Quentin Tarantino

Quentin Tarantino - in the blood   

He likes to scare his audiences witless, then watch them queue up for more. But he's the first in line at the cinema. Is Quentin Tarantino actually his own biggest fan?

There is a Hamburger Hamlet, one of a chain of casual diners, on Hollywood Boulevard across from Mann's Chinese Theatre. It is 10 o'clock on a Friday night and I am waiting outside. This is one of the few pedestrian neighbourhoods in Los Angeles, and the well-lit pavements are packed with tourists from middle America, who pause in front of the lingerie store Frederick's of Hollywood window display, while hookers in platforms and pink feather boas teeter along. The scene is very noir. Tarantino has chosen this spot and he appears on time. He is tall, with a cheerful presence and palpable warmth. He opens the door and, as we head inside, explains that he's been editing all day. He tells me he wanted to go home afterwards, have a bite to eat, take a nap, and he appreciates me meeting him at this hour.

"Hey, do you think we could get a booth in the bar area?" he asks. I nod. There is something immensely likable about someone who knows they will get what they want, yet still seems unsure if they're allowed to ask for it. Tarantino is a man who recognises people are in awe of him but still seems amused and in awe of the fact that he is a man people are in awe of. It is his charm. A unique combination of geeky and swashbuckling: as if Beavis and Butt-Head had met Errol Flynn.

We sit in a darkened vinyl booth in the bar area. He is wearing jogging bottoms, trainers and a black T-shirt with red lettering that reads "Battle Royale" - a film series by the late, great Japanese director Kinji Fukasaku, where high-school students kill one another off. The crowd could be the audience at a Jerry Springer show. I am concerned about the noise level. But I soon relinquish that concern when Tarantino begins speaking. He is voluble, uninhibited, and the decibel of his voice, like the decibel of his vision, is turned way up.

"The success thing happened in stages. But the thing is, it was, like, a really cool cult success - there were a whole lot of film-makers who were, like, wow, cool, I could do this. Like starting a garage band. They were selling me as a director and I was in a place where I could enjoy being a cult success. But then it opened in England - awright? And it was the No 1 movie in London. And after Reservoir Dogs opened, every British stand-up comedian had to have a Reservoir Dogs stand-up routine - awright? It was, like, the thing for the political cartoons to reference it."

Reservoir Dogs did so well on its opening weekend in London that Tarantino was brought here to do regional press. He went to Liverpool, Manchester and Edinburgh, and that's when, for the first time in his life, he felt a shift; things began to feel different. "When I started walking around Piccadilly Circus like I've always done, I would zone out - going to record stores or whatever. And I'm walking around there, and all of a sudden I realised the difference between being a cult success and having the No 1 movie in London. I'd been on the chat shows - they all knew who I was. And there was also this aspect which was that I was a video-store clerk and then I made a movie. They still have a class system there and were like, 'F***, we wouldn't let anybody do that here and we're kind of f***ed up because of it.' I would walk into a video store and hear, 'You're a hero here, mate!' So it was really different. Really good different!"

Life was better than he ever imagined it could be, but there were changes. Everyone became a homeless person - he was afraid to make eye contact. It was an adjustment. "It was like, oh, okay, if I want to walk down the street spaced out - do it before nine o'clock. That's how I looked at it. Maybe it's not such a good idea to walk down Santa Monica Boulevard crying your eyes out over a broken relationship. Maybe you shouldn't do that now!" He reaches out across the table and taps my arm. "You can have a broken heart and walk around Times Square and cry it out and get it out of your f***ing system if you want. You might not want to do that, but you can."

Tarantino was born in 1963 in Knoxville, Tennessee. His mother was a 16-year-old nursing student, his father a 21-year-old aspiring actor. He was raised by his mother in Los Angeles, and as an only child with a precocious outlook he developed an early bond with cinema and TV - the movies were his friends, the TV family his own. "I've always attributed it to being an only child, because I am a loner. When I'm with people I'm giving and I'm giving and I'm giving and I'm giving - awright? Until all of a sudden, there's nothing to give and I shut down. If you think about it, the great thing about being an only child is you're not a pussy about being alone. You get way good with your own company. There are definitely traps with that too, but I think if it had to be one way or the other, being comfortable with your own company is the way to be."

