Roth (as Danny Donowitz, the Bear Jew, in Quentin Tarantino’s new film, INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS)
Q: How honored were you when you read in the script that you were going to be the man that would blow away Hitler?
ROTH: It was an incredible honor and certainly an honor that I took very seriously. That was actually not originally in the script. That was something that came about as we were shooting. So it was actually it was even more of an honor, in fact. As we were shooting, Quentin adapts to what he likes as things are going on. He was so happy with what I was doing as “The Bear Jew” and seeing me were beating react(?) men. He just loved the scene where I was kicking ass. And then I shot Nation’s Pride, the film within the film and Quentin, I figured realized that, wait a minute Eli is shooting all the action stuff in the film. We fired so many thousand of bullets in two days making Nation’s Pride. I was like, dude we have machine guns, and 30 guys firing and he was like wait a minute we got a machine gun and he over Christmas he rewrote it. He’s like were making a little change, and I read it and it was like Donny kicks open the door and shoots Hitler in the face and I am like…woo hoo. I was so happy. I was like it it’s amazing. I’m going to be, you know, the new Moses. But I have to say, as much as a thrill it is to watch, it was really far more difficult than I even anticipated shooting the scenes. Shooting the comedy scenes, the Margheriti that stuff was fun, that was, we had a blast doing that, it just turned into a Marx Brothers movie. We shot some ridiculous sill stuff busting bad Italian. But I know when I’m filming a scene in Hostel and I’m chopping up body parts and cutting out eyes, as the scene progresses I’m getting happier and happier. Because I have this jigsaw puzzle that’s kind of empty in my head, and I know OK I’ll look eye goo ran perfectly and it’s going to work. And I’m just picturing the audience screaming, but when I have to do that scene where I beat the guy’s head in. I was like, it was one thing I mean I lifted weights and put on almost 40 pounds of muscle. I was like the guy has to look physically imposing when he comes out of the cave. That’s one thing, but what’s going to make it work is the look in his face and the look in his eyes. This guy has to look possessed, he has look tortured and tormented that all he thinks about is beating Nazis to death. So to do that you have to really dredge up, the most painful, think of your worst breakup, your worst fight, the most horrible death and like make it feel like it happened 15 minutes ago. So I was working myself up into this state, and the state and after you film a scene like that even though scene’s fake. And when everyone is like, “OK, it’s a wrap. Let’s got for drinks” like you just want to crawl into a hole and die. Cause you like, you are gaaaawddd. And I talk to the actors, I was, it was exhausting and draining in a way I could’ve never anticipated. So even the scene where were shooting Hitler, it’s weird because I’m friends with all the people on the crew and because I shot and I’ve been on the crew set shooting Nation’s Pride stuff so I remember the day when I was going to do this scene where wiping out the high command and everyone is like, “G-d, what’s with Eli? Are you alright?” And I’m like I’m going to kill Hitler. Do you mind? Leave me alone. I’m trying to work myself up. And people would be like, stop, what’s up? Wait, wait. The guy’s in a really bad mood. It’s like it’s acting you guys, I’m allowed to act also. So it was hard but that scene, we almost got killed. That scene Quentin doesn’t like to use CGI, and he wants everything to be authentic. So he had this fire and they had done numerous tests with the fire. There was a special set where they rebuilt the theater with this controlled fire. Well the fire they estimated, it was going to burn, they did temperature readings, it was going to get up 400 degrees centigrade. And the flags caught fire, they’ve never burned all the stuff, and they never tested with all the stuff and all the props, all the flags caught fire and it will never get closer that this. And the fire was, it got up to 1,200 degrees centigrade, which is 2,000 Fahrenheit. And you see me on camera, ugh, and I got singed and we had on flame retardant clothing under our costumes and covered in fire gel and there were two people in fire suits with extinguishers below us. And then Quentin on a crane in a fire suit, but he had me and Omar firing machine guns, our hands just start burning. It was 2.000 digress. It was horrible. I never experienced pain like that. And I’d never been in a fire, I had no frame of reference what that was like. And after, finally, I had done so many thousands of crip reloads and weapons changing that I was like on a adrenaline kicked in and I was like on autopilot and just like possessed and just shooting, we’ve got to do this. Like if we die doing this shot, we have to do this. And finally they yell cut and they went and we just. I remember we went down and there was a playback in a tent. Which was rare, we almost never have playback and I watched the shot. And I just watched the shot and poof. I passed out and when I woke up, I had like ice all over me and aloe. It was zero degrees out and we’re in this tent with our arms in these buckets of ice and rags and Quentin said he looked over and said, “that was bad as bad he’s ever felt.” I was happy, and now if any actor complains on any of my set, I’ll be like, well, I don’t know what to tell you cause I was in a 2,000 degree fire. You know what the shot looked great, that’s all that matters.
