Exclusive: Eli Roth on 'Endangered Species', 'Basterds' and More


Good news, Eli Roth fans -- you'll be seeing a lot of the wild-and-crazy auteur in the next year or so, both behind and in front of the camera. Roth will appear in this month's Inglourious Basterds (for which he directed the Nazi propaganda film-within-the-film Nation's Pride), as well as the upcoming Piranha 3-D and Don't Look Up; he'll produce Cotton and The Man with the Iron Fist for his new production company; he'll direct the sci-fi film Endangered Species; and he'll consider helming a feature-length Thanksgiving (based on his faux trailer from Grindhouse). We got an update from Roth on each of these projects when we caught up with him at this weekend's Inglourious Basterds junket in Los Angeles. Hit the jump to see what he had to say.

You're attached to a lot of projects right now. Can I ask you about the status of each of them? I've got a list here, because it's not easy to keep track of them these days. There are quite a few.

It's not me.  It's the speed of information now.  It's that you mention something to someone online and it gets twittered and uploaded to blogs.  The speed at which information travels, suddenly all this stuff that was never supposed to be out there because it's way too soon, at the pre-natal stage.  You don't want anyone to know about it, it's just too early to talk about it.  You're not even doing an interview; the title or something gets mentioned somewhere, and boom! – it's on a hundred different websites.  It's great that there's the interest, but the danger is that it makes it seem as if you're trying  to do fifty things at once, and that's just not the case. It's sort of the case; I'm trying to do ten things at once. I'll clear up anything you want to know.

Well, feel free to say "Too soon" to any of these… You have a role in Piranha 3D.

Yes, Alex Aja.  I said, "I'm retired from acting.  It's never gonna be better than working with Tarantino and Brad Pitt."  And Alex Aja said, "How'd you like host the wet T-shirt contest."  I said, "What time do you need me?"  I called Quentin the next day and said, "I found a director I like working with better than you," and I emailed Brad Pitt some photos – I was like, "Look what I get to do.  This is real acting, take a good look."  It was so much fun, I had a great time.  I wouldn't consider that  acting; it was just a cameo for fun.

So did you just do a couple of scenes?

Just one scene.  It was two days of shooting.  In Lake Havasu, hosting a wet T-shirt contest with three-hundred girls in bikinis.  I'd be a fucking idiot if I turned that down.

Yet it seems like each role you've taken has been perfect for you.

There are no roles in films that I've done.  The only acting I did was in Cabin Fever, it was just me replacing an actor at the last minute. Really Death Proof is the only acting I've done.  Everything else is just a walk-on, a cameo.  That's not acting.  Even in Death Proof, Quentin's direction was like "Dorky guy in bar trying to pick up Jordan Ladd and failing miserably," which is not that much of a stretch.  Quentin Tarantino's direction to me was, "You've got two minutes to lunch, don't fuck it up."  He wasn't really directing me as an actor, but he was so happy with the way I was doing it.  He's like, "Great.  Perfect.  Good.  Moving on.  One and done, that's it."  Then in the editing of Death Proof, that is where he kept saying, "Goddammit.  Fucking Eli gets it perfect every time.  Every time, you nail it.  These people are taking eighteen takes and you're getting it in one."  So that became my audition for Inglorious Bastards.

You're not directing Hostel 3

Nothing to do with it.  Nothing at all.  Contractually they have the right to continue the series.  Obviously the demand is there and it's made a lot of money for them, and if that's something that they want to continue, great.  If it's something the fans want to see, great.  And if I started something that went to a number three, then great.  It's like Cabin Fever 2 – I had nothing to do with it.  I've done it.  I started something, and if other people want to continue it, good for them.

One horror film your name is attached to is Cotton.

We are in post production right now.  I produced it with Eric Newman and Marc Abraham from Strike Entertainment.  Eric and I have a company called Arcade – Eric produced the Dawn of the Dead remake and Slither and Children of Men – and we shot it.  The director, Daniel Stamm, is a terrific director.  He made a really great film called A Necessary Death, which is known in the festival rounds.  The script is one of the scariest scripts I've read, a really creepy script about an exorcism, and he's editing right now.

With its faux documentary, could this do for exorcism movies what Cloverfield did for the Godzilla movie?

Yeah, definitely.  The script's really, really smart, and really clever.  How do you top The Exorcist?  Well, you don't – you just make your own.  You do a different story, with a different style, and you just make it its own thing.  And you make a scary version.  There are a lot of scary ghost movies, there are a lot of vampire movies.  It's just a different movie.  I thought Exorcism of Emily Rose was quite good.  Even though that was a court movie, I thought there were some really creepy scenes in it.  But this is really a good, pure, scary, horror, exorcism movie.  It's terrific.