He says that when friends would come over, because he was starving for companionship, he was so happy that they were there that he would give his all. "But then, when they left, I really didn't want them to leave. You know? It was always just a little bit sadder when they left because you would be by yourself again. But then there were times when you were done and it was like, 'Okay, you can go now.' My first girlfriend explained this to me in a really beautiful way. She said, 'The difference is, when you grow up with siblings, you learn how to be alone amongst other people. You've never learnt that. You give and you give and then all of a sudden you run out of sh** to give, and then at that point, when that happens, just my physical presence is oppressive to you.'"

Yet as a director he is forced to be around other people, so it is an interesting metaphor: the director as only child on the set. It's his world and everyone has to be perfect in it. He is nodding now. His head is bobbing up and down as he chews on a mouthful of chips. "It's like a family, but you're the father. But it's lonely being the father, because you're by yourself with the responsibility at the end of the day." And when he needs a little alone time? "I go to the bathroom a lot. I've done that ever since I was 14. It's the one place I can go to for about 5 or 10 minutes and be by myself and think my own thoughts for a second - get out of the hubbub, then go back in and feel good. It's like taking a nap. People probably think I have this really weak bladder or something. But it's like a time-out."

Just then a couple approach and ask for his autograph. He signs the napkin and hands it back. "Here you go, Chris. I appreciate it!" Voluntarily, he jumps out of the booth for a photo, embracing Chris's girlfriend for posterity - knowing he has now become a part of their "Hollywood experience". Like an only child who identifies with other only children, Tarantino identifies with his fans. He dropped out of school at 16 and began to learn about the world through film - working as an usher in an adult-movie theatre and finally landing his now infamous job at Video Archives in Manhattan Beach, where he could watch movies free every day while plotting his destiny.

"The most a person can ever be is interesting. I think it's the greatest thing in the world to be. Interesting at anything is a better combination than most. But I really love the little relationships where I don't really know this guy or this girl but they seem really interesting and if we hang out, I bet we'd become best friends. It's good to have the possibility - other friends out there in the world - so you know there's more to know."

He hangs out with a core group of people for certain periods of time. "I've been in this strange bubble since I started writing Kill Bill. It's made me pull away from a lot of people, just to do the hard work of writing."

Because he was writing with Uma Thurman in mind, he moved to New York and began hanging out with her again, getting to know her. "But I also knew I had to write Kill Bill in New York. And that's what I did for a year and half. Just write the script and watch kung-fu movies every single, solitary day."

He's not big on schedules, preferring instead to be guided by instinct. But in New York he wrote every day. There was a routine. He'd get up in the morning and poke around the apartment until it was time to get some coffee. "That was my job. To go to a Starbucks or some other place and kick back. And, uh, if I felt like writing I would start writing." He writes everything by hand into a notebook. At a certain point he would tire of the environment, so he would get up and walk around - until he found another place. Then get up from there, walk around until he had enough, and then he would go home and watch movies.

When he was done with the notebooks, he took an old 1987 Smith Corona word processor - the same one he typed Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction on - and since he can't type, he used one index finger to get it done. He then gave those pages to a typist who would type them up properly. "It's such a pain in the ass to do it. I have to print it out after every single page. But then I also feel accomplishment after every page! Because up until then it's been like [the serial killer] Richard Ramirez's diaries."

Seconds later he subsides, as though a tornado has just passed by. "But um, also, because it's such a pain in the ass, it's like, this better be f***ing Shakespeare or I'm cutting this sh** out. It better all be f***ing gold if I'm gonna type it with one f***ing finger!"

