EXCLUSIVE: Most times Deadline has done in-depth interviews with Quentin Tarantino, the occasion has been a hot-button moment that begged for clarity. Like the time he (temporarily) scrapped The Hateful Eight out of frustration that a rep among the small handful of actors he showed the script leaked that first draft, or when Tarantino gave Uma Thurman footage of a regrettable scene gone wrong in which she crashed and was injured in a car, only to get painted the villain in a New York Times write-up. The occasion today is his new film Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, a ’60s-set picture he calls his love letter to Los Angeles, an exploration of a moment when the business made Westerns and the actors in them obsolete as the auteur ’70s took hold. It was also a loss of innocence moment with the spree of barbaric murders perpetrated at the direction of Charles Manson.
Despite a dream cast led by Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Al Pacino, Bruce Dern and more, it is tricky for Tarantino to discuss his film, and you can see the dilemma in the way Sony is marketing it; they’re playing up starpower while not giving away the powerful story. Tarantino was successful in asking journalists not to give up reveals when he premiered Once Upon A Time at Cannes, and there’s no way around it; beyond acknowledging this is one of Tarantino’s best films, baring the twists and turns before the film’s opening next Friday would come at the expense of viewers. It is the ninth film he has directed — the first at Sony after the implosion of The Weinstein Company — and his self-proclaimed plan to retire after 10 has been discussed in detail here, and beaten to death in early interviews. Same with the prospect of Tarantino potentially directing an R-rated Star Trek film scripted by The Revenant‘s Mark L. Smith. That story was broken by Deadline, and it has also been picked over. So, does the need to nibble around the edges of his movie mean there isn’t anything new or interesting for Tarantino to say? Ha!
DEADLINE: What did you change from the cut you premiered at Cannes and the finished film?
QUENTIN TARANTINO: Time-wise it amounts to two minutes. I was very happy with the Cannes cut. There is such a thing as taking yes for an answer. One of the things I wanted to do, though, was risk cutting the movie too tight for time. Everyone always goes to Cannes a little bit lumpy. That’s almost like the consistent line in every review. Well, OK, this needs a little trimming. So I thought, let me make it real tight. Even when we finally looked at the final mix just before we were going to get the print made, I cut out two little scenes. My magnificent post-production supervisor, Tina Anderson, did that. I just wanted a tight movie. So the only thing I actually put back basically, I extended a slight little bit of a scene with Sharon Tate, when she picks up a hitchhiker. Then the scene where James Stacy [Timothy Olyphant] talks to Rick [Dalton, DiCaprio’s character] and you suddenly see Rick in The Great Escape, and what would have happened if he was in that movie.
DEADLINE: Instead of Steve McQueen…
TARANTINO: That was a special effect that we couldn’t have ready in time for a 35 millimeter print. I had to leave it out of the Cannes version. At the end of the day, other than swapping out one close-up for a different close-up, the only real difference is a slight extension of Sharon’s time in Westwood and that Steve McQueen/James Stacy thing.
DEADLINE: When so much can go wrong, between bad reviews to journalists giving up reveals two months before the release of your film, why do you so love premiering in Cannes?
TARANTINO: Reveals was an issue, and I’m always hoping it’s not going to get trashed. Oddly enough, I guess the bottom line is, it costs a lot of money to go and when you have the head of marketing and the head of the studio saying, “OK, let’s do it,” then that is a major sign of confidence they have in the movie, in letting the world know. They’re not going to drop a couple million dollars if they don’t think they have the goods. If they don’t think these reviews are going to be good? These are going to be our lead horses that ride our stagecoach into town. We can all be wrong about that, but everyone has to be that confident. Yeah, it is a risk, but that is overshadowed by the fun, especially in a world that seems like is getting less and less and less so.
I just like the romantic idea of Cannes; of Fellini finishing a movie and bringing it to Cannes, or Ingmar Bergman finishing The Seventh Seal and bringing it Cannes. Antonioni finishing Red Desert and bringing it to Cannes. I like that romantic image of it, and having the world press see it all at once, and not just filtering it from this press screening to that press screening. The whole world is there at one time. Bam.
DEADLINE: It was the 25th anniversary of the Pulp Fiction Cannes premiere. What did that mean to you?
TARANTINO: Pulp? Oh, that was amazing. Winning the Palme d’Or with my second movie is probably the greatest honor that I ever got. Winning the Palme d’Or any time is something, but on your second movie?