You're tackling a new genre with the sci-fi film you'll shoot next year, Endangered Species

I get to work as soon as Basterds comes out.  I love Close Encounters and Jurassic Park and Transformers and Cloverfield.  I love scary sci-fi that's PG 13.  I wanted to do something that was fun and scary.  The story doesn't necessarily need to be graphically violent, but I wanted to see something big with lots of mass destruction.  Something fun, and something that kids could see.  When I was twelve and I saw Raiders of the Lost Ark – it's not a scary movie, but it's just scary enough in parts.  Something like that.

Now that Robert Rodriguez is going to do Machete, is there a chance we'll finally see Thanksgiving?

There's a chance, but I've learned that I can't plan more than one film ahead.  All I'm thinking about is Endangered Species.

The other film that your production company is involved in, Man with the Iron Fist, is in a totally different genre, martial arts.  It's written and directed by the RZA.  Are you as big a kung-fu fan as he and Quentin are?

I liked it, but I was always into horror movies more.  I like kung-fu movies, but I like RZA and I liked the script that he wrote.  I thought it was fantastic.  The way he's going to combine what he's doing with it and the music… His whole vision for the film, it's fantastic; it's so good.  He's such a smart guy and such a creative guy, he's got this whole universe figured out.  That again came from me just talking to him about it, and talking about it, and finally coming on to produce it.   I'm working with him getting the script finalized, and then we're gonna move forward with it.  So that's what I'm doing with Eric Newman, with Arcade.  It's good.  It's going to be totally unique and spectacular.  Look what he did with rap music – he just comes in there, and then he started composing.  And he's been studying directing under Quentin.  He knows that genre inside and out, and it's unbelievable how much he knows about those movies.  He's really ready to make the leap and direct.

You'll appear in another thriller soon – Don't Look Up.

That was an unbilled cameo.  That was Fruit Chan.  I loved Dumplings.  Yeah, it's a small part. That was even before -- that was long before -- Inglourious Basterds.  I loved Dumplings, and he was a huge fan of mine and loved Hostel.  He wrote me this letter out of the blue, saying, "I'd love you to be in this part.  It's a small part.  It's two days of shooting, but it'll be fun."  I play a director, in the 1920s, in period clothes, this director in Romania; and we're filming on these old stages.  I just did it because I wanted to meet Fruit Chan and work with him.  He's such a cool guy, and it was his first English language film.

Funhouse – everyone's wondering if the remake will happen.

Yes, Eric and I have got the rights to remake it.  We talked to Universal about it, and we said we'd like to remake it.  We got the rights, and we're meeting with writers.

Regarding Inglourious Basterds, can you talk a little bit about what inspired your film within the film, Nation's Pride?

I wanted to give Quentin something great, that no one else could give him. And I wanted to give him something that would be inspired.  In the script it was those three shots, and it's all in the service of Quentin's movie.  I felt like I was giving him another character.  I didn't feel like I was adding to the film.  To me it was like a character in a scene.  It had to look authentic; it had to look like a real propaganda movie.  It was propaganda to make Daniel Bruhl look like the Nazi soldier hero, and it was all about the glory of the swastika and the power of the swastika.  It came with this bit where the more people he shot, you'd see bodies piling, piled so high you can't even climb over them.  The thing where a baby carriage rolls into the gunfire and an American soldier holds up a baby as a shield.  We filmed all this stuff, and battle footage of guys shooting and Daniel carving a swastika and then bullets covering it; then later he uncovers it and it gives him the power of the swastika to go on.  It was so great of Quentin to have a Jewish guy do it.  But with me he knew I wouldn't play it safe.  I wanted it to be authentic and true to what those movies were.  I wanted to show how ridiculous and self-aggrandizing these people were, and how absurd they looked.  I watched a lot of propaganda movies.  We watched the Riefenstahl films and Quentin showed us The Eternal Jew.  They're unbelievable.  They're shocking.  I shot it to look like that period style of acting, period photography, and shot it in black and white.  I loved it, had a great time.  I had a DP who just worked with Terrence Malick.  We moved fast.  I had a second camera.  My brother Gabriel came out to be my second-unit director. So we had twenty guys that we were running back and forth.  I had a whole list of shots.  We split them up, and split up the locations, within a block of each other and we were just running back and forth.  In two days we got 140 shots, shooting from 8:30 to 4:15.  Quentin was so happy that he gave me a third day in the tower with Daniel Bruhl.  He said, "I don't want to deal with this, you just take it over. You do it.  It's brilliant, it's amazing."  It was seven days a week, being Donnie, working out, preparing the scenes, shooting Nation's Pride.  It was the most exhausting thing I've ever done, it was the hardest I've ever pushed myself.  But it was all worth it.

Any chance we'll see more of that film, or more of your performance as Donnie in Basterds when it hits DVD?

The five-and-a-half-minute version of Nation's Pride will be on the DVD.  There are some deleted scenes with Donnie that I believe will make it, but the flashback scenes that we shot in Boston – Quentin's saving them for the prequel if he ever does it. Those will not be on the DVD.

Thank you very much.

My pleasure.