He never gets writer's block. "My best sh** - I don't know how much I did - I just left myself open to it." Once he doesn't know where to go, or runs out of ideas, he accepts it. "I'll just say, 'Okay, I'm through for today.'"

It has been a while since we have heard from Tarantino. The third movie he directed, Jackie Brown, was released in 1997, and since then people have wondered: where has he been? What has he been doing? There have been chinese whispers: alcohol? Drugs? Pothead! Partier! He was burnt out; he was lazy; there was too much too soon and he was unable to sustain it; it was all hype. But the story is, he has been writing. A little acting too. But for the most part, writing. He wanted to write something original because Jackie Brown was an adaptation and, he says, "the director got a workout". And then, with the play he was in (a Broadway revival of Wait until Dark in 1998), "the actor got a workout". He felt it was time for the writer.

He worked on a few things - a family comedy, for instance - but decided they weren't ready, and then he had his second-world-war idea, which he worked on for three years. "It turned into a whole Norman Mailer-style opus." He did a lot of research. "It was some of the best stuff I've ever written, but it was becoming this novel that wouldn't end." He says that he had to make another movie to realise how to tame it. "So Kill Bill was gonna be the movie I did before I did my epic. Cut to a year and a half later and I'm still writing it and people were like, 'Okay, if this ain't the epic, I'm f***ing scared for the epic! I'm afraid for your epic if this ain't it!'" He laughs.

It was during the time that he was working on the war project that he bumped into Uma Thurman at a party. He hadn't seen her since Pulp Fiction, when he had told her about Kill Bill, that he had written 30 pages. At this party she asked about it. He went home that night, looked up those pages, read them again and thought: "F*** it, man. I'm just gonna do this now."

Tarantino was 31 when Pulp Fiction opened and won the Palme d'Or in 1994. Its critical and commercial success blurred the line between mainstream and independent cinema. It was nominated for seven Academy Awards (Tarantino won, along with his then collaborator Roger Avary, for best screenplay) and it gave Miramax, the studio behind it, a lot of clout. Because of this, even more so than Reservoir Dogs in 1992, Harvey Weinstein, the president of Miramax, anointed Tarantino as his favoured child. His widely reported quote, "Miramax is the house that Tarantino built," is surprising not just for its honesty, but because Weinstein is not known for his generosity in indulging a director's cut. With Kill Bill, it was Weinstein's idea to have it released in two parts, beginning with Volume One, released in October.

What compels Tarantino to write? Suddenly the motions - the chewing, the sipping, the hand gestures, the fidgeting, the fluttering - stop. He takes a breath. He is thinking.

"God. Wow. What compels a comedian to be funny? I don't know. 'Compels' is such a powerful word. I guess, when it comes to... things you do extremely well for no reason whatsoever - and it's kind of easy for you, so you know you do it better than a lot of other people?" He is unravelling the thought as he speaks. "It's what I do. I don't know if 'compelled' is the right word."

"I feel to some degree that when I get my characters talking to each other, I'm just like a court reporter. I'm just writing it down. It's like I'm not doing it. I don't understand my part in the process." He pauses. "Other than trusting it."

This instinct to trust is everything. Like a novelist trusting the muse, Tarantino is the artist as opposed to the technician when it comes to screenplays. And what distinguishes him is that he writes with authority. A reverence for words and the rhythms of language. It's not the words he uses (they are not "highfalutin", as he might put it) but the way he strings sentences together into a symphony of dialogue. So while others make it pretty, he makes it sing. Whereas others follow a formula, he follows the muse.

Has he always trusted himself in this way? He answers immediately, with matter-of-fact confidence. "I always liked my writing. If I was a carpenter and I knew I could make a really cool birdhouse, and then as soon as I was finished with it I could show it to everyone else and they could see what a really cool birdhouse it was. I mean, why not? I've never understood... but all these people, when I was writing screenplays, would talk about their work and how much they don't like it and I would always kind of admire them a little bit because I was like, 'How do you ever get anything done?' It's so hard to finish that the only reason I can do it is because I know I'm good and I can't wait for the world to see I'm good at it. It's like I have the best-kept secret on the planet right now and soon everyone will get to hear it."

