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Jennifer Jason Leigh dishes about her 'Hateful Eight' character

"Daisy is having a blast. I mean, yeah, she's going to the gallows, but she knows she's not going to the gallows. She's going to figure it out," Leigh says.

By
Karen Butler
Cast member Jennifer Jason Leigh attends the premiere of The Hateful Eight in Los Angeles on December 7, 2015. Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI
Cast member Jennifer Jason Leigh attends the premiere of "The Hateful Eight" in Los Angeles on December 7, 2015. Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo

NEW YORK, Dec. 24 (UPI) -- Actress Jennifer Jason Leigh has earned some of the best notices of her career, as well as Golden Globe and Critics' Choice Award nominations, for playing the foul-mouthed fugitive Daisy Domergue in The Hateful Eight.

Written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, the film is set in the late 19th century and is about the rogue's gallery of villains and lawmen trapped in a remote Wyoming cabin during a blizzard. Kurt Russell plays John Ruth, the bounty hunter who is chained to Daisy as he transports her to the town of Red Rock where she is scheduled to be hanged for her crimes.

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With the exception of Leigh, most of the cast members have appeared in previous works by Tarantino. Russell co-starred in Death Proof, while Samuel L. Jackson appeared in Pulp Fiction, Jackie Brown and Django Unchained, Michael Madsen was in Kill Bill and Reservoir Dogs, and Tim Roth was a cast member of Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs.

"So much of it, obviously, is on the page because you are dealing with such a great script and such a great character," Leigh said of Daisy at a recent New York press conference.

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"With Daisy, there's a lot that is mercurial and we had to find [that] and we wanted to find it together. And so much of Daisy is informed by John Ruth because she is always reacting with him because of what he's done -- the chain, the hits, what mileage she can get from that. She thinks she is a lot smarter than John Ruth and, actually, she is. ... She's playing him in a lot of the movie," the 53-year-old actress explained. "But there is this one moment in the movie -- and this is what's so great about doing a Tarantino movie and what's so great for all of us actors is that we're always being surprised by everything. There is a moment where it all shifts, where John Ruth isn't just a putz, you know, like a fool that she is just so much smarter than. He's suddenly very smart and very dark when he goes and gathers all the guns from everyone and then she has to re-judge him just like everyone else in the movie. Everyone in the movie is terrible and hateful. Everyone in the movie, you also care for. ... Maybe their weakness is the good part of them in a certain way."

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Leigh went on to say she worked hard to make her character appear as though she isn't afraid to be executed.

"Daisy is having a blast. I mean, yeah, she's going to the gallows, but she knows she's not going to the gallows. She's going to figure it out," the actress added. "But in that moment [when John Ruth gains the upper hand,] it's not so clear anymore and that was so exciting as an actress to not know that was coming. To read it on the page and yet when I felt it happen in the room, I swear my blood went cold. It was just a phenomenal experience."

So, how did Leigh tap into the humanity of a character many may perceive as loathsome?

"Daisy has very strong loyalties and I think she has a very good heart. I think she has a big heart and a good heart. I do feel that about her. As crazy and wicked, evil... You might disagree..." she confessed as her castmates and director all groaned and laughed in protest at her characterization of the outlaw.

During the conversation with reporters, Russell offered his take on what it was like to work with Leigh in such close quarters -- first on a stage coach and then inside Minnie's Haberdashery.

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"At first, when Jennifer and I started to rehearse, we didn't really think there would be much of a problem with the chain," Russell recalled, referring to how he and the actress are literally bound together for much of the movie. "We didn't think it would represent anything much either. And nothing could have turned out to be further from the truth. Everything that we did was informed by how that chain was dealt with and, so, we had to learn to sort of get the Fred and Ginger of it all together and that informed their relationship. So, for me, there was John Ruth and for Jennifer there was Domergue, but together we were going to be this team, which we felt there was, like anything else, if you have been chained together for like a week, a week and a half... 24/7, you get to know a lot about that person and the Stockholm Syndrome is going to set up pretty fast and it did. In fact, over a five-month period of time, of course, the Stockholm Syndrome between Jennifer and I set up and it informed everything we did."

Feeling awkward about the situation, Russell said he tried to let his co-star take the lead when the cameras weren't rolling.

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"It was an unspoken thing," the 64-year-old actor acknowledged. "Because of who John Ruth was, when that clapper goes bang, it's 'Action!' That chain is mine. I own it. Because of that, I felt that as soon as [Tarantino called,] 'Cut!' That chain was hers. We had to have a balance and I will tell you something: I really appreciated what she was going through. You turn that chain over to the other person, it wasn't easy."

Co-starring Demian Bichir and Bruce Dern, the film opens in limited release Friday. It expands nationwide on Dec. 31.

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