EXCLUSIVE: Quentin Tarantino is setting Bruce Dern to play George Spahn in Once Upon a Time In Hollywood. That was the role that Dern’s longtime friend Burt Reynolds was going to play but was unable to shoot before he died on September 6.
Dern, who played the most pissed-off man in the world as former Confederate general Sanford Smithers in Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, will join a stellar cast that includes Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Al Pacino, Kurt Russell, Dakota Fanning, James Mardsen, Michael Madsen, Tim Roth, Timothy Olyphant, Damian Lewis, Lena Dunham, Emile Hirsch, Luke Perry, Scoot McNairy and James Remar. The film is a Pulp Fiction-esque tapestry of stories in an around Los Angeles in the summer of 1969, when Charles Manson and his followers massacred Sharon Tate and others. The film will be released July 26 by Sony Pictures. David Heyman is producing with Shannon McIntosh and Tarantino.
Two-time Oscar nominee Dern currently is filming Remember Me in Spain, but producer Atit Shah and director Martin Rosete rearranged the schedule so Dern could leave that production to shoot Once Upon a Time In Hollywood.
Dern takes over the role of Spahn, a near-blind 80-year-old man who rented out his L.A. ranch to be used as the location for Westerns. Manson convinced Spahn to allow him and his followers to live on the ranch, in the months before they murdered Tate and six others. In exchange for rent, Manson coerced his female followers into hopping into bed with the ranch owner and serving as his seeing-eye guides, per reports. Adding to the creepiness: Manson acolyte Squeaky Fromme, the woman who later would attempt to assassinate President Gerald Ford, reputedly got her nickname because she would making a squeaking noise when Spahn touched her.
Tarantino has ostensibly gotten another ’70s film icon to replace Reynolds, who waited years for a chance to prove himself in a big movie. He finally had gotten one when the director set him for the role, tapping a forgotten talent the way he did in past films with the likes of David Carradine, John Travolta, Pam Grier, Robert Forster and Michael Parks.
Dern and Reynolds appeared together several times over the years, including Hard Ground, a 2003 Western for Hallmark; the 1999 TV movie Hard Time: The Premonition on TNT; and a 1965 episode of the ABC WWII series 12 O’Clock High.
Dern has been turning in one strong performance after another lately. He currently co-stars opposite Matthew McConaughey in the Yann Demange-directed White Boy Rick and played bitter patriarch Joe Kennedy in Chappaquiddick. Before The Hateful Eight, Dern had a role in Tarantino’s Django Unchained, and he was nominated for an Oscar in the Alexander Payne-directed Nebraska. He’s repped by Innovative and Pure Arts.