Is he saying he's not insecure? "When I write a good piece of work, I know it. I'm ridiculously vain when it comes to my writing. One of the things that gets me through a really big-deal scene is that as soon as I finish with it, I'm gonna call a friend of mine and read it to them. I mean, I might as well be masturbating when I call them up, awright? I say, 'Can I just read this to you?' and they're like, 'Yeah, sure,' and I don't really want them to tell me what's right or what's wrong - I've already read it about 12 times while I'm pacing around my apartment or my house. I want to read it to them so now, as I listen to it, I'll be listening to it through their ears. They don't need to comment! I can hear all the sour notes for them. I'm using their presence."

Most people would never admit to this, but most people don't have the self-awareness he has about the narcissism of writing. This is not arrogance so much as an acceptance of what is. He acknowledges he is a good writer the way someone else might acknowledge that they're caucasian, or short.

He continues: "If you think about it, bringing someone to see a movie, you get to enjoy it even more because you're seeing it through their eyes.You're seeing it fresh all over again. But it works the other way too. When you bring a friend that you think is going to like a movie and they don't like it? You wince all the way through because you're knowing all the things they're not liking. In no other art form - whether it's with lovers or husbands and wives or friends - do you find a more common glue than movies. People can spend every day together and like different types of music. You could say that about literature too. Nobody has to like the same painting. But when a movie becomes special to you - when you really love it - you take on an ownership. With movies, when you're affected, it's yours.

"If you think someone is smart and you show them a movie that requires a little bit of work but has a tremendous amount of reward and they don't get it, you can never think about them with the intelligence you thought about them before. You can't. For someone to not understand why you responded to a movie that means something to you, is like for them not to understand you."

Tarantino lives to defend the movie everyone hates. "My purpose in life is to go see that movie and say, 'F*** you all. This movie is good, and I'll tell you why!'" When asked for a movie that comes to mind, he lights up, like a schoolboy who's just got an A in his exam. In the past five years, the movie he has championed most is Gus Van Sant's remake of Psycho. "I thought that was the ballsiest movie of the year - maybe one of the greatest experiments in the history of cinema. It inspired me in a way no movie has before."

The momentum is building and it seems that no matter what else is going on - the world could be ending - it would be rendered irrelevant."Even the people in the f***ing car with me didn't get it," he recalls. "I remember driving with my girlfriend at the time, and a buddy of mine and his girlfriend, and they were like, 'I wonder why he wanted to do that?' And then someone said, 'Well, I guess it's a film he grew up watching.' And I was like, 'No. I don't think that. I don't think that at all. In fact, I got no indication from this movie at all that he even liked the original. He was doing an experiment on a far deeper level.'"

He is all fired up now. "Look, shut me up in 10 minutes and I'll tell you what I like about it, okay? You got a watch?" His energy and enthusiasm are gripping - they pull you in - and his passion for making a point, his commitment, defines who he is. When he sees something that you don't, he longs for you to see it his way. But this desire is not about being right: it is about conveying.

"What I thought was really cool was, everyone is making a big deal because everyone treats Hitchcock like he's the Buddha of f***ing cinema. I mean, he may look like Buddha, but he ain't Buddha, awright? I mean, I'm not really that reverential about Hitchcock at all. I mean, I'm not saying I don't like him - I'm not saying he's a bad director, okay, but you know what: f*** him. I don't care. He's not a religious icon. He's the guy that when you first get into cinema, he's very easy to love. I think at a certain point you outgrow him. But he takes you to a certain place."

Ten minutes have passed. "Okay, so what Gus Van Sant did was, he took the exact same script as the original Psycho, not one word rewritten, and shot it with 80% of the same camera angles. And that's a very interesting experiment, okay? No one has ever done that before. If you take the same script and use the same camera angles, but if your intention is completely different than the intention of the original director, and you update it to 20 years later, but you don't change anything in the relationships, now viewed from today's audiences in today's times - how different a movie will you get?"

