THE SCREENANARCHY INTERVIEW - JUNGLE JULIA
It's the ScreenAnarchy Grindhouse double bill action! First up is this exclusive interview with Death Proof star Sydney Tamiia Poitier aka Jungle Julia. Followed up by Ardvark's review of the mega spectacular Japanese DVD boxset (read here).
Now-a-days you can find Mrs. Poitier on the new Knight Rider TV show as Carrie. Previous to this she became an instant cult icon in Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof where she played the kickass and most badass of recent movie characters - Jungle Julia! Mrs. Poitier is a sparkling actress of the Classic Hollywood mold with the badass chops of a Linda Hamilton. She inhabits roles with a deeply immersive acting style that she parlays into smooth performances marked by her hard to miss ever present charm.
JUNGLE JULIA: Yes, I was and I loved it.
BLAKE: What did you think of Quentin Tarantino in that film?
JUNGLE JULIA: I thought he was hysterical. I loved his performance, and now that I know him, Zoe Bell and me were sitting there saying that he was loving every second of this - if he could play a character that was that spaghetti western tough guy, guns a blazing character. Zoe and I were also cracking up because his accent changed from American cowboy to Japanese anime and even some Irish in there. We were wondering what he was doing, but it was in typical Quentin and grindhouse fashion; all over the map and really cool.
BLAKE: Was that the first Miike film you’ve seen?
JUNGLE JULIA: Yes. Are there others that I should see? I loved Django!
BLAKE: It was an experiment with everyone speaking English, but it damn sure worked!
JUNGLE JULIA: That just made it for me, the way they spoke English. It was that Old West dialogue with the Japanese accent that just seemed to me seemed like it had an element of irony. And me and Zoe Bell laughed the entire movie, to the point I think the guys sitting in front of us hated us!
BLAKE: Well I think you were behind me and Marc (Outcast Cinema), but there were three guys to the left of us that were going nuts trying to make everyone quiet throughout the movie, which made absolutely no sense (as everyone was rocking and rolling with the movie and these three guys were trying to shush people from laughing).
JUNGLE JULIA: Yeah, and they kept trying to shush us, which was even more funny!
BLAKE: Onto Death Proof! In Hollywood there is usually a casting process for roles, but for Jungle Julia, Quentin from the outset said he wanted you for the role!
JUNGLE JULIA: Yes, that’s true and it blew me away; I was so honored when I got the call for the audition. Note he definitely made me audition and put me through the paces, but I had auditioned for him several years before for Kill Bill and for the CSI that he had directed. I didn’t get either of those parts, but from them he had remembered me so when he wrote the character of Jungle Julia, it was me he had in mind.
And to be perfectly honest when I read the script I said, “If I don’t get this, I’m quitting!” It didn’t have my exact personality, but it described me physically to a tee, so I said, “come on now, I have to go in and kick ass in the audition!” I went in and it was the best audition I’ve ever had because he, unlike other directors, really takes the time to work with you. For my audition he played the part of both of the other girl characters, he played Vanessa Ferlito (Arlene) and Jordan Ladd’s (Shanna) characters with me and he wanted to try it a bunch of different ways.
Usually the casting director plays the characters and the director watches, but in this case the casting director sat there and watched the show while Quentin played two women and I played Jungle Julia. He put on the girl voices and he’s got this childlike very excited energy.
It was a 45-minute to hour audition and I didn’t hear anything for several weeks and I was freaking out. Then I got another call that I needed to make another audition for him and Robert Rodriguez over at Troublemaker Studios and went there and got it!
It’s a film that is a true homage to grindhouse and also a true original Tarantino film. Somehow he melds them together and he is just genius that way.
BLAKE: Awesome! What were the three weeks like hanging out in Austin before the shoot?
JUNGLE JULIA: That was the best! I had never really experienced Austin and we were all lucky to have Quentin there to show us. It’s like a second home to him and he knows everything about it!
The best part of the three weeks was it was our rehearsal time and even more importantly it was time for the girls in his movie to really get to know each other and bond. Luckily for my group of girls – Vanessa, Jordan and myself -- we all really genuinely really liked each other. I think it was really important for all of us to establish our relationships before we started shooting. You can act your way through not knowing someone, but for us, when you see us on film, none of that is really faked. We really had a sort of secondhand with each other.
In Austin we all hung out with each other and had an absolute blast! We partied and had fun at night and rehearsed during the day, it was just a dream.
