Daryl Hannah: Back on top and fighting fit

She first came to notice as a robot assassin. Now Daryl Hannah has found her niche - creating mayhem in Kill Bill Volume 2.
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The Independent Culture

If nothing else, the face-off between Daryl Hannah and Uma Thurman in Quentin Tarantino's Kill Bill Volume 2 is destined to go down in film history as one hell of a movie "cat fight". The two six-foot Amazonian actresses glare at each other across a chasm of only a few feet as the music ratchets up the suspense, the camera zeroing in so close you can count the flecks of colour in their eyes. Hannah, playing the assassin Elle Driver, is sleekly decked out in a black suit. Thurman, as The Bride, is covered head to foot in dirt and blood. And then, with a battle cry, they're going at it eyeball to eyepatch, clashing swords, kicking, punching, smashing at each other with kitchen implements and crashing through walls, to the point where they're literally tearing the house, or, to be more precise, the trailer, down. At one point, Hannah's character even gets her head immersed in a toilet, although, ultimately, she doesn't come off quite as badly as some of The Bride's other opponents.

"Quentin's whole inspiration for the fight scene was a duel in the desert where you're back to back, take nine paces, and assume the stance, like in a very formal spaghetti-western-style duel," says Hannah when I meet her in Los Angeles to talk about the film. "And then he saw Jackass and thought of Godzilla, so then there we were, like, smashing Tokyo in the trailer."

Given that it's all so over the top, did she and Thurman ever find themselves giggling while they shot it? "Uma's not a giggler," says Hannah, in a precisely calibrated tone of voice that suggests her co-star takes these things - and perhaps herself - very seriously indeed. Hannah, however, is most definitely a giggler. She also laughs (often at herself), titters, and even chuckles gleefully. Dewy-skinned, and still sporting that trademark mane of sun-streaked blonde hair, she looks a lot younger than her 42 years, barely different from the way she did when she starred in Splash, back in 1984. The way she talks is very southern Californian, with a slight rising inflection at the end of sentences and a guacamole of "you knows" and "likes" smeared over the top. Listening to her enthuse about her experience making Kill Bill Vol 2, you'd almost think you were hearing a teenager gush about what a blast she had at cheerleading camp last summer.

Not that it wasn't one tough gig. She had a stunt double for the film, but she did most of the moves herself. "Any time I was afraid Uma might knock my teeth out or something, then she would do stuff," she explains of the double. "But Quentin really liked to have us do as much as possible. My stunt double Monica was great, but she only did the really hard things; she went through the wall, for instance," she says referring to one particularly spectacular stunt. "I did the jump, but she went through the wall. But that was my face in the water - and my face getting hit by the lamp and with the spit. At the end of the scene, where I go into a rampage of frustration, I really just wanted to make Quentin laugh, because making him laugh is my biggest thrill, 'cause it's so ridiculous and loud, so I really went nuts in that scene. I really hurt myself because when I broke the toilet in half, I did it for real. I broke the toilet in half!"

Like all the main actors on the film, Hannah had to go through an arduous "boot camp" to get in shape and prepare for the film's fight scenes. A staunch vegetarian and former dancer, she did a lot of her own stunts when she played the lethal replicant Pris in Blade Runner all of 22 years ago, and recently got in good shape pole-dancing, playing a stripper, in Dancing at the Blue Iguana. You can't imagine she needed too much work for this. Keeping up her health regimen, she drops a large effervescent vitamin into a glass of water, inexplicably apologising for doing so during our interview, and explains how instrumental taking them was to healing a recent knee infection. Did she take a lot of vitamins while shooting the film? "Yeah, but every time I had to do a particularly painful or arduous section of the fight scene, I would treat myself to a Krispy Kreme doughnut afterwards," she giggles.

Actors tend to love Tarantino because he has a habit of giving vitamin shots to flagging careers. John Travolta, for example, practically couldn't get arrested in Hollywood until Pulp Fiction came out. With her well-publicised relationship with the late John Kennedy Jr, a steady stream of acting gigs, and public support for animal rights and left-wing issues, Hannah hadn't exactly slipped into obscurity in the same way as, say, David Carradine. Nevertheless, being a fortysomething woman in Hollywood is no picnic, and her turn in this film, playing against type and showing a surprising aptitude for comedy, is likely to give her career a major boost. When we get on to the subject of Tarantino, her loyalty and affection for the director fizzes up.

Working with him was "like going to the best film school", she says, in awe of his movie knowledge, praising his childlike enthusiasm. "He likes to tease you. I would chase him around the set with a spray-paint can, and he would work me until I was so exhausted I would fall asleep between takes, when they were setting up another shot. Then he would take pictures of me with the Polaroid, with disgusting things next to my face, while I was sleeping, and then print them up and wear them as a T-shirt the next day. Which he found really funny [laughs], even though it wasn't [laughs]. But he's also fun. You can go out with him afterwards and have a beer. He's a real guy, he's not a Hollywood player who schmoozes big shots. Instead he schmoozes the stunt girl and the prop guys. He's not elitist, but a very sensitive and sweet guy, very tender and guile-less."

Is she like that too with the crew? Does she like to hang out with the prop guys? "Yeah, totally. The crew become my family and make me feel safe: I love them. I ended up working with the crew on this movie because I wrapped before they finished, and Quentin wanted me to be there when they wrapped. So I worked as a gaffer one day, I worked as a stunt double one day, and worked on hair and make-up one day. One day I even brought water to people and everyone thought that was really funny, like 'Oh, she's bringing us water now!'"

With nearly any other actor of her stature you'd think this story would be bullshit, but with Hannah it's entirely plausible. Will she find it hard, I wonder, to go back to making conventional Hollywood films after this? "For the last year or so I've been working with artists who have creative control over their films," she says, alluding to her turn as an angelic creature in the Polish brothers' recent Northfork. "Like, right after Kill Bill, I did a John Sayles film, Casa de los babys, and, even though he has got a very different personality to Quentin, he's still got final cut, he's still a writer-director, and he's still very much a visionary."

Did you bring him water on set too? "You have to!" she laughs. "On his films you have to bring your own water. He doesn't have the access to $300m that Quentin has the luxury of having, so you have to go lick it up from a puddle in the street. But it's worth it, because it's nice to be working in those circumstances with someone who really has a vision and has the wherewithal and the tenacity to see it through, and have that control." Sayles obviously enjoyed working with her too, and cast her in his next movie, Silver City, currently in post-production - which just goes to show how long it's taken Tarantino to finish editing Kill Bill Vol 2.

Next up, she'll be making The King with Sam Shepard and Gael Garcia Bernal. I ask her who the director is, and she can't remember his name exactly, "James Mar..." she stutters, suddenly deeply embarrassed until she remembers it at last. "Marsh!" she cries. "James Marsh! It looks like it's going to be really good."

There has been a lot of talk about either an animated prequel to Kill Bill, all about Bill, or a possible sequel, although Uma Thurman has been insistent that there are no plans for a comeback. Has Hannah discussed Kill Bill Vol 3 with Tarantino? "We have talked..." she says, coyly. And? "You guys should encourage him and see what happens," she says, conspiratorially. "Most solid, important stories should be a trilogy, right? And Vivica Fox's character had a daughter, and Gogo [the Japanese girl with the killer mace in Vol 1] has a twin, and Beatrix [Thurman] has a daughter, so we could all fight. I could teach them all a thing or two."

Ah, Daryl, you could teach us all a thing or two.

'Kill Bill Vol 2' is out now