Ten more. "If you've ever seen Psycho, you remember it starts with John Gavin and Janet Leigh having this illicit affair during her lunch hour. When you do that same scene with Viggo Mortensen and Anne Heche? And it's, like, 1995? They both seem so f***ing white trash! I mean, having an affair in her lunch hour and she works at a bank and she's going to a motel to get f***ed by her greasy boyfriend - not John Gavin, but Viggo Mortensen? They're f***ing in a motel, for Chrissake! It's really sleazy. So the whole movie is put through that kind of stuff."

He relates this briefly to Kill Bill, explaining that the experience of seeing his film will be in the moment but then by next year, if you see it again, you'll know what's happened - and then for the rest of your life you'll know how it turns out. "So it will be a different experience for people yet to be born who will see Kill Bill than what's going to happen now to people who see it in theatres."

I am struck by his absolute assurance of his position in the future. The certainty of his work becoming a part of film history is something that just is. He is still going: "Now. How that relates to Psycho is, when Hitchcock made Psycho, no one in the theatre knew Anthony Perkins was his mother. That was the big surprise, the thing they were selling. That when you get to the end, you go, 'Oh, wow! That's who it is!' So everything was designed in that movie to not let you think that was the case. Is there any movie where the surprise ending is known more than Psycho? It would take a lifelong Brazilian drag queen four hours to have the perfect dragness that Anthony Perkins has when he's stabbing - awright? They're not trying to fool us. So now, it's a character. It's real. Norman Bates is crazy. It's become a character study. The fact that you have a whole movie based on a surprise, and then you do the movie 40 years later knowing that everyone knows the surprise... He's not trying to sell you that it's a mystery. He's selling you a character study, but not changing anything. That's the thing that makes it interesting."

Forty-five minutes later, he sits back and smiles. Not smug: satisfied. Whether you agree or not is beside the point. He enjoys provoking, discussing, and one of his most salient qualities is that he recognises the value of the alternative perspective.

Two hours have passed and we have yet to talk about Kill Bill. As I begin to give him my thoughts on the movie, I feel as if I should apologise. There is guilt, as though I've been hiding candy from a child. And I want to tell him it's not that I've been withholding - it's that we've been distracted. I feel a need to say this only because I get the sense that, this whole time, he's been holding his breath, waiting patiently, trying to be restrained. And now, talking about the movie, finally: he can exhale. The fact is, Kill Bill is intoxicating. Every second is exhilarating. Like he wants the audience to have an experience seeing his movie that they would have taking drugs or having sex or going to a rock concert: anything extreme and addictive, an over-the-top pleasure. "What did you think?" He asks, eager to get into it. "And don't be too precious."

Tarantino loves it that people will cringe, wince, look away. It's all about the response in the moment. The audible, rollicking reaction.

"I had to tell Miramax, 'Don't worry about the f***ing blood, man. When the audience is going, "Arrghh," that's them having a f***ing good time! They're all doing it in unison. It's fun!'" He describes the experience like this: "It's like I'm actually able to get you to reach the climax with me about my own masturbatory fantasy. What I'm trying to get you to do is get off with me. Not before me, not two seconds after me, but to reach climax when I would. And then, hopefully, everyone is like, 'Ahhhhh!' And I've seen movies where I've felt that."

Kill Bill is an obsessive movie and therefore, perhaps, his most personal. It's a synthesis of all the genres he's ever loved. Spaghetti westerns and kung fu and yakuza and on and on. The attention paid to certain details is remarkable. The scripting, the shooting, the symbiotic relationship between director and actress - all of it. Since he is looking through obsessive eyes, I ask what he is reflecting back. "Maybe I don't want you to know the focus, but I want you looking with that strong a gaze."

