Sid Haig spent much of the ’60s through the ’80s as a character actor, often playing slimy and swarthy types, most famously in Pam Grier movies like “The Big Bird Cage,” “Coffy” and “Foxy Brown.” In the 2000s all the filmmakers who spent their youths watching those movies came a-calling. Since then he’s a staple of neo-grindhouse cinema, most notably as the alternately goofy and murderous Captain Spaulding in Rob Zombie’s “House of 1000 Corpses” and “The Devil’s Rejects.” He’s only in the beginning of “Bone Tomahawk,” a brutal Western about a mission, led by a Sheriff played by Kurt Russell, to rescue people kidnapped by a savage indigenous tribe. But as always he leaves his mark.
You’re only in the opening scene of “Bone Tomahawk,” but you immediately get the sense that the characters you and David Arquette play are like those characters in a Cormac McCarthy novel who are just scavenging about a wasteland, waiting to be forgotten by history. They’re on their own.
They could never work for somebody. They couldn’t be cowboys in a cattle drive, because the foreman would do something then one of them would go off on them. They’re survivalists, when you come down to it. They do whatever they need to survive. If that means killing somebody and stealing all their stuff, oh well. That’s the kind of characters they are.
This is strongly reminiscent of revisionist Westerns from the ’70s. Was director S. Craig Zahler talk about those films a lot with you?
Not really, and we didn’t have a lot of discussion about characterization. He waited to see what David and I were bringing to the table before he had anything to say. A lot of directors have a vision of what they expect the character to be and they just start talking right away without giving you a chance to bring what you have.
Some directors do that, and some just trust the actors to do what they have to do.
Exactly. If you have enough confidence to hire someone to do the job, then just let them do the job.
I take it that was a quality of a lot of the directors you worked with frequently, like Jack Hill.
Absolutely. When we did “Spider Baby,” he just let us loose. He was watching to see what we were bringing out. Sometimes he’d bring us back a little bit. But that’s the director’s job, and he did it perfectly.
This is a year with a fair amount of Westerns, and one of two with Kurt Russell, who’s also in “The Hateful Eight.” It seems like the genre’s making a quiet comeback.
Yes, and I hope that continues, because it’s a very rich part of our history, long as you don’t bring in all this CGI work. Don’t get me wrong: CGI has its place, it’s great. But in a Western you’ve got to be more realistic, almost tactile.
It was once the great American genre, then it died.
It did, and that happened because Westerns can become very expensive to do. Livestock alone — if you’re getting really trained horses to do a Western, they’re very expensive per day. Then you have to find locations that don’t have telephone lines and all that stuff. So now you’re in remote areas, cut off. If you notice [in “Bone Tomahawk”], there’s only four horses. That made it something that was affordable to do. And it enhanced the story because the horses get stolen.