In The Hateful Eight, director Quentin Tarantino is back with intense characters, hyperviolence, and the ultimate secret weapon for a Western: Kurt Russell.
“I’ve never had the chance to play a character who was so bombastic,” says Russell, who knocks heads (and more) as mustachioed bounty hunter John “The Hangman” Ruth in the frozen-over wilderness of Wyoming.
Men’s Fitness sat down with the silver screen veteran to talk about his “beast mode” role in the new blood-and-bullets thriller, his past life as a stunt-double cowboy, and why working with Tarantino is like a “pirate ship.”
MF: So What’s the Deal With Your Character, the Hangman?
KR: John Ruth is a bounty hunter who believes that no matter how horrible [a bounty] is they should be brought to justice. If they get convicted, they hang—they “go purple on the rope,” as he says. But he’s in beast mode the whole time—just a bull in a china shop. Quentin said one day: You are a bull, and the entire movie is a china shop. He’s older, he’s tired. He’s in the process of having too many tequilas, and he’s paranoid. I’ve never had the chance to play a character who was so bombastic.
MF: You’ve been in Westerns spanning generations—when you were a kid in the early ’60s, “The Quest” in the ’70s, “Tombstone” in ’93. Do you have a special access to the genre?
KR: I was around cowboys all my life. I roped. My dad was an actor, and he got us a family horse, so I learned to get on and off in a special way—the stuff that would be called for in screenplays. There were times early on when I would even stunt-double for other actors. When I was 25, I moved to Colorado to raise Appaloosa, and now I have a working ranch in Colorado.
MF: What’s Your Favorite Western of All Time?
KR: Once Upon a Time in the West by Sergio Leone, with Ennio Morricone’s music. And the fact that Morricone did the music for Hateful Eight—it’s the best. This is a true-to-form Western, with some nods to the spaghetti Western and to the’60s and ’70s cowboy television shows. So there are some nods here, but this is very Tarantino-esque.
MF: What’s It Like Working With Tarantino?
KR: It’s like a pirate ship. He’s the captain, and he stands on the bow looking for a ship to attack—not a port. You’re going to draw your swords and swing across, grab their women, and swordplay will carry the day. And then you’ll all cruise to an island somewhere, open up the treasure, and get drunk on rum. To be able to experience Quentin in his prime, that’s something I’ll take with me and remember.
MF: What’s Your Strategy for Staying in Such Great Shape?
KR: My strategy is don’t eat that much. Don’t drink too much. And when you gotta go to work, eat less.