BLAKE: And I think that shows in the movie where you feel like you get some actual texture with the interactions of the characters.
JUNGLE JULIA: Exactly! And Jordan and I specifically because we were both from LA, were even before that three-week period talking about our back-story and what we did in junior high and how we met. We had this whole life that we brought with us and hopefully that read onscreen.
BLAKE: What items did you add to the apartment?
JUNGLE JULIA: My mom was a French actress when she was younger. She is actually Canadian, but she moved to Paris when she was young for modeling and stayed and learned to speak the language. In the height of her day she recorded some albums for the movies she did. They were really cool 60’s albums that she did which were very avant-garde. I had a little version of an LP she did for Tante Zita. It has her on the cover: very 60’s and mod and cool. I had that up and added to the apartment. That was the only item that I specifically wanted for the apartment.
Beyond that, Quentin and I did a walk through after the art direction team had put the apartment together and they did an awesome job. We walked through and I said, “Ok I don’t think that would be in there, I don’t think that would be in there, but that I love so let’s feature that.” Everything I thought wasn’t right, Quentin totally agreed with.
That was pretty much it. I do have two lamps from her apartment that are now in my house (laughs).
BLAKE: Now the rock out scene in the car… how cool was that to film?
JUNGLE JULIA: That was probably one of my most fun days shooting and we had a lot of fun days shooting.
First off – that song is ridiculous and I love it so much! I had never heard it before until rehearsals and the second we heard it we were just ready to rock out and it was so much fun! We just had a blast! We were laughing and jamming in the car – little Jordan in the back doing her air drumming. At one point we had to get out of the car so they could get the camera into the front seat to shoot her in the back. I was peeing in my pants laughing at her going at it with her imaginary drums. It was really fun!
BLAKE: I barely caught seeing Grindhouse in its double feature format on the big screen. It seemed like some audiences in the states were confused by it. One audience member left and threw a tantrum with the theater managers and screaming at them for trashing the print of a brand new movie.
JUNGLE JULIA: Really!?! Wow. In Europe I can understand it as they don’t have a history of double features. In the states I would think they would get it. He was trying to introduce the newer audiences to grindhouse and the double feature and those of us who weren’t around in the 70’s. He was trying to introduce them to the genres he was so influenced by! Now the people that got it, really got it!
BLAKE: It seems like on the set of Death Proof, Quentin was really trying to keep the vibe going, especially in holding cast and crew screenings of films like House on the Edge of the Park.
JUNGLE JULIA: I went to some of the screenings. The whole goal was to keep everyone up on the weekends so we could keep the nighttime shooting schedule. So he would show movies that started at midnight and then went to five. Usually it was a double feature.
I went to a couple, but none of the real grindhouse ones. He screened Mike Judge’s movie, Idiocracy, and Beerfest. They had a lot of fun and got into the party spirit movies and then they also had the full uncut Kill Bill 1&2, which was just unbelievable. The atmosphere on set was really in the grindhouse spirit – no rules, fun and pushing the envelope while having a blast. This is kind of how Quentin lives his life anyways. A lot of his movies are grindhouse inspired and he works hard and plays hard.
BLAKE: Having grown up in the 70’s, did you get to experience a lot of grindhouse movies?
JUNGLE JULIA: I definitely did and mainly the late 70’s horror films and blaxploitation. The stuff I hadn’t seen was mainly kung fu and women in prison films. Those kinds were new to me, so when I got the part I watched those types. I put in Switchblade Sisters immediately even though he didn’t want me to watch specific films, I couldn’t help myself because I need to have a feel for what it is and I knew his film wasn’t going to be a typical slasher film, but really original and different.
Quentin screened a movie for us called Macon County Line and before that he showed us an hour and a half worth of all grindhouse trailers. He has original prints of every trailer imaginable! Macon County Line was so interesting because it starts off as one thing and then by the end you’re like, “What the hell, it’s an entirely different kind of movie!” And in a weird way I think that’s the direction Quentin’s movie takes, it starts off as this very 70’s slasher-y, creepy, thriller-y and by the end Stuntman Mike has done an about face and he is a complete wimpy guy. To me the feel of the movie, from start to finish is so different, which I find is so true to the genre Quentin was trying to represent.
BLAKE: In the extended cut of Death Proof you have the back-story with Pam (Rose McGowan); any other memorable scenes you did that are in the extended version?
JUNGLE JULIA: There was this really awesome scene with Kurt Russell and I where he’s checking out my feet and we get into this very intense moment.
