Jennifer Jason Leigh on Her Career Before ‘The Hateful Eight’: “I am well over 40. I feel like the door was closed”
“A lot of times, this town, or this business, really only looks at your last three projects.” – Jennifer Jason Leigh
Filmmaker Quentin Tarantino has been praised for many things during his two-decade-plus career in Hollywood, but one of the major accolades he has received is praise for reviving the careers of actors whose fame has waned. His latest success story is Jennifer Jason Leigh, who has received great acclaim for her role in Tarantino’s latest film The Hateful Eight. Speaking with The Guardian, the Fast Times as Ridgemont High star expresses her gratitude to Tarantino and co-star Kurt Russell for the opportunity to star in such a major film.
Leigh admits that after the stop-motion movie Anomalisa that she was making with Charlie Kaufman ran out of money, she wondered if she had reached the end of the road of her career. She explains, “I am well over 40. I feel like the door was closed, and I had made my peace with it and I was fine. I worried a little bit about money. “Am I going to work again … Maybe I’ll go more into writing.” But I’m very happy being a mom. I just thought I had a great run and that’s that. Anomalisa we voiced two years ago! We did that two years ago, they lost the financing; or not ‘lost’: they ran out of money. I didn’t know if the movie was ever going to be completed. Charlie [Kaufman] didn’t know. To have that and then getting The Hateful Eight was beyond surreal.”
Despite the fact that Leigh worked with Robert Altman, the Coen Brothers, Sam Mendes, and David Cronenberg earlier in her career, she points out that Hollywood executives tend to have short memories. She explains, “A lot of times, this town, or this business, really only looks at your last three projects. Quentin is the exception to that. He looks at your whole body of work. He would talk to me about moments I had in Flesh+Blood (1985) as though they were yesterday. He’s that thorough and that’s just how his brain works. When he looks at you, he doesn’t see just what you did the last two years and he doesn’t think you’re not that person you were in, whatever, 1985.”
She also credits Tarantino for restoring her confidence as an actress. She continues, “He just sees you and what you’re capable of. That’s such a blessing, and it really made me remember who I was as an actress; I just had forgotten. Not in a bitter or sad way; it was just like I didn’t feel particularly meaningful or relevant right now. I was OK with it, I had other things going on and that’s fine. It’s just the way things go. This is really remarkable for me. Honestly, I still look at the poster for The Hateful Eight and I can’t believe I’m in the movie. I love it so much and the experience was so grand. It really was exceptional.”
Leigh also heaps praise on co-star Kurt Russell, although his character spends a significant amount of time in the movie punching her in the face. However, she knew that Russell had his fists under control. She reveals, “I could be this tough in this movie, because I was working with Kurt Russell and I knew I would never get hurt. He’s the best dance partner in the world. I really felt I was in safe hands, so I never anticipated one single blow… A lot of my performance is a credit to Kurt – Quentin, too, of course, but Kurt, a lot. He was so there for me.”
Despite the praise she has received for The Hateful Eight, Leigh is careful about looking too far ahead. She points out, “I’ve never been a careerist and I live in the present, so I don’t know where this is going to go, but I know I just had this experience and now it will live on forever and I feel really lucky.”