DEADLINE: There has been much written about this film’s inclusion of events leading up to the fateful night of the Manson murders. But your movie is really a fairy tale homage to a changing moment in Hollywood, when old Westerns were giving way to counterculture movies like Midnight Cowboy and Easy Rider. The heart of the movie is the interplay between Leonardo DiCaprio’s fading star character Rick Dalton, Brad Pitt’s stunt double character Cliff Booth, and Sharon Tate [Robbie] and Roman Polanski, latter of whom personified young Hollywood glamour. You, DiCaprio and Pitt became successful early, and have remained on top for three decades. And yet the anxiety of actors feeling their careers slipping away, especially in DiCaprio’s performance, is so palpable. How did you capture that anxiety so indelibly?
TARANTINO: I made analogies to people from my generation. A lot of the directors, some of the biggest directors in the late-’80s, early-’90s when I came up, they’re not big directors anymore. There’s a lot of good, young leading men and leading women, since I’ve been in the film business almost 30 years now, who have come and gone. Some became stars and others went on to have television shows. A few of them that just completely disappeared. Leo can talk about five different young men like him, who all went out for This Boy’s Life. The same five boys that were at all these different auditions together.
The anxiety that Rick is facing is essentially tied to the era. He is part of that very first generation in the ’50s that became a leading man, a star on a popular TV show, and there was the possibility of him becoming a movie star. There was him and the guys like him that did the movies but weren’t able to completely pull off the transition. James Garner did it, Clint Eastwood did. Burt Reynolds eventually did. McQueen did it. George Maharis didn’t. Vince Edwards didn’t. Edd Byrnes didn’t and Ty Hardin didn’t. I find that era interesting, and that dilemma and then even the whole idea of this kind of masculine leading man who spent his career running pocket combs through his pompadour, all of a sudden replaced by shaggy-haired androgynous types. Suddenly, him and Ty Harden and George Maharis, they’re not the leading men of today. Now it’s Michael Sarrazin, Christopher Jones, a young Michael Douglas. Suddenly, they are the leading men.
DEADLINE: That was a direct result of Easy Rider and Midnight Cowboy?
TARANTINO: Or just a change in culture that none of them saw coming. The hippie sons of famous people became the new stars. Arlo Guthrie was suddenly starring in movies. Peter Fonda. Don Siegel’s son, Kristoffer Tabori. I asked Jerry Schatzberg, when you did Panic in Needle Park, “You always wanted Al Pacino, right?” He said, “Yes, but they didn’t want him. I had to convince them.” Who did they want? They wanted Kristoffer Tabori. He was a little more popular at that time, the rising star.
DEADLINE: There was also a class depiction, as you had DiCaprio’s fading star sliding from series star to the heavy in other series, resisting offers for Spaghetti Westerns and desperately onto the material trappings he had accumulated including a home in the hills; Pitt’s stuntman, who never made it but seemed relatively happy living alone in a trailer with his dog, behind the drive-in theater; and Sharon Tate, living the high life as the next big thing, the wife of Polanski, the hot director after Rosemary’s Baby.
TARANTINO: I do feel that in the three characters, there’s three different social stratas in Hollywood. Brad’s character of Cliff kind of represents that person who has dedicated their whole life pretty much to the entertainment business and doesn’t really have a whole lot to show for it. But he’s part of it, even if he spends his day driving around Hollywood and doing errands and then has to hit a couple of freeways to make it home to Panorama City. At the same time, because of the whole situation that happened with his wife…
DEADLINE: Without giving away much, we learn she died under suspicious experiences and while we see them on a boat in an argument, you never really quite tell us…
TARANTINO: We know what happened. Was it an accident, did he mean it? We don’t know. The thing about it is, he knows he could be sitting in jail for the rest of his life for that. So anything that involves him not being in jail is like, I’m way good. The trailer, the dog, this is great.
DEADLINE: Then, Sharon Tate. You bristled at a Cannes press conference question about a minimum of lines for the character Margot Robbie plays. From here, it looked like she didn’t really need much dialogue to make an indelibly angelic impression. In real life, that light was cruelly snuffed out but in Robbie’s performance it burns brightly. She seemed to symbolized something about that period in Hollywood. What did she symbolize to you? What were you going for?
TARANTINO: You know, I’m so moved by Sharon in the movie and at conjuring her up. I can’t quite answer that question and what I mean by that is, I would be grasping at metaphors but I don’t think I would even believe in the metaphors. It would just be me trying to answer it. The thing about it is, unfortunately she’s a woman who has been defined by the tragedy of her death. While not making the Sharon Tate story, I wanted to explore who she was, the person. In doing research on her she sounds almost too good to be true from everybody who knew her. She knew a lot of people so there’s a whole lot of verbal historical accounts of her. She just seems to be one of those too sweet for this world kind of person.