Until it stops playing, he considers it his job to go and see his movie in the cinemas. "I go all the time. The weekend it opens - that entire weekend is mine. And I have to be in LA, because these are the theatres I know because I grew up here."

He goes alone. All day, beginning with the first show. He drives all over town checking out how it's playing with different audiences. "Sometime around 8pm I usually go to the Magic Johnson Theatre to see how it's playing with the brothers. That's the real test. Awright? Then I pick some really, really cool theatre and go see the midnight show. So that whole weekend, that's all I do."

He does this for his own enjoyment and it's what he claims to be making the movie for. "This is the orgasm. If the whole thing from the start of page one was the sex act, it all leads to the ultimate orgasm of me watching it with a paying audience. So much so that at a certain point I can't watch it with the editor any more - I can't watch it with people who've seen it... it's like I'm jerking off. I've got to hold onto it for when it counts."

He repeats this process all over the world, going to London, Brazil, Mexico. He's even cutting a special version of Kill Bill for Japanese audiences. The fight sequences go to black and white because, as he says, "They can handle it."

He leans forward. "You saw it this morning, right?" I nod. This leads to a discussion of how, if a movie is special, it will stay with you, whether you like it or not, all day. "I saw Annie Hall," he says, "not knowing sh** about it when I was a little kid. I rode down on my bike, saw it, rode my bike home, and I had just seen Annie Hall. So I went back to my bedroom and I lay down on my bed and I wrestled with the movie. I'd seen something profound. I was a little too young to realise how profound it was, but I knew it was profound. Woody Allen took a leap with that movie and he took me with him. And I didn't know where I'd leapt to, but I loved it. In that little montage at the end - when he ruminates on Annie? - I found myself being moved. But I've never had any feelings like that before, ever. You know, I didn't know about relationships then. But I knew I was moved."

That he would be touched by the sorrow of heartbreak for the first time through a movie is telling. For Tarantino, real life and the fantasy life of film ae fused. He learnt early on to interpret life through film, and Tarantino the man is a walking kaleidoscope of his influences. There has been a question of where he is in his films. His signature resides in pacing and rhythm, but emotionally there is a blank. Whereas the origins of someone like Scorsese's violence are organic - coming out of immigrant repression - Tarantino's violence is less specific. It is wild and off the map, often perceived as slick, shocking, humorous but without gravity. So where is he in the movie?

"You know what? The real answer is, I could tell you a bunch of different things but they wouldn't be true. I'm not really that reactionary an artist. I want to be able to look at it much later when it's all over with. Two years from now I could answer and know what I'm talking about, about what is me in Kill Bill, but I'm too in the middle of it now."

There are some answers, though. For instance, in Kill Bill there is nothing pandering about Uma Thurman's character. She is not trying to get you to like her. And in a way, right there, is an autobiographical moment. As much as Tarantino wants to be liked, it is trumped by not caring what he says, or what people think. Watching his films, one is both compelled and repelled. Kill Bill is only the fourth film that Tarantino has written and directed, though it feels he's done more. It is in his nature to take his work seriously: "I can see kids on the street who are six years old and I think, by 16 they'll see my first movie and know who I am and want to see every f***ing movie I've made and think, 'This motherf***er is talking to me.' I want all my movies to rock their world."

We pause to order a dessert. A debate over the caramel banana sundae or the Oreo cookie mud pie produces outrage. "Wait. You want chocolate sauce instead of caramel sauce? That makes no sense at all. I assumed you were talking about the ice cream. I couldn't imagine you had a problem with the sauce. If you're not responding to the caramel aspect of the caramel sundae, I would definitely say Oreo!" I'm beginning to think that sugar at this late hour might not be the best idea.

The fact that he made this movie surprised him. "I'm a lazy person," he says. "I don't write every day, like a job. If I want to do something else that day, I will." Yet when he is reminded that he is where he is because he created it for himself, he rethinks the statement. "I'm a go-getter's soul in a lazy person's body."