Q: How many times did you have to film the scene with the baseball bat where you’re beating this guy to death? How many times did you do that?
ROTH: We did it a number of times. We shot the scene over, the whole scene we spent I think 5 or 6 days shooting it. And it was the first thing we shot so Quentin was like, I was back in this cave just working myself up, like ready to kill and Quentin would be like, “And that’s a cut. Let’s wrap for the day.” I was like ugh and then Brad would be like, “easy tiger, easy tiger.” And I asked them to put up a pull-up bar and a punching bag so I could stay loose. I didn’t want to be like I pulled a muscle, I didn’t want to be like that. So for days I was like woosh woosh woosh woosh just working myself up and then Quentin would be like “That’s a wrap.” So we never get to it and I worked myself up to like tears and then never get to shoot it. I was like Quentin your blue balling me every day, but he’d do it on purpose. Finally we got to the scene and I was like ready and I was just ready to explode. And I just unloaded on the guy, and it was it was great to finally beat him and just to get it out and do it over and over and over and over. And I just completely blew out my voice and then we had to film the reactions of the guys, cheering me on. And we already got shots of me doing this today, but when it came time to me beating him again, they were excited. But Quentin was like, “you know how you guys got to be loving this and they gotta to be laughing.” So I just started fucking the dummy, and like 69ing it, like skull fucking it. And Brad is like noooooo, until you see Til Schweiger with the biggest smile on his face and that was like me skull fucking the dummy. So that’s what I was willing to do for my fellow Basterds. It’s this crazy thing where you’re like back there, I didn’t want to be to actory and try to get all emotional but I was listening to Heavy Metal, listen to all this music to psych myself up to kill, like Iron Maiden, Misfits and Guns N’ Roses, Dead Kennedys, punk rock and then my girlfriend at the time had put Hannah Montana as a joke on my Mac and I was like duh do duh, Everybody Makes Mistakes. I was like ‘What the fuck is this?” I was like fucking singing Hannah Montana and then I was like, and what if like Brad Pitt came back and was like, “What the fuck are you listening to?” And what if Quentin was like, “What are you doing? You’re listening to Hannah Montana?“ You see me beating this guy and what the hell is wrong with you and I just thought, Oh Gawd, what if I get caught listening to Hannah Montana? I had total Hannah Montana-ching. Now she put this on as a joke, but now I’m kind of enjoying it. Now I’m secretly embarrassed about that and that just made me go crazy, so if I really wanted to instantly go to my psycho place, I would just put on Hannah Montana. I thought what if I was at a concert and I had a bat like would I just go nuts and start whipping the place out. Then what if I was Hannah Montana, how would pull that off? I didn’t even look like I’m in college, let alone high school. But would I be a teacher who is also a pop star? Oh yeah we got to film scene and Quentin’s like, “Man. you’re so intense. you’re so in the zone.” And I’m thinking what if I was Hannah Montana. You never know what tales you to a place of insanity.
Q: We all hear about costuming can help you get you into character. Just how does that fact that he wields a bloody baseball bat as opposed to a knife or gun, how did that help you get into this guy’s mindset, the character?
ROTH: Oh well, I grew up in Boston and let me tell you, you use your baseball bat off the field more than you use it on the field in Boston. I mean everybody had baseball bats in their cars in Boston. That was just a big thing. I remember in high school we were getting drunk on a Wednesday and this kid, this girl’s basement and some kid came down, with his nose broken, this kid Matt Casey. We were seniors and they were juniors and they’re like the juniors fucked up Casey and we’re like kill the juniors. And everybody had bats like within seconds and the juniors showed up to finish the fight and everyone’s like just smashing these kids with like, crushing their car with bats. And I remember was like I was staying back and I was watching and this kid jumped in the car next to me and I was like I can’t believe you did that for Matt Casey and he’s goes, “Whose Matt Casey?” And that exemplified Boston. It was like everybody just wanted an excuse to smash something so when I had that bat I thought of that. And thought of those who are like, “Whose Matt Casey? I don’t give a fuck. I don’t give a fuck, I just want to smash some shit.” So when I had that bat in my hand in Boston where I grew up like that’s what I thought of. Plus being in wool underwear will make you want to kill anything. I mean we were totally period thing. Even if it wasn’t seen, like the socks, the underwear, wool wife beaters, my G-d you can’t imagine what I smelled like, I smelled like a bear. It was disgusting, but the costume, and Quentin’s like, “yeah, you’re getting a cool leather jacket. You’re getting a sawed off shotgun like Mad Max” I was like yeah, I mean cool! So I got there first because I got there first I kind of got to poach all the cool costumes, I was like I want that jacket. I want that gun, I want that and Quentin was like cool, you got here first, you get all the cool stuff. Put Sam Levine in the sweater.