I got very infatuated with her, just the person she was, as I was learning about her. So I thought it would both be touching and pleasurable and also sad and melancholy to just spend a little time with her, just existing. I didn’t come up with a big story and have her work into the story so now she has to talk to other characters and move a story along. It was just a day in the life. It’s a day in the life of all three of them, that Saturday in February. A day in the life, driving around, running errands, doing this, doing that, and just being with her. I thought that could be special and meaningful. I wanted you to see Sharon a lot, see her living life. Not following some story, just see her living, see her being.
DEADLINE: Right before that great promise and light was robbed from her.
TARANTINO: Yeah. In my research I found out that she had more promise than I even knew initially. Roman would have cast her as Rosemary in a heartbeat if the producers of Rosemary’s Baby had brought it up. He thought it was unprofessional of him to bring it up, so he didn’t. But if they had said, hey, what about Sharon? He would have said yes.
DEADLINE: Do you think she could have done that?
TARANTINO: I think she would have been terrific. Mia Farrow is so iconic that it’s hard to go back in time and not make the movie with her in it. Warren Beatty seriously considered [Sharon] seriously for Bonnie, in Bonnie and Clyde.
DEADLINE: Roman Polanski is a peer, and you’re treading on what for him has to be the most tragic terrain. Did you talk to you? Do you interact with him? Do you give him an idea of what you’re doing?
TARANTINO: What happened was…look, when it comes to Roman Polanski we’re talking about a tragedy that would be unfathomable for most human beings. I mean there’s Sharon, there’s his unborn son that literally lived without ever being born. That’s just a crazy sentence even to say. I felt that the story of her death, and the Manson tragedy had moved into legit history. So it actually is of historical importance beyond just his own personal tragedy. So I felt I was on OK grounds there. I didn’t want to call him and talk to him while I was writing it because I’m not going to ask him permission. I’m going to do it, all right? I don’t think he needed any anxiety and I didn’t need any anxiety as far as that was concerned. However, after it was finished, he got wind of it and he reached out through a mutual friend. That friend called me and said, so what’s up with this? He said that Roman wasn’t mad. He didn’t call up irate or anything. He was just curious. What is this?
So what I did was…Roman’s obviously stuck in Europe. I had the friend come over and read the script. He came to my house. He read the script simply so he could call Roman up and tell him the idea and what’s in it. And basically that he didn’t have anything to worry about.
DEADLINE: And he felt better.
DEADLINE: So we add that mutual friend to Pitt and DiCaprio as the only ones who actually read the whole script?
TARANTINO: People are saying that Margot just got sides…no, she read the whole thing too, just like Leo and Brad. She came over and read the whole script.
DEADLINE: What’s that like when you have a chance at DiCaprio and Pitt together in your movie? Did you think, could this be my Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid with DiCaprio and Pitt the second coming of Redford and Newman? What was it like, watching them read the script right in front of you?
TARANTINO: Well, it was really exciting because at that time other than just my team, no one had really read it yet. So I’m really curious what they think and where they’re coming from and at the same time I don’t want to put that much pressure on them to give me this great review once they put it down in my presence. I want them to be able to think about it but I did want them to be kind of blown away at the same time. That whole first time where people are reading after you’ve worked on it for so long, is very exciting. I mean it’s comparable to watching with an audience the first few times.
DEADLINE: How quickly did those guys say I’m in, and do they say, well, I want to play the other guy?
TARANTINO: Well, that could literally be a problem. You give it to somebody and nobody wants to play the character you want them to play. They want to play another character, but in this instance it was really cool. Here, the thing about it was, everything had to work out. If you get two stars like that, now it’s literally a situation of, can we make the deal with both of these guys? Both of them can’t take their full freight, in this situation.
DEADLINE: And the writer/director doesn’t come cheap either…
TARANTINO: We’ve got to work out a deal where it can be fiscally responsible to do this. Then there’s another scenario, where you do it with one of those guys, and a less famous actor. Then you can play that guy his full freight and you pay the less famous actor a good price too. It all depends. So one, both guys have to want to do it, and then we have to see can we work it out. In this case, we were really lucky. They both really wanted to do it and we realized there was a terrific opportunity. So it all worked out. However, going into it I couldn’t assume that I’m going to get the two biggest movie stars in the world to be in my film.
