When it comes to interviews, Quentin Tarantino is something of an expert. Many will remember the director’s now-iconic conversation with Channel 4’s Krishnan Guru-Murthy about his 2012 blood-soaked western, Django Unchained. On being pushed to draw a link between movie violence and real-life violence, Tarantino betrayed the temper for which he has become famed: “Don’t ask me a question like that, I’m not biting. I refuse to answer your question,” he begins. Cool as a cucumber, Guru-Murthy pushes him one more time, leading Tarantino to explode with the immortal line: “No, I’m shutting your butt down.”
The intensity of Tarantino’s response betrays something essential about his attitude to interviews. For the director, they are a battlefield, and in the past, he has enjoyed the fight. In Jami Bernard’s Quentin Tarantino: The Man and His Movies, Piers Handling, the former Toronto Film Festival Director, spoke about the buzz surrounding Tarantino when Reservoir Dogs premiered in 1992: “He had this kind of motor mouth which was really appealing. There was this energy spilling out of him. Of course at festivals we’re all charged up and full of adrenaline, so it’s nice to run into that kind of person. He was the way I would imagine Orson Welles would have been around the time of Citizen Kane.”
Tarantino’s talent for interviews meant that he quickly became a sought-after subject. As the number of interviews increased, so decreased his patience with the same old questions, most of which had to do with the best way of interpreting his brand of hyper-violence. This was around the time when the now-disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein began saying that Miramax was “in the Quentin Tarantino business”. Already, the director’s unhinged personality and verbal dexterity had made his something of a celebrity in his own right, a director with the star power of a Hollywood actor. Weinstein exploited this and sent Tarantino on an extensive tour of Europe and Asia doing all the major festivals and sitting down with every foreign journalist in the business.
Being required to offer acute insights into his own work at the drop of a hat had its side effects. Opening up about how the press tour affected his relationship with his films, Tarantino recalled: “I remember my very first interview, it was a feature story for the New York Times on the making of Reservoir Dogs, a location interview. It was so exciting to do an interview. Since then, I’ve done a million. But the way I did them was like an actor would do a scene, not just answer the question, but engage the journalist in a conversation, just sit and talk to them about whatever, keep it on a personal level, try to find answers and articulate them, get it across, sound witty and everything. Now you do another interview, what are you gonna do differently, be inarticulate?”
“It was the start of a very gruelling process in which the joy of discovery that is the essence of the interview process became the challenge of keeping it fresh,” Tarantino continued. “At Toronto, I was sitting in a bar talking to one of the directors of Man Bites Dog, a Belgian black comedy about documentary makers getting overinvolved with their serial killer subjects, and all of a sudden while I walk talking to him I felt I was in another interview. It had ruined it now for me to talk about my movie. It’s like I’ve given it all away. I had all this stuff, and I’ve given it all away, and this was another filmmaker, and I would have liked to share, but there was nothing left to share. Since then I’ve tried to hold onto something about the movie for myself.”
It is for this reason that Quentin Tarantino so often refuses to answer questions about interpreting his films. For him, it is not only a question of the sanctity of subjectivity but the importance of self-preservation.