Looking back on a career of over 50 films, starting with the 1982 stoner comedy Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Leigh says the first person to really impact her life was her mom, screenwriter Barbara Turner. Turner wrote the script for the 1995 awards contender Georgia, which starred Leigh and earned her nods from several critics groups for her portrayal of a drug-addicted aspiring singer. “I’ve always had so much admiration for my mom,” says Leigh. “She’s so inspiring as a woman and as an artist.
“My mother always helped me because she was kind of a research fanatic. When she would write a screenplay there would be so much research all over the walls. And so when I started working as an actress I would do the same thing. She instilled in me a love of taking everything very seriously. It didn’t matter what it was.”
So when her hard work in Hateful Eight was rewarded with a Globe nomination, she was elated. Her 5-year-old son Rohmer? Not so much.
“I was looking at all these texts,” she says. “My son actually said, ‘Why do you have so many texts?’ I said, ‘Oh, I got a nomination for an award. It’s called a Golden Globe. It’s this really nice night and it’s an honor.’ And he said, ‘Can you cancel it?’ ”
She explains, “I’ve been doing a lot of press lately, and I’ve had to travel a lot so I think the idea of another night when I’m going to be out.”
Leigh, however, was excited to join her Hateful cohorts, especially director Quentin Tarantino. “I’ve never had such a great time as I did on this movie,” she says. “I think that’s fair to say of all the actors on this film. I’ve never seen so many grown men weep as the day they said, ‘That’s a wrap!’ Samuel Jackson, Walter Goggins, Kurt Russell.”
She adds, “Kurt Russell and I were chained together through most of that. When we were unchained it felt strange. Whenever I touch this wrist [right] I think of Kurt.”
If Tarantino was the most joyful director she ever worked for, the late Robert Altman, who she worked with on Kansas City and Short Cuts was the most influential. “I learned so much from him as an actor, as a director, and just as a human being,” she says “He was an incredible influence on me and every actor and filmmaker. Every night Altman has a dinner and all the actors go to dinner because wants the relationships to have history, even if it’s just from the night before. You have some history that’s shared.”