DEADLINE: Did you write the script with them in mind for the actor and the stuntman?
TARANTINO: No. I would have been an idiot to write it with Brad and Leo in mind because I didn’t know I could get them. Brad could have been doing a movie in Yugoslavia for the next nine months, and I didn’t want to wait nine months. But also they have to kind of go together. The guy is the guy’s stunt double so there needs to be a symbiotic connection between them. They were my absolute dream cast and I lucked out and I got them but I couldn’t assume that would be the case. So I had to have a few different combinations in mind. Brad and somebody else, Leo and somebody else. Or two other guys that match up in different ways.
DEADLINE: You were only 6 years old in the time period of this film. Was this visual depiction of Los Angeles right out of your memory, from hippie culture to the songs playing on car radios right of your childhood?
TARANTINO: The whole movie is a memory piece on what LA was like back then. I was 6 and 7 in ’69 and I remember it really well. All that radio, KHJ, that’s what everyone listened to then, if you were white. KJLH I think was the black station. Back then, people didn’t switch the dial, they kept it at one station even when the commercials came on. You just talked over a radio that was always loud. The TV was always on or the radio was always on. There was always some kind of media going on all the time. I knew even as a little boy that this hippie youth culture thing was a new thing and shaking the fabric of society a little bit. I had really young parents so they weren’t that divorced from that, but they were still coming from a ’50s perspective by comparison.
DEADLINE: All that appealed to a 6 year old?
TARANTINO: It kind of scared me, frankly. When I was 6, seeing images of all the hippies together at Woodstock and things, I thought it was scary. I don’t think that now and I didn’t think that as I grew up but at 6 it seemed ominous. Everyone hanging out in the mud, kids running around naked. It seemed like debauchery.
DEADLINE: A couple years ago, Deadline interviewed Burt Reynolds for his memoir, mainly because he was my favorite actor as a kid who got a first taste of R-rated films when HBO launched. He told these great stories about the star game, and people like Bette Davis, Clint Eastwood, Johnny Carson and Marlon Brando. He was honest about all the incredible roles he turned down and how he regretted wrecking his body by not using the stuntmen who were his best friends. He said he could identify every ache in his body and tell you the mishap and the movie. He also said he swore by Paul Newman’s advice to not retire, to stay sharp because you never know when a great role might come and give him another chance. We talked about you and then of course you gave him that role of George Spahn, the owner of the dilapidated ranch where they made Westerns, and where he let Manson and his clan stay, in exchange for sexual encounters with the girls. Reynolds died while you were rehearsing, but his relationship with stuntman Hal Needham could have been the inspiration for the relationship between the DiCaprio and Pitt characters. What was the dynamic like between the two of you, him filling in blind spots of what it was like when actors like him did Westerns on TV, hoping to make that jump to movie star?
TARANTINO: One of the things that was most fun for me on this movie was getting to know Burt Reynolds. Another was, after working on this script for so long, I could actually show it to actors from that time period who went from episodic television show to episodic television show, and knew all the names that I was talking about and understood everything. They would know how right or wrong I was and it was a particular thrill to give it to Burt Reynolds to read and give it to Bruce Dern to read, and Kurt Russell, who actually is like the youngest guy who could still be in all those shows because he started so young. He was on The Virginian and Bonanza.
Like you, I grew up watching Burt all the time, both at the movies and on talk shows. To get to know him at the end of his life, for just a brief amount of time, and spend significant time with him nevertheless both in person and then on wonderful phone conversations that went on for a long, long time, was incredibly gratifying. I’m so thankful that it happened. Basically, to kind of describe what it was like, it seemed like all my life I’d grown up listening to Burt Reynolds tell Burt Reynolds stories on The Dinah Shore Show, on The Merv Griffin Show, on Johnny Carson, on Mike Douglas. My life has been spent, watching that. Burt Reynolds would tell me a Burt Reynolds story and I would tell a Burt Reynolds story.
DEADLINE: Do you recall the best one he told you?
