The lockdown has been a good excuse for many of us to venture into our personal archives and dredge up some gems from the past. Quentin Tarantino has been doing just that, unearthing a 1982 interview he, then a 20-year-old on the fringes of the industry, conducted with the filmmaker John Milius.
Tarantino says he approached Milius via his assistant under the pretence of writing a book, and was granted access twice for some lengthy chats, initially at the filmmaker’s office on the Paramount lot and then on the set of war pic Uncommon Valor (Milius told Tarantino he wanted James Arness over Gene Hackman, who eventually led the pic).
In a wide-ranging and frank conversation, the pair cover movies including Apocalypse Now, Conan The Barbarian, and Paul Schrader’s Hardcore. Tarantino also adds a personal note recalling that, some years after the interview, he went duck hunting with Milius, Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis before the 1985 Academy Awards. “John and I sat in a duck blind all day, sipping whiskey out of a flask, talking about movies and shooting the tail feathers off of ducks,” he remembers.
The full interview excerpt is available to read on the website of the New Beverly Cinema, which Tarantino owns, and the filmmaker says he’ll transcribe more at a later date.
The famously outspoken and offbeat Milius predictably doesn’t pull his punches in the piece, including delivering a frank assessment of The Life And Times Of Judge Roy Bean, the 1972 western he penned, which John Huston directed with Paul Newman in the lead.
After Tarantino says it’s his favorite screenplay, Milius responds that he would’ve delivered a very different version of the film had he been at the helm.
“The movie now is kinda’ a poor man’s Butch Cassidy or something. I think it has a lack of commitment It doesn’t really look like one thing or another. All the people – I adore Paul Newman, I think he’s a wonderful actor, but, I don’t think, he would ever be the best choice for Judge Roy Bean,” says Milius.
“The look of the movie was never quite right to me. There’s a tone to the movie, it’s a very kind of fritzy, almost I hate to say it, a Beverly Hills western. There’s a feeling to it now that wasn’t there originally. It’s a much stronger movie in the screenplay,” he continues.
Tarantino himself takes a gutsy approach to the conversation, at one point telling Milius that he didn’t like the romantic scenes in the filmmaker’s 1973 crime biopic Dillinger. “It looked like you didn’t really have your heart in it,” he posits, though he adds that later scenes where Michelle Phillips’ character Billie Frechette helps Dillinger out in a shootout were more his idea of romantic.
Milius responds by saying that “if people are loyal to each other that’s very meaningful”, which Tarantino notes he lifted years later for a line in Pulp Fiction.
The pair also discuss a mutual appreciation for the actor William Smith, including his 1970 pic The Losers, which depicts a group of CIA-trained Hells Angels in the Vietnam war, with Milius adding that the feature was a big inspiration for his Apocalypse Now screenplay. (Milius originally wrote the movie for George Lucas to direct, and has been on record saying he didn’t like the re-write done by eventual director Francis Ford Coppola).
Another big-ticket filmmaker the pair chat about is Paul Schrader, with Milius having helped produce Schrader’s 1979 pic Hardcore.
“A wonderful script [written by Schrader] that turned out to be a lousy movie. I blame Paul’s direction for that,” says Milius, also refuting Tarantino’s note that Schrader claimed he was forced to change the film’s ending. “Nobody made him change anything, he did exactly what he wanted.”
Milius does, however, add that Schrader’s script for Rolling Thunder, which he says Schrader originally wrote for him to helm, was “terrific”, though he adds he didn’t feel like working on something “that dark” at the time (John Flynn ended up directing the feature).
“Boy it was a good script, with wonderful stuff in it. Paul at his best,” comments Milius.
Subscribe to Deadline Breaking News Alerts and keep your inbox happy.