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'Daisy Is An Animal': Jennifer Jason Leigh On Her Comeback In 'The Hateful Eight'

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'Daisy Is An Animal': Jennifer Jason Leigh On Her Comeback In 'The Hateful Eight'

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'Daisy Is An Animal': Jennifer Jason Leigh On Her Comeback In 'The Hateful Eight'

'Daisy Is An Animal': Jennifer Jason Leigh On Her Comeback In 'The Hateful Eight'

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Jennifer Jason Leigh is back in the spotlight with an Oscar nomination for her role as a murderous woman in The Hateful Eight. NPR's Kelly McEvers talks with her about being cast by Quentin Tarantino.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

All right, so let's play a game. Guess who this is. And if you've seen Quentin Tarantino's film "The Hateful Eight," don't spoil it for the others.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE HATEFUL EIGHT")

JENNIFER JASON LEIGH: (As Daisy Domergue) He's absolutely right. Me and one of them fellows is in cahoots. We're just waiting for everybody to go to sleep. That's when we're going to kill you.

MCEVERS: It's Jennifer Jason Leigh, and it's been a while since we've seen her in a big movie. I mean, you might've even though she quit acting.

LEIGH: Quit is, like, a very strong term.

MCEVERS: (Laughter) Yes.

LEIGH: I just thought, like, I had had my run.

MCEVERS: She's has had a pretty good run. From her first big role in "Fast Times At Ridgemont High" in 1982.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH")

LEIGH: (As Stacy Hamilton) Linda, that girl looks just like Pat Benatar.

MCEVERS: As the roommate from hell in "Single White Female."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "SINGLE WHITE FEMALE")

LEIGH: (As Hedra Carlson) Don't make me come get you.

MCEVERS: And as a sharp-tongued newspaper reporter in "The Hudsucker Proxy."

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE HUDSUCKER PROXY")

LEIGH: (As Amy Archer) I tell you, the guy's a phony.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Phony, huh?

LEIGH: (As Amy Archer) As a $3 bill.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) Says who?

LEIGH: (As Amy Archer) Says me, Amy Archer. Why is he an idea man, because Hudsucker says he is?

MCEVERS: Jennifer Jason Leigh was everywhere in the '80s and '90s. And then she wasn't. But now she's been nominated for an Oscar for playing Daisy Domergue in "The Hateful Eight." She came into our studio here in Culver City, and I asked her if this is her comeback.

LEIGH: I feel like I was a little bit off the map, you know, if there is a map. Or if there is a planet, I was not on that planet...

(LAUGHTER)

LEIGH: ...For working actors.

MCEVERS: I like the planet better, yeah.

LEIGH: Yeah, it was actually, you know, my brother-in-law said to me, you know, all it takes is a phone call from Quentin Tarantino.

MCEVERS: (Laughter).

LEIGH: And, you know, a couple years later, I got that call from Quentin Tarantino and I'm sitting across from you today...

MCEVERS: Wow.

LEIGH: ...talking about it, and it is life-changing.

MCEVERS: 'Cause, I mean, yeah, he famously did it for John Travolta with "Pulp Fiction," Robert Forster and Pam Grier in "Jackie Brown." I mean, that's sort of a thing he does. Did you guys talk about that at all, you and Quentin Tarantino?

LEIGH: You know, we didn't talk about that. He did talk about the '90s. This movie has a lot of people from the '90s in it. He knows more about all of our careers more than we know. Like, he would talk about "Flesh And Blood," which is a movie I did, I think it was 23 at the time, as though it were yesterday. Unlike a lot of people, he doesn't draw a distinction because you're a different age now or years and years have passed. You're still that person who gave that performance no matter when you gave it. That's in you. And that's something that I certainly forgot about.

MCEVERS: Tell me about the character that you play in "The Hateful Eight," Daisy Domergue.

LEIGH: Well, the fun thing about it is she's feral. She's kind of like a little wild animal.

MCEVERS: (Laughter).

LEIGH: But she's also incredibly bright. And you see her get punched once, you know everything you need to know about her childhood. She just knows how to take a punch. It doesn't mean that much to her.

MCEVERS: But, I mean, how did you feel about it at first? You know, she's the only woman in the film and she's getting her butt kicked. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: We incorrectly say that Jennifer Jason Leigh's character is the only woman in this film.]

LEIGH: I loved it because I find the movie so un-sexist. I didn't come at her looking at, oh, this poor woman is getting punched. I came at her looking like she's a scrappy, smart murderess being, and she's not going to let any vulnerability show.

MCEVERS: One of the great things about the roles that you've played in the past, you've never been afraid of playing, you know, drug addicts, prostitutes, you know, people who've had a tough time in life. Like, how does this one compare to some of those?

LEIGH: Daisy is such an animal. And then, you know, in the middle of it all, like, Quentin asked me to, like, sing a song and play guitar.

MCEVERS: Oh, yeah, I was going to ask you about that.

LEIGH: Right? Like, I've never played guitar at all. And I remember when he asked me, he took a record out of a sleeve and put it on a turntable and played me the song.

MCEVERS: The song's called "Jim Jones At Botany Bay."

LEIGH: Yes, he said I'd like you to play that on the guitar and sing it in the movie to score this one scene.

MCEVERS: Right.

LEIGH: And he said, do you play guitar? And I said, no, I've never played guitar, but I would love to learn. And he said, well, I really have the faith and I believe if, you know, we get you a great teacher, you'll be able to learn this. And so that's what he did. The take in the movie is live.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "THE HATEFUL EIGHT")

LEIGH: (As Daisy Domergue) (Singing) Listen for a moment, lads, and hear me tell my tale. Over the sea from England, sure I was condemned to sail. Jury found be guilty, sir, and said the judge, said he, for life, Jim Jones, I sentence you across the stormy sea.

MCEVERS: (Laughter) What do you think when you hear that?

LEIGH: Well, you know.

MCEVERS: I just see your face and you look a little pained.

LEIGH: No, no, no, it's fine. I mean, it's great for Daisy, somewhat humiliating for me. (Laughter) But it's really great for Daisy.

MCEVERS: Yeah, I mean, it's totally OK that Daisy isn't, like, a great professional singer, right? I mean...

LEIGH: Right, yes. But it's also a moment where we - you also discover some - a quieter side of her in a certain way. Quentin giving me that song to learn really locked me into Daisy in a way because all the things Daisy's trying not to show, I also was trying not to show. You know, I didn't want Quentin to know I was scared. I didn't want him to know that I was feeling very vulnerable about it or that I wasn't sure if I could do it not. And I wanted to do it for him. That became, like, my sort of life and death thing on the movie the way, for Daisy, is surviving. He said that he had the faith in me that I could do it. And I wanted to be able to deliver that for him.

MCEVERS: Well, Jennifer Jason Leigh, thank you so much for coming in today and good luck.

LEIGH: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

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Correction Feb. 16, 2016

We incorrectly say that Jennifer Jason Leigh's character is the only woman in this film.