There is an obvious joy that he gets from being able to spend his days watching films and still be a responsible member of society. That he is allowed to exist in this way impresses and beguiles him. "I get to watch kung-fu movies all motherf***ing day long. And I was doing what I was supposed to do!"

He watched at least one, if not two or three, kung-fu movies a day, for a year and a half - and most of them were movies he'd seen before. It got to the point where he was seeing so many Hong Kong and Japanese movies that he began to think all the American movies that were opening were some sort of weird, archaic cinema that has nothing to do with mainstream. Then, suddenly: "I can't believe you wanted to bypass the caramel!"

The rollercoaster ride of conversation with him is as much a part of his films as it is his life. An interview could be a scene in one of his movies.

It is quiet now. The crowd has left. Chairs are upside down on top of tables, and the background music has been turned off. The clock says it is 2.15am but I remember they close at 1am, so when the manager approaches our table we realise they've been waiting for us to finish up. He apologises, says they have to go home. Tarantino instantly reassures him: "Oh, man, don't worry, it's all good." As we walk towards the car park, we talk about times when he hasn't behaved as honourably as he should have. He reflects on these times as meaningful. If it left a scar, he learnt something. He says he might lie to himself in the bluster of a moment, but when he's by himself he's harder on himself. "I'm more inclined to go on a detest fest than I am to suck my own dick. And when I am sucking my own dick I'm really putting it under a microscope asking, 'Is this okay?'"

It is nearly 3am and the streets are empty. We get to the car park, into his car, a burgundy Volvo, the only one left in the lot. He starts the engine, slowly beginning to drive, turning the wheel with both hands, immersed in thought. He glances over his shoulder and makes a left onto Sunset Boulevard. "Once you get to where you're going, you're not as hungry. You're there... You have all the food you can possibly eat."

He is driving without having asked where I'm going. But we are moving in the right direction, so I stay silent.

And what about his appetite now? "In the case of Kill Bill, it's proving to myself. Do I have to prove I know what I'm doing? No. Do I have to prove that I'm a great action director? You better f***ing believe it. Because I've never done action before. For me, who understands it and thinks action directors are maybe the most cinematic directors, it means I have to be one of the best action directors in the world, or else I fail."

There is a pause. "You know where we're going? You gotta tell me left or right."

Who will be the arbiter of whether Kill Bill has passed the test? How will he know? "If it doesn't give me a hard-on, it won't for anyone else. My standards are high, as they should be. Action cinema is like rock'n'roll. It needs to constantly keep moving forward."

We sit at a red light watching as a group of glammed-up teenage girls cross the street. A trio have linked arms and there is one, by herself, who trails behind. He notices her, a bit chubbier than the others in her little party dress, and turns to me. "There's a sweetness about her, don't you think?"

We are nearly at my hotel and he has been, and still is, so upbeat, I am curious about how he handles depression. How does he control it if it occurs while he's on the set? He tells me there was one time, while filming for Kill Bill in Beijing, where he got as depressed as he's ever been. It was a week when everything was ridiculously hard. He won't get into the specifics, but says it was the kind of depression that can't be "blown off".

"I've been very spoilt up until this movie. I've always been allowed to play in the back yard by my rules. And it was a whole week - for a couple of days, I was pretty bad. I'm not used to being depressed on the set. I'm not used to that. All of a sudden it went from the hardest and loveliest job in the world to the worst job in the world."

What did the trick was a friend of his sending him a care package. "It was a girl. And she sent me, like, bath salts and apricot this and kiwi that, and loofah sponges and just all this girlie bath sh**. And I made a really hot bath and I poured all that sh** in it. And after soaking and chilling out, after this awful week, I was like, okay, this is what I gotta do, and 20 years from now, no one's gonna give a f*** about how depressed I am and that I want to say, 'F*** it all.' No one's gonna care about that. They're only gonna care how I handled it."

Just then, for the first time, he looks off into the distance. "But life is pretty good. Even when life was sh**ty, it was pretty f***ing good."