Quentin Tarantino, one of the few directors more significant to his public than any of his films' actors, is synonymous with movies of an ultra-violent nature. But even by those standards, his latest offering is arguably his most brutal.
At three-plus hours, The Hateful Eight is a Western set in post-Civil War Wyoming, its title referring to eight strangers holed up together in a log cabin waiting out the blizzard.
"You could say it's a horror film, you could say it's a mystery and you can say it's a Western," explains Tarantino. "I like to look at it more like your first post-apocalyptic movie which could be set in a post-apocalyptic world or an Australian wasteland. You have a wintry ice-covered terrain where the survivors of a society that have all been cut asunder, are huddled together in this shelter, basically arguing about who started the apocalypse and whose fault it is. But in this case, the apocalypse is The Civil War."
The first half of the movie resembles a theatrical play with the audience treated to an exercise in watching actors acting in a room rather than being immersed in the storyline. That comes later. The ensemble includes his A-list regular player, Samuel L Jackson, a Union soldier who runs into a bounty hunter (Kurt Russell) escorting his prize criminal (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to the neighbouring town. Other Tarantino favourites Tim Roth and Michael Madsen play pivotal roles, as a British hangman whose demeanour seems to have taken a page from Christoph Waltz, and a duplicitous cow-hand.
The cast is rounded out by Walter Goggins, Demian Bichir, and Bruce Dern. In keeping with tradition, Tarantino's movie is racially charged. "I'm empathetic and I feel a closeness to black folks and the black community," he says. So much so that much ado was made over the filmmaker's comments at a New York City rally last October when he labelled policemen who kill unarmed black and Hispanic people as "murderers". Consequently, the US police staged a nationwide boycott of his film.
Tarantino shrugs it off. "I've never had any kind of reaction like that in my life, frankly. I don't feel like I need to clarify my statements any more," he says, a little defensively. "And actually, I like the fact that I have been smeared as a cop-hater.
"I do know that I have a lot of policemen who are fans of my work, and I don't like them walking around thinking that I hate them or I don't understand the issues that they face every day. No, I don't like that at all. However, I find myself being very, very gratified standing up for these families who have lost loved ones in sometimes a very senseless and totalitarian kind of way. They respect what I am doing, they appreciate what I am doing and that actually gives me a good feeling."
Even before the shoot began, there was controversy surrounding the film when the script was leaked online a year ago. It's a little ironic considering one of the principal themes of the movie is the question of who one can trust in life.
"That irony wasn't lost on me. And it was weird to have the first draft leaked out there because it was an unfinished cake. It wasn't the ending, it was an ending. But since I am writing a mystery, it required me to be a detective about the whole thing."
There was debate that Tarantino would abandon the entire project. "Yes, I did seriously consider not doing it. I was the perfect combination of hurt, angry and outraged. Not to mention disappointed.
"I was really angry with the permissiveness in Hollywood that has allowed what is obviously bad behaviour to be so accepted.
"There is a corruption in the culture and when culture gets corrupted, then it gets easy for good people who know better to do things they shouldn't. There is a sliding scale and that attitude of, 'Well, everyone does it and what is it hurting anyway?'
"For the most part it happened through agents," he says. "Me making such a big stink out of it for a week or two meant that kind of behaviour was not considered okay in Hollywood. Agents who had done it possibly felt a little bit bad about the fact that they had contributed to that culture. Maybe a week earlier they might have bragged about getting their hands on something and passing it around, but for those two weeks, they weren't bragging about it. We will see what happens in terms of the long haul."
Finally, he cooled off and the movie went ahead. It was shot for a budget of US$44 million in Colorado in old-school "glorious" 70mm format. "People think 70mm is just for mountain-scapes or the Sahara desert. I don't agree. It made the tension-filled and makes the film more intimate."
The drama is enhanced by Ennio Morricone's score, his first Western composition in over 40 years. "It was an homage to Sergio Leone," says Morricone. "The greatest thing about this collaboration with Quentin Tarantino is really rewarding for the ego of a composer because he didn't give me any indications at all of what he wanted."
Tarantino is clearly an actor's director, with the cast on each of his movies sing his praises. Kurt Russell weighs in. "It was a great experience and Quentin was at the pinnacle of his game I think, in terms of writing and directing. He always makes it a really fun time and an experience and on the set, this was absolutely no exception to that." Russell worked with Tarantino in Grindhouse (2007). "I was really happy to have the opportunity to work with him again."
Jennifer Jason Leigh earned a Golden Globe nomination for her tough-as-nails role as the wild-eyed fugitive. "Quentin is amazing how he works with people. He's very smart. He gives you the space to find the character, and this one was crazy like a fox, so it helped to have a director like that."
When considering Tarantino's films - Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown, the Kill Bill films, Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained - does Tarantino see a common theme among them?
"I think there are strains, like the way minerals will have strains through rock. I can see certain things and I have dealt with race to one degree or another in almost all my movies. But also there is an aspect of masquerade.
"Performance is a big deal and all my characters are really, really good actors. I don't keep trying to do this but it just keeps happening that in every single one of my movies, there is some section in the movie where a character pretends to be somebody he is not and presents a false idea of themselves. It's about them pulling off this masquerade. Sometimes they are more successful at it than others."
Tarantino in NZ
Quentin Tarantino will touch down in New Zealand for the first time next week to premiere The Hateful Eight, alongside Kiwi star Zoe Bell.
Fans wanting to catch a glimpse of the cinematic maestro can head to Newmarket next Wednesday, where the pair will walk the red carpet and sign autographs at Event Cinemas on Broadway.
Red carpet arrivals begin at 5.30pm, before the invitation-only screening at 6.30pm.
Directing his eighth film
The Hateful Eight
In cinemas Jan 21