Why Ruth In 'The Hateful Eight' Is A Straight Shooter

20 January 2016 | 3:42 pm | Travis Johnson

"He treats her like he would treat any, any prisoner: man, woman, animal, it doesn’t make any difference."

“Well,” he drawls. “I really did kind of go through a period where I was more interested in making wine and raising cattle on my ranch and selling beef and getting into that. I just got interested in those two things. I wasn’t very interested in the things I was reading. And I guess I kinda ran into a period where I was like, ‘Yeah, I’ll do it, but it’s gonna be sporadic’. I did a couple of movies which I really enjoyed – The Art Of The Steal, I had a nice time with the guys up in Canada and stuff – but, I don’t know, things just fell in place.”

Russell leaped at the chance to reunite with Tarantino, who directed him in 2007’s Death Proof, after narrowly missing out on appearing in the maverick auteur’s last film. “Quentin and I almost worked together on Django Unchained but there was a conflict of schedules – they were going very long and I ended up not doing it. I got this phone call from Quentin about reading a script that he’d written and I said ‘Great!’ I thought he was talking about a table read, but the table read turned out to be an actual performance in front of a live audience. Then out of that, after doing that, he decided to make the movie. So that was the process for me: it started with the reading and ended with the movie.”

"Take your pick: do you wanna complain about misogyny or do you wanna complain about sexism?"

In The Hateful Eight, Russell plays bounty hunter John ‘The Hangman’ Ruth, who finds himself trapped in a lonely outpost during a blizzard along with his prisoner, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and a host of other eccentric characters. As these things tend to go, some of the eight are not who they seem to be, and it falls to violence, recriminations, and fantastic dialogue.

Among so much double dealing, Russell sees his character as the one steady rock in a sea of betrayal. “I think that he is the one person in the movie you can hang your hat on in terms of knowing who he is,” he says. “Probably next is Domergue – you know what she is. You don’t know what she’s done and you don’t know who she knows. And then there’s Major Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) – and then things begin to get muddled up. He is a bounty hunter, we know that, but all the other stuff we don’t know about and we’re finding out. From that point on, all the other people you meet could be anybody. I think it’s that what makes Ruth basically suspicious of everybody and paranoid and worried about who might be taking his bounty from him and do him harm along the way. So, I think John Ruth sees himself as the one guy who is actually servicing the concept of the cornerstone of American justice.”

Still, Ruth does some nasty things in the course of the film, from dropping the N-word on Jackson’s character to pistol-whipping Leigh’s chained prisoner, but Russell argues that Ruth is a straight shooter – he treats all comers absolutely equally. 

“It’s like, take your pick: do you wanna complain about misogyny or do you wanna complain about sexism? Which one do you want, you know? It’s like dealer’s choice. He treats her like he would treat any, any prisoner: man, woman, animal, it doesn’t make any difference. He treats her with an equal amount of respect and fear, and he treats her the same way physically. Now, as she happens to be a woman, as the Major Warren character says [when asked] do you have a problem with that? ‘You mean with her? No, I do not. I don’t have a problem.’ This is not a woman next to me, this is a feral cat that is always trying to figure how to kill me.

“At the same time,” he continues, “it’s a little bit of Stockholm Syndrome, because he’s been chained to her for a week and he’s gotten used to the sound of her voice. He kinda likes her, he would never trust her, but he kinda thinks she’s funny – in a different life maybe, you know? It doesn’t mean he isn’t gonna pour a little snakebite in her coffee and enjoy her company a little bit. But he’s made the rules as he would with any prisoner and he’s said, ‘You step outside that box and I’m gonna thump ya. And I don’t care if you’re a woman, I don’t care about that stuff. I don’t care about anything except you’re a murderer, and you’re gonna hang, and I’m gonna make sure you get your day in court. Just the fact that you’re a woman doesn’t mean anything to me one way or the other.’ And I think that’s equal treatment, ya know?”

Originally published in X-Press Magazine