Q: How do you think this experience working on this film, will change your attitude toward acting/directing?
ROTH: Oh well, it’s certainly going to change the way I write scenes. I’d always in Hostel after I did an intense torture scene gave the actors a few days off to recover and rest and you know I’m glad I did that. I can see why you need that. But one thing that is going to change is how I run my set. You know Quentin had a big rule about no cell phones, no computers, no blackberries, nothing on set. We had a guy called Checkpoint Charlie, this charming guy you had to give your phone to. If you phone went off, you were fucked. Quentin was firing people, you’d get cut like your lines, someone else suddenly had your part. Like it was no bullshit. Like, you were there for the movie and if you were doing anything else on set you were out. So everyone, nobody brought their phones, you keep it in your trailer talk during lunch forever. But it gave everyone a certain focus. And Quentin did not have video playback, so he goes, “I hate this fucking Video Village bullshit. I don’t want everyone at the monitor watching this, watching that, no. You fucking do your job and I’ll watch it from the camera. And if the DP says it fine, it’s fine. I trust him and we’re moving on.” As a result, everyone’s focused. You’re not just sitting around. He would break up the chairs, I was like, “Where’s Video Village?” And he’s like, “A fucking bear came in and shut it down.” And were like Chair Town, what happened to chair? And he’s like, “There’s no more fucking chair town, alright. Chair Town has become too much of a fucking social thing, and I’m here making a movie and your all fucking going to Chair Town everyday. And that’s what we’re here for.” And I’m like he’s right, where are all the chairs? And he like’s no more Chair Town. So I’m like fuck. It was certain things like that kept the focus. Quentin did not have trailer. He’s like, “What I’m fucking going hang out at my trailer for. My job is being on set, I’m making this movie.” And I was really impressed, it just changed. What everyone was like, “How can you make a movie without Video Village? We need our cell phones.” And you realize you don’t need any of it and I was thinking in Cabin Fever we didn’t have any of that stuff. We just moved fast. There were certain things like that, Also when Quentin is directing you, you give your performance and then he turns the camera on and your off camera acting for the actor. Well Quentin I was like man that is where I’d came up with all my good stuff and he was like, “Dude, it doesn’t matter if you’re Robert DeNiro, Sam Jackson, everybody is more relaxed off camera. Everybody is relaxed off camera. You’re just better. You’re not self conscience and stuff comes out of you that might be too self conscience. You might second guess yourself when you’re off camera” And what he does if there is something he’s off camera, that he likes, he’ll stop, he’ll finish with this actor He will relight and reshoot you. And that what makes Quentin such a great director. Is everybody’s now like on it, fulltime, 100%. Even though they were before, now he gives you the hope that if you come up with something genius, it’s still going to make it into the movie. Cause Quentin is watching you and watching how the other person responds and as a result everyone’s performance is better. Brad is great off camera, everyone is great off camera. If Quentin if you do get it and there’s time and he likes and he’ll turn the camera on. The best example is when we were doing the introductions, we’re trying to be like and we’re trying to be Italian and Bon Journo. Antonio Margheriti and I went like that (shows finger expression) and then he’s like Tony Decocco and Omar nodded and we filmed a whole day of that. And the next day we were shooting Christoph so were all doing Landa. I’m like really trying out this hand gesture and then Quentin is like, “What if Omar just copies Donny and does that too. I’m sorry. Eli, I know it’s for you.” And I’m like no, no, no, this joke is better not as one, but as a set up for Omar. Now he just realized the whole mission is fucked because these guys had no idea what he’s doing if this guy’s copying Donny then they’re really screwed. And then he just did that, and then Omar just did it exactly like I and that just set up everything about the finale of how fucked these guys were. That’s Quentin, Quentin paying attention to everything and then Quentin stopped and he’s like, “Guys, relight, turn it around and bring in all the background, redress everything behind them. We’re reshooting that.” Because that little hand gesture was so fucking funny and set up the entire last act, so little things like that I never thought. Figured once you get it, you move on. But knowing that if someone does something great, turn the camera on and get it.
