The Terrifying Power of the Director's Chair
beginning of her career, but also that writer-director Quentin Tarantino put her life at risk several times during the production of Kill Bill.
This article, of course, came months after a viral video that featured a seething
Thurman channeling her most indelible character, the vengeful Beatrix Kiddo. While on the red carpet, Thurman was asked by a reporter what she thought about the Weinstein scandal – and if she had anything to say about it herself. Her response, to make it succinct, was that, when she was less angry, then she’d say what she had to say.
So when I woke up Saturday morning to a news notification letting me know that Thurman had finally decided to speak out, my sleepy haze dissolved quickly. To my surprise, though, the ensuing article turned out to be less about how Weinstein unsurprisingly tried his whole bathrobe routine multiple times on the star. The main focus of the piece was the working relationship between Tarantino and Thurman, which, to my astonishment, was downright abusive when at its most lucrative.
In Kill Bill, Thurman is famously put through hell trying to, er, kill Bill. She is spat on. Strangled. Cut. Buried alive. Shot in the head. But as shared in the article, a couple of those items were not simulated.
In a scene where Kiddo was being choked with a chain by a sadistic henchwoman, Thurman was actually being choked. When a character hocks a loogie that lands right between Kiddo’s eyes, Thurman was actually being spat on. The kicker is that Tarantino himself had administered the strangulation and the dehumanizing saliza. (As it turns out, strangling actresses not is uncommon for the filmmaker. He also put his hands around Diane Kruger’s neck for a shot in 2009’s Inglourious Basterds.)
Then the filmmaker outdid himself. There’s a sequence in Vol. 2 that watches Thurman drive a vintage blue convertible down a jungle road en route to actually kill Bill. Tarantino wanted his actress to be the one doing the driving.
During production, multiple behind-the-scenes personnel told Thurman that the car was unsafe; the seat wasn’t screwed on properly and problems with the shift had not been resolved. Thurman told her director that she didn’t feel comfortable driving this “death box,” and that she’d prefer a stunt person take her place. Tarantino wouldn’t have it. He needed his leading lady in the driver’s seat, especially since he wanted a close-up shot of her golden hair blowing in the 40-miles-per-hour wind. He guilt tripped her for holding up production.
After being coerced into compliance, Thurman reluctantly agreed. But footage attached to the Times profile, which apparently took the performer 15 years to get, shows her getting in a severe car accident on just the first take. The wreck ultimately left her with permanent knee and neck damage. She was hospitalized for several months.
While reading, I was reminded of Imran Siddiquee’s thinkpiece “Why Do We Let ‘Genius’ Directors Get Away with Abusive Behavior?” which accurately noticed that our culture often accepts, and sometimes even romanticizes, behavior like Tarantino’s as long as the finished movie is a masterpiece. Thurman has said she forgives the director for his actions. But even so, they’re part of a trend that needs to end.
Stanley Kubrick’s fetish for hundreds of takes led Shelley Duvall to have a nervous breakdown after making The Shining. Yet this was looked at by many as just another example of how Kubrick’s legendary extremism could lead to magnificent works of art. When it was revealed that Alfred Hitchcock actually had birds attack Tippi Hedren on the set of The Birds, causing physical wounds and psychological trauma, the rhetoric that “artists suffer for their art” seemed applicable.
After being pushed to her limits by Andrzej Żuławski during the production of the erratic Possession, Isabelle Adjani tried to kill herself. Jennifer Lawrence tore her diaphragm while shooting Mother! simply because Darren Aronofsky couldn’t have her screaming bloody murder for only a single take.
If this sort of torment were exhibited in a private setting, these men would likely be criminally liable. But because they are “masters” of their art, they are given hall passes for their abuses. So often, like in the case of Thurman, there’s an idea that actual pain can contribute to the experience of a movie. But this shouldn’t continue happening, regardless of how it affects the quality of the final product. Based on the reception to Thurman’s revelations, I’m optimistic that maybe it won’t.
- FEBRUARY 9, 2018
This piece also appeared in The Daily.
Why do we allow great filmmakers to push actors to their limits?
keep imagining Tarantino spitting in Uma’s face and strangling her with a chain for Kill Bill,” actress Jessica Chastain recently tweeted. “How many images of women in media do we celebrate that showcase abuse? When did this become normalized ‘entertainment’?”
Chastain was reacting to “This is Why Uma Thurman is Angry,” a New York Times piece in which the actress not only reveals that she was attacked by Harvey Weinstein at the