Guts and Glory

Guts and Glory

Quentin Tarantino pulls out all the stops as he rewrites World War II


Originally published on on November 2009

Photo by Jun Sato

Photo by Jun Sato

Quentin Tarantino is so confident that everyone in Japan will like his new movie, Inglourious Basterds, that he OK’d a four-day campaign in which anyone who walks out within the first hour will receive a full refund.

“Hell, yeah, but no one will leave after one hour. And if you do want to leave, then get the hell out of here, so the rest of us can have a good time,” joked the 46-year-old director who was in Japan recently along with the film’s stars, Brad Pitt and French actresses Melanie Laurent and Julie Dreyfus.

It has taken ten years for Tarantino to bring his version of World War II to the big screen. “It started the same way I start every project,” he said. “I just wanted to make a war movie, so I began writing. The subtext that gives the movie its weight and meaning came later and actually continued as we made the film.”

Pitt, 45, stars as Lt Aldo “The Apache” Raine, the jut-jawed leader of the title characters, a ragtag band of Jewish-American soldiers dropped into occupied France to kill Nazis, scalp them and carve the swastika on their foreheads.

“When I wrote the script, I didn’t have a lead actor in mind for Aldo,” said Tarantino. “It wasn’t until last year that I started contemplating who might play him. Once Brad came into my head, there was no second choice. It’s like he stepped off the page.”

Pitt said he had no hesitation about taking the role. “Actors have been hearing about this script for eight years,” he said. “It’s taken on mythological proportions. When I heard it was coming my way, I was very flattered.” The Appalachian accent of Aldo was no obstacle either for Oklahoma-born Pitt, who described his birthplace as the “belly button of America.”

Inglourious Basterds is an international production that features American, British, French and German actors. “That’s what made it a rich experience,” said Pitt. “Rarely do you see a film on such a scale with everyone on set speaking their native languages. As the world gets more united, I’d like to see more films go that way.”

For Laurent, 26, who plays a Jewish cinema owner seeking vengeance on the Nazis, working on a Tarantino movie was an eye opener, even though she couldn’t speak much English. “It’s always been my dream to be in a Hollywood movie and I am so happy with the result,” she said. “It was a great experience.”

However, Tarantino said he wasn’t impressed with Laurent at the first audition. “All the characters in my script are personal to me, and you trust that when the right person walks in the door, you’ll recognize them,” he explained. “Melanie stumbled a bit at first. Then I watched some of her films and I realized that she has access to her emotions—she has a thought and we can feel it.”

Dreyfus, 43, had no trouble at all. A long-time resident of Tokyo in the ’80s and ’90s, she met Tarantino at a film festival here and was eventually cast in Kill Bill: Vol 1.

“I couldn’t get over the experience of that; we spent a year traveling the world promoting the film,” she said in fluent Japanese. “When Quentin asked me if I wanted to be in another of his films, I couldn’t say yes fast enough.”

Tarantino and his cast got a big welcome on the red carpet at the Japan premiere, though some fans might have had a hard time recognizing Pitt at first. Sporting a gray beard (left over from a Halloween party), he took some time out from his movie promotion duties to go shopping for a motorcycle. He crashed his favorite bike in LA in October while trying to get away from paparazzi. “I ended up giving them a really good story,” he said. “I suffered no injuries—except to my ego.”

Chris Betros is the editor of Japan Today (