Q: Both of you guys are Cinefiles obviously. So like Also Raine is obviously a reference to Aldo Ray (Eli: “And Lt Raine is the character name from Rolling Thunder.) Did you try to channel iconic WWII for Donny?
ROTH; No, I was channeling people I knew and myself, but its interesting how certain things that you don’t realize that you’re channeling. You know there’s influences that get in there. I wasn’t consciously trying to take from anyone. I wanted to be my own. Something that was close to my own personality or the guys I grew up with and the guys who used to beat the shit out of me. Over Christmas, Quentin and I went to see the Stanley Kubrick film The Killing. And we’re talking how much we loved Timothy Carey in that film, whose in the parking lot who shoots the horse and this is really really creepy weird scene and Quentin showed the movie to Joe Dante and he said, “Eli you’re like Tony Curtis, but with a touch of Timothy Carey.” And I said to Quentin, “Oh my G-d, you realize especially in that theater scene at the end.” Which is the stuff after I seen that film. So without even realizing it, it’s like Joe Dante is a chef. He knows exactly what ingredients went in there. I wasn’t trying to consciously do any of that. But yet it was great, to sort of bring to Brad Pitt down to our level of Grindhouse cinema and cinefelia. The first day, we were talking how much we loved Floyd and how cool it was to Pineapple Express is a whole movie made out of Floyd. How that is become the new Spicoli. My generation gre up on Spicoli as the stoner and now everybody knows Floyd. I love Sean Penn, he’s the greatest. The utmost respect for Spicoli but Floyd is brilliant. And he’s like, “You guys you watch Wonder Pets?” He’s like, “I got kids, that’s what I watch.” He watched Wonder Pets. So Quentin and I got into discussion the first day about Zombie vs. Shark. We’re like of course, you know a Zombie, when a Zombie fights a shark. And Brad’s like, “What are you talking about? He’s like Zombie vs Shark” It’s like Zombie vs. Shark, the Zombie falls off a boat and is walking under water and then a Shark bites him and then the Zombie fights the Shark. Brad’s just looking at us, and Diane Kruger and everyone is like, “What are you talking about?” Quentin and I are, “Dude this is the greatest scene ever.” It’s like low budget so you know it is really a real Shark. Like how do you put a guy with a real Shark? They did it. It was 1979, there were no rules so they just shot it. Zombie fights a Shark. And then like Jake and these effects guys are like. “Oh yeah, Zombie vs. Shark, I have a T-Shirt Zombie vs. Shark.’ Brad the next day was like, “What this Zombie vs Shark” And then like Quentin got his print of Zombie vs. Shark and we showed it in the reel and Brad’s like this is the greatest movie ever. And then we were in this bar called Tarantino’s and they were showing Hostel and he’s like. “Nice casting, Eli. I gotta see this” And then he came in the next and he’s like, “Man, you bastard, I was alone in my house last night when I watched that thing and it freaked the shit out of me. That was disgusting.” So it was great to take our love of cinema and infect Brad Pitt with it.
Q: Were there any other roles in this movie you were interested in?
ROTH: No, the only role for me was “The Bear Jew.” I was like this is it, to be a Jewish guy from Boston that beats Nazis to death with a baseball bat. I have been training my whole life for that part. There as no other role. That’s what I said to him, “This is it.” I think there are some actors, who feel, no actors in this cast, but other actors he worked with that felt that they were now that I’ve been in a Tarantino movie I can do anything. But for us, this was endgame. This was it. Like the ultimate dream for all of us to be in a Tarantino movie. And we know there is no such thing as a small part in a Tarantino film. You can be Floyd in True Romance or Christopher Walken in Pulp Fiction. Every part is a chance to create a classic cinema moment and everybody is going for it. I felt so lucky. The first table read you look around the room with Christoph Waltz and August Diehl, and all these incredible European actors, Melanie Laurent, you felt G-d this movie is going to be amazing. It’s going to be something so special and so different. It was a thrill to be a part of it.