BLAKE: What was it like getting to play a strong female character with Tarantino dialogue?
JUNGLE JULIA: There is just nothing better! There is nothing better! To play any character of his is just so unbelievable because his characters’ voices are so specific and have such a Tarantino stamp on them that you can recognize a mile a way. That says something to have it be so distinctly yours, but also so distinctly the characters, do you know what I mean? It’s never very often anyone gets a chance to play a badass woman and we were all very lucky to play these characters and be tough, strong and to be feminine. To me the dialogue was like if Reservoir Dogs had a bunch of chicks, that’s what it would have sounded like. You know what I mean? Women are strong and we talk like that.
The funny thing is, me, Vanessa and Jordan would be driving in the car on the weekend or after work one morning and we would be having a conversations about dudes or whatever… and it was like we were in the movie. All of a sudden we found ourselves almost having word for word conversations like we did in the movie and I thought, “How the hell did he get into women’s heads so well and write that?” It was really impressive.
BLAKE: So it wasn’t like working with other directors where you had to constantly try to change your characters dialogue?
JUNGLE JULIA: Nothing, not a word. That’s the other thing, every word to him is very specific and I don’t know how it was with Tracie Thoms (Kim) and Zoe and if they ended up improvising, but with us it was an absolute no no and you stuck to every single written word on the page. We were all very happy to do so out of respect and not only that - it was simple, because it was written in a way that was just so easy. Sometimes you get dialogue where you’re just sort of tripping over it that doesn’t flow or feel natural. With his dialogue we ran through it a couple of times and I had monologues that were pages long and I just got it immediately because it just clicked in my brain when it was natural like that.
BLAKE: What was your favorite story while working on this film?
JUNGLE JULIA: I don’t know… there were so many great moments! (Pause) Well, one story and its not really a story, but I took great delight in how excited Quentin was to show us each of our death scenes. I wasn’t working the day I got ripped off this dummy and had this huge rig setup for the crash with this gory and hideous thing. He made me come down and I was like, “I really don’t want to see it. I really think it will creep me out!” And he was like, “No, you are gonna see it! You’re coming.” So I went down and watched it and he made me watch it over and over again. Every girl that died on whatever day he told them to get their butt down there as they were going to see how they died. That’s him and I love him for it.
BLAKE: What were your thoughts on the Alamo Drafthouse?
JUNGLE JULIA: We did a lot of screenings at the Drafthouse and when I had free time I loved seeing movies there! We don’t have anything like it in LA, which I find shocking because its home to where so many movies are made. I adored it and think it’s the coolest movie theater ever!
BLAKE: Seems like at one point Jessica Biel was talking about starting a franchise one out there.
JUNGLE JULIA: She really should!
As strange as it’s going to sound sometimes I think LA people aren’t even the biggest movie lovers. You would think they would be. I found in Austin that it’s a film town. They love movies in Austin. They love to watch them. We all went to go see Snakes on a Plane because it came out right when we were shooting and we saw it at the Drafthouse. It was the greatest thing – there were snake wranglers right up at the front with real rattlesnakes and they were also throwing snakes in the middle of the movie, people were screaming and it was awesome! You unfortunately just don’t find anything like that in LA.
BLAKE: What did you think about the Jungle Julia billboards that were scattered around Austin that created such a local buzz?
JUNGLE JULIA: That was weird. When they first went up it was just bizarre, I’d be driving down the street on my way to Whole Foods and I’m like “Hi,” there is my face on a billboard. I think the fact that we were shooting nights helped because we would start work at 5pm and then work until 8am the next morning and then I’d go home and sleep all day. So I was never really out in the city having people go, “Are you that girl in the billboard?” It did happen once or twice in the market, but some of the crew guys were saying that people started asking them, “What is this radio station? I can’t find it. Hot Wax 505?” There was definitely a buzz around the city with, “Who was this chick and what is this station and why can’t I find it on the radio?” (Laughs)
BLAKE: Since the movie has come out do you ever get anyone coming up to you with the butterfly bit from the radio?
JUNGLE JULIA: I’m surprised no one actually has! They probably go up and say it to Vanessa is what I’m going to guess or call her butterfly expecting a lap dance… which they are not going to get! (Laughs)
BLAKE: What was it like working with Kurt Russell?