TARANTINO: Frankly, to tell you the truth, I was so into my stories that I was telling about Burt Reynolds, I’ll have to think. I was doing deep, deep dives. Like for instance he came down to the script reading. Actually, I do know the answer to this question. He came down to the script reading and that was a thrill. By the way, it’s also just a thrill in the thought that, did Burt Reynolds get to play the role of George Spahn in the movie on film? No. He didn’t. But it was the last role he ever played. He rehearsed. We had a day of rehearsal. He came down with Brad and Dakota [Fanning]. We rehearsed it all day. He showed up at the script reading, was there from beginning to end. Heard the whole thing read out by all the actors, and he played George in the script reading. He had a couple of set jokes just to break the ice. At the beginning of the script reading, “Hi, I’m Brad Pitt and I’m playing the role of Cliff Booth.” “Hi, I’m Dakota Fanning and I’m playing the role of Squeaky Fromme.” And then, “Hi, I’m Marlon Brando…hi, I’m Burt Reynolds. I’m playing the role of Marlon Brando.”
DEADLINE: That’s a good one. He said Brando never liked him, maybe because they had a similar look.
TARANTINO: In rehearsal, when we get to lunch and the lunch showed up, we’re all sitting at the rehearsal table eating lunch talking. What was the story…there were a bunch of stories. I told a story from Fuzz. If you remember Fuzz, part of the thing in the movie is that there are these kids setting bums, derelicts on fire, throwing alcohol on them and setting them on fire. So Burt Reynolds is a cop who’s disguised as a bum, and his character got set on fire. But the fire just took off in a big way, in a way it wasn’t supposed to. His clothes just went up in flames in a way he was not prepared for. So his mind starts racing. Holy sh*t. I’m really on fire. What the f*uck. He’s just getting ready to panic and maybe start running and then he said all I can hear is this fire and my senses starting to go haywire. And then he mentioned the name of the stunt guy [Glenn Wilder], and that he’d never forget him the rest of his life. Burt says, I hear his voice completely calm just reach right through the flames and say you’re OK, Burt, you’re standing in a puddle of water. Just fall down.
DEADLINE: Simple as that?
TARANTINO: And he fell down and they put him out. It was just, you’re fine. You’re standing in a puddle of water, just fall down. He said it was the calmness that calmed me down that I was able to now handle it, which was why I didn’t panic and why I didn’t start running.
DEADLINE: I liked one he told us where he and Clint Eastwood got fired almost on the same day from Universal, for different reasons. So he says to Clint, you’ve got bigger problems than I do. Clint says, “How do you figure?” He said, you got fired because an executive couldn’t stand seeing your Adam’s apple go up and down his thin neck. He told Eastwood, “I could always learn how to act.”
TARANTINO: But you’re going to have a hard time with that Adam’s apple. Frankly, my favorite story that he told me…a lot of the questions that I had, and didn’t know the answers to, was asking about different people he worked with and what he actually thought of them. I didn’t know some of them but I knew their work. He worked with everybody. So I asked him what it was like to work with Jim Brown, and what he thought about this one and that one, Raquel Welch, Sergio Corbucci. Then we’re at the script reading and…I think you know I’m a huge fan of that director William Witney. Burt had worked with him only three times in his whole career, and they were three episodes of Riverboat that Witney directed. Burt Reynolds famously doesn’t like Riverboat.
So we’re talking about the mid-’50s and now I’m going to bring up to Burt Reynolds an episodic television director on a TV show he didn’t really care for, a director who did three episodes of that show. By the way, I’ve seen all three of those episodes and it’s more about Darren McGavin in those episodes, less about Burt Reynolds. It’s the intermission for the script reading and I go over to where he is. I bend down on my haunches and I thought, once he sat down in a chair he’s going to be in this chair for a while. I go, “Let me ask you about Riverboat.” He says, “Oh, boy.”
I say, “So you probably don’t remember him at all but you worked with a director I’m a huge fan of, William Witney. Do you remember him?” ‘Of course I do.” That’s a great answer right there. Of course I do. Well, I got very excited. Wow, that’s great. I’m a big fan of his. I think he’s one of the most underrated action directors of all time. He goes, “I agree. Let me tell you what it was like working with him. William Witney was under the belief that there is no scene ever written that could not be improved by a fist fight.” He goes, “This is what it was like working with the guy. You’re saying exposition dialogue. And then William Witney would just say “Cut, cut, cut, cut. You guys are putting me to sleep. OK, you, punch him. Now you’re mad, so you punch him back. And now we have a scene. Action!”
Here’s the thing. It’s one thing to be asked about people you know you’re going to be asked about, famous people you’ve worked with a few times in the last 25 years. You’ll have a story. I doubt William Witney’s name had been brought up to Burt Reynolds since they worked together in the ’50s. I bring it up in 2018 and not only does he remember him, he has perfectly detailed stories ready to go. That whole thing about he felt there was no scene ever written that couldn’t be improved by a fist fight; that might be a magnificent canned line on somebody he’s talked about his whole career, but he just yanks out that one on William Witney.
