Jennifer Jason Leigh, 53, stars in Quentin Tarantino’s latest film, The Hateful Eight, a western starring Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Tim Roth and Channing Tatum. The film is set after the Civil War in Wyoming and about eight strangers who seek refuge during a blizzard. Like all Tarantino films, it’s filled with mayhem, violence and dark humour.
This California-born actress has appeared in such iconic films as Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Easy Money, Single White Female, Dolores Claiborne, and Georgia. She also co-wrote and co-directed The Anniversary Party with Alan Cumming (The Good Wife). She’s generally known for playing difficult roles and playing Daisy Domergue in The Hateful Eight most definitely fits into that category.
This self-described introvert was married to screenwriter Noah Baumback (The Squid and The Whale, Frances Ha, Mistress America), they split in 2010 and have son, Rohmer, whom they share custody.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE TO BE THE ONLY WOMAN ON THIS TESTOSTERONE-LADEN SET?
Everyone was very sweet with me; all the ‘haters’ (actors playing the Hateful Eight) were very protective of me and very kind. And there was so much good will and everyone wanted to be there. For all of us, it was the height of our careers in a way to be part of this film and everyone became very, very close.
YOU WERE CONSTANTLY HIT IN THE FACE BY KURT RUSSELL – THAT COULDN’T HAVE BEEN TOO COMFORTABLE?
Strangely enough, it was (laughs). I never flinched. I was never afraid because he knows how to do it. He’s so skilled at it; he’s been doing it for so long. So I never worried about actually getting punched or hurt. He was so protective of me and so good at what he does that I just had to be in the moment. And then when it came to it, I could react to it as opposed to being afraid, as some actors might be if you were working with someone less skilled.
APPARENTLY YOU DIDN’T COMPLAIN ABOUT ANY OF THE CONDITIONS, LIKE BEING IN THE SNOW, AS THE GUYS DID?
Yeah, I was too happy to complain. It was such a great experience. First of all, Quentin is such a master; he’s the best there is. It was a magical experience.
BUT YOU SHOT IN FREEZING TEMPERATURES EVERY DAY?
Yes but also there were days in Telluride where it was warm and we actually had to wait for snow. But the soundstage was at 30 degrees every day. That was consistent and it was cold. So the smoke was real smoke.
DO YOU LIKE THE SNOW?
I like the idea of it for a weekend. But I’m really a California girl. I really like sunshine. I like being warm. So that’s not my go to (laughs) in terms of fantasy or whatever. But it is a beautiful place to visit. I don’t know that I would want to live in it. I prefer the beach.
DAISY IS VERY TOUGH. DO YOU HAVE MUCH IN COMMON WITH HER?
No. I’m not so tough I don’t think. I don’t like a lot of drama in my life. Maybe I have a certain strength but I wouldn’t say I’m tough. But it’s fun to play tough. But I was a very girly girl growing up.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE DOING WHEN YOU’RE NOT ACTING?
Probably the same things you like to do. Have dinner with friends, cook, read, family time.
YOUR FATHER WAS AN ACTOR AND YOUR MOTHER WAS A WRITER. WAS IT INEVITABLE YOU’D GO INTO THIS BUSINESS?
In a way it seemed inevitable. I wasn’t coming to Hollywood from another town so it didn’t seem like some faraway dream that I hoped could happen. It just seemed like, ‘Oh, that’s what you do when you grow up. You act.’ Even my stepfather was in the business, he was a director. You act or you direct or you write. That is the business of this town. And there’s something very naïve to that thinking but it also was very helpful because it didn’t seem unobtainable to me. And my mother always worked and she loved to work. And she was a great role model for me because she took it so seriously what she did. She did a tremendous amount of research. Our house would be covered with whatever she was writing about. The research would be on the walls, in stacks and piles. And she’d be always going to the library or interviewing people. So that was very inspiring as a young girl to see my mother do that.
WHAT KIND OF WRITER WAS YOUR MOTHER?
A screenwriter. She wrote Georgia. She wrote Pollack. She’s a great writer.
YOU HAD A BREAK FROM ACTING FOR SOME TIME?
Yes, I had a baby but he’s five years old now, not a baby any more. But now I’m back!