JUNGLE JULIA: Kurt, I love! He is exactly how you would expect him to be – he is a man’s man. He is like a beer drinking, sports watching, loud mouth, big laugh and swearing kind of guy. Him and Quentin would just be laughing and Quentin’s got this huge cackle and Kurt has this other huge cackle. If they were both on set then all I would hear all around me was their cackling, but I had to focus on my lines. It was hard not to laugh with them around! They are both just having the times of their lives. Kurt is that kind of guy and is there to have fun.
On top of that he is just sickeningly talented. It all just flows naturally and easily for him. I remember when he first arrived and he said, “I’m not really sure how I’m going to play this character. I don’t really get it. I’m not quite sure where I’m going to go with it. So I guess we will just see.” And then the minute his first scene was up he opened his mouth I was like, “Fuck!” How could you go from not knowing and winging it to whatever is going to come out is going to come out and then he just does it with such genius!
I think he had a lot to with how it turns at the end. I don’t think originally Stuntman Mike was going to be as much of a pussy as he ended up being. That is something Kurt brought to it and it added such an interesting element to it. It was very grindhouse to flip it like that and it also added this element of humor. Everything he does is kind of funny. The same thing with Quentin, everything he does is serious but it’s funny! All of his movies have a lot of humor in them and Death Proof is no exception.
Kurt is supremely talented and a really great guy.
BLAKE: Quentin Tarantino brought in his own jukebox for the Chili Parlor scene?
JUNGLE JULIA: Yes AMi, her name is AMi and she is quite a beauty. He had her shipped over from his house in LA. She is just filled with the best music and just really gorgeous. I talk about her like she is a person. (Laughs) She kind of is and is also one of Quentin’s girlfriends and maybe the love of his life. She really is something and is now once again safe at home in Quentin’s house.
BLAKE: That must have been great as I could see him keeping music going in general on set to keep the atmosphere just right.
JUNGLE JULIA: On set the whole time we had music playing and in-between takes just to keep the party and atmosphere up and going! The whole crew had just come off of shooting Robert’s movie for something crazy like five or seven off and on months. So everyone was exhausted! A lot of those guys were away from their families for that long and not everyone was Austin based as some were from LA.
So when Quentin came in and I think it’s a real talent of his to get everyone psyched again because they had been shooting for so many months and were just tired. It was like, “We are going to do this all over again and come on lets GOOOOO!” And everyone got really into it and there was always music playing and being around him is always like a party. I don’t know how he was like on Kill Bill or Pulp Fiction, but if he does all his movies like this… it’s just fun!
BLAKE: From the people I’ve talked to that were on the Kill Bill crew this certainly sounds very similar!
JUNGLE JULIA: He likes to have a good time and there is no delineation between work and play with him – it just all sort of melds together.
BLAKE: Thoughts on the great car chase?
JUNGLE JULIA: The car chase is just off the charts! I’ve never seen anything like it. Most of the cast and me all went with Quentin opening weekend to the Mann’s Chinese Theater to see it and it was packed. I had already seen it at the premiere and at the Austin premiere and I just expect at those types of events for people to be crazy. Those are private events and people are going to stand up, jump and shout. Quentin of course gets them riled up before the movie by telling the audience to really get into it and to stand up and shout. And they did! But, when we went to see it opening and they aren’t getting an introduction by Quentin and there is some kind of movie etiquette most people abide by and usually stay relatively quiet in the seat. But during the chase everybody was just screaming and jumping up and down. The women in particular seemed to just love this film and I get it because it’s a badass woman type of movie!
BLAKE: Yes, it certainly features strong female characters with layers to them.
JUNGLE JULIA: Exactly, exactly, really layered and interesting and complex characters that were strong and just kicking ass and taking names.
BLAKE: It really is one of the few films I’ve seen that had more non-teen contemporary females depicted in it in such an honest way.
JUNGLE JULIA: I really haven’t seen many films focusing on women in the way Quentin did. He has a real reverence for women and if you look at all his movies - Kill Bill, Jackie Brown and Pulp Fiction, his female characters are always really strong. He really does see women as powerful, strong and interesting. I’m just happy that he chose to use nearly all women and there is only just a few guys straggling around in the back.
It was fun when we shot at the Texas Chili Parlor. There was a lot that was cut out of the original and I’m not sure what ended up in the extended version. You may never see this but the guys were just accessories to the girls. The girls didn’t give a shit and the guys just loved the girls. You see that all in movies, just the other way with the girlfriend on the arm on the guy or just there for set dressing and to be pretty. They maybe add a little to the story of the men but you never really see it done the opposite and he just went for it. He really, really went for it! He was like, “You girls don’t even give a shit about these guys. They are there for your fun. If you’re going to have sex with them later, then you’re going to have sex with them later. If you want to flirt with them, then you’re going to flirt with them, but other than that you don’t care!” Michael Bacall (Omar) who plays the guy who is interested in my character, can’t stop staring at me and ordering me drinks, while I’m just sitting at the table completely ignoring him talking to Jordan talking away like he wasn’t even there. Then we would cut and I would feel terrible because Michael is the nicest guy in the world. It was so funny and they play it so well. Eli Roth (Dov) and Michael were hysterical. They did do some improvising when they were up at the bar and they are talking about the chicks and getting to the lake house. They did some hilarious improv work!
BLAKE: I don’t know if it’s all of it, but a good portion of Eli and Michael’s bar bit is in the extended cut.
JUNGLE JULIA: Oh good so some of that made it in there!
BLAKE: Eli Roth was also going back and forth with Kurt Russell and apparently they were jabbing with each other on set in-between takes to.
JUNGLE JULIA: Yes, Eli came up with some of the funniest stuff off the top of his head. I think the whole BJ and the Bears thing ended up in there. He just kept making references to these Burt Reynolds 80’s styled movies and asking Kurt if he fell out of his time machine! (Laughs) He said so many hysterical things and all of us girls were sitting in the back with that silent laugh because we couldn’t make any noise, with just tears rolling out of our eyes.
BLAKE: Did you actually tape a radio show with your character?
JUNGLE JULIA: Yeah, Quentin has it and I don’t know what his plans are for it. Hopefully it’s locked in a vault somewhere! (Laughs) He suggested that I get into character and it was one of the best things I could have ever done and I’m so grateful that he suggested it. He told me to do a radio show and sit down and pick the kind of music that you think Jungle Julia would listen to. So I put on the show and did the DJ thing. My boyfriend is a musician and he has a recording studio in our garage and I had access to his equipment. I took a few weeks to compile music and it became a really eclectic mix of obscure French music, old school classic rock to Robert Johnson to blues and jazz. I just compiled what I thought she would have on her radio show.
The thing about her radio show that is never addressed, which Quentin told me, is she is to music what he is to movies. She knows everything about it and has impeccable taste, which actually he has in music. His musical tastes are just unbelievable. He said every single thing she plays on her radio show is hers. It’s all vinyl and it’s all her personal collection and there is not a CD that you can find anywhere near her. She will also never play anything someone else owns, as it’s all music she has collected over the years. It was all really personal and that helped me to figure out who she really was and to tell her story.
While I was DJing I would have a story about a particular piece of music I had found and I might go into that a little bit. I also had fake interviews. I actually play drums in a band and I had them come in for a live studio performance and we did an interview with them. It was fun and we ended up doing it for a few hours. Quentin has all of it… somewhere.
It helped me find her voice. Once I had her DJ voice, I in turn had her voice. Having the voice got me into the physicality of her and how I felt she would move. I had already sort of established that for the audition, but I got really comfortable with it and it went to a really deeper level after doing the radio show.
BLAKE: You got to really immerse yourself into your character and her world.
JUNGLE JULIA: Exactly, and by the time I was actually in Austin, I was just living in the body of Jungle Julia.
BLAKE: What is your band?
JUNGLE JULIA: They are called The Devil Cats and long story short I did this mockumentary with my sister that was very Spinal Tap and it was about an all girl band that doesn’t actually play any instruments, but they have a website and they sell merchandise at other bands’ shows and they have this following even thought they have never played music before. They then fall into actually playing music. We made the whole movie for $7,000 and it turned out very funny and we made it with all of our friends. We then kept getting invited out to film festivals for it and kept getting asked to play. In the movie we only had to learn how to play two songs, but with festivals they would ask us to come out and play whole sets. With the Tribeca Film Festival they asked us to not only come out with the film, but to play at one of the biggest clubs in New York. We told them we only really knew how to play two songs and would that be ok if we were only up there for 10 minutes. We then thought we should really have a third or a fourth song, so we came up with them and then when we played we just replayed one of the songs for our encore. (Laughs) And from that, which was like three or four years ago, we just kept playing and now we just play around LA for fun. We also have a CD that’s out.
BLAKE: What’s the website for your band?
JUNGLE JULIA: It’s www.thedevilcats.com. Don’t go to devilcats.com because I think that is German porn or something! (Laughs)
Note: She plays Hellena Handbasket in the band.
Thanks to Peter Martin for proofing this interview.