DEADLINE: What moved you to cast Luke Perry, who died after filming? Did he audition? There’s another actor whose own story paralleled the one you are telling. His star soared with Beverly Hills 90210, and then faded just as quickly.
TARANTINO: No, he didn’t try out. I’ve always liked Luke. I always thought he was a good actor. I met him years ago and we had a really lovely conversation. It was at a Planet Hollywood opening or something like that. We had a really fun conversation and hadn’t seen him since then but I always liked him as an actor. I always thought he was really interesting, a really cool presence. Then I actually saw him on an episode of Riverdale and I had watched the Johnson County War miniseries that he did the Burt Reynolds and I really liked him in that. And Lancer was a real show, and I thought that both Tim [Olyphant] and Luke would be great casting, for Johnny and Scott Lancer.
DEADLINE: There was such a posthumous outpouring for both Reynolds and Perry that if either was reading their press, they might have said, where were these people when I needed a job? I remember Burt Reynolds vowing to stay prepared in case he got another shot. He was replaced by Bruce Dern, who essentially said something similar when Deadline interviewed him following his fabulous performance in Nebraska. As one of the only filmmakers who takes the trouble to remember these people, and giving them a chance to resurface, do you find most of these actors stay ready, or do they give in to the despair that the business has passed them by?
TARANTINO: Well, it’s not that different from the actors that we’re talking about in the ’60s. If I was one of the movie brats and I was directing movies in the ’70s in new Hollywood I still think Michael Parks in the ’70s was totally Michael Parks at his prime. I would have totally cast him in a big Hollywood ’70s movie and that’s during the time that he’s guesting on McCloud and The Streets of San Francisco and Bronk and shows like that. Same thing with Vince Edwards or any of those guys. Frankly, a lot of them were doing really terrific work on TV movies at that time. Vince Edwards was starring in some really good TV movies. Robert Culp was a TV movie superstar. He was wonderful in that stuff.
Also, not only just that. Actors get stuck in the same situation as Rick [DiCaprio’s character in Once Upon a Time In Hollywood]. People like John Saxon and William Shatner. They were big enough names where they could really get work guest starring in a show. Guesting on Mission: Impossible. Guesting as the big guest star on Men of Shiloh or Mannix, shows like that. But another weird part about that is, if you watch some of those William Shatner episodes or you watch some of those John Saxon episodes, those are really wild characters they’re playing. I mean really interesting characters, frankly better than most of the characters they ever played in movies. They’re kind of foam on the beach. It’s like it airs once and then it airs again in the summertime in reruns and that’s it unless it goes to syndication.
I was on a bit of a William Shatner kick where I was trying to watch the TV movies and the stuff he did after Star Trek, guesting on other shows. Everything before Star Trek the motion picture. I talked to him and had a really good time exploring this stuff and then I got together with him and had lunch and asked about it. He said, “I wasn’t that into it. I mean that was just where I could get work and where I could make money. That was where I was going to get my biggest paychecks at the time and I could keep working so I did it.”
I understood where he was coming from, but asked, did he realize he actually played a wider variety of characters than if he’d just been a leading man on TV series and movies. He goes, I didn’t think about it that way then but you bring it up now and I see what you mean.
DEADLINE: When Deadline revealed you and JJ Abrams connected on the idea of a Star Trek movie you would direct, with an R rating, nobody believed it. Now I hear there is a script in by The Revenant scribe Mark L. Smith, and you’ll do work on the script after you are finished with Once Upon a Time In Hollywood. I can see you are getting the Star Trek question about as often as being asked about retirement, but since we’re talking about Shatner, here’s what I am curious about: What was it about that original show that has led you to take this project to a point where it is looking like it will really happen?
TARANTINO: I’m a big fan of the show Star Trek. I really like it a lot, but my portal into that show is William Shatner. I love William Shatner on Star Trek. I love his performance as James T. Kirk. That is my connection. That is my umbilical cord. It’s why I like Star Trek more than Star Wars, because William Shatner’s not in Star Wars. I think it’s one of the greatest performances in the history of episodic television, of a series lead, and rightly so, because very few series leads have ever gotten the opportunity to play all the different wild, crazy things. “The Enemy Within” alone…
DEADLINE: That’s the fifth episode in the first season, directed by Leo Penn where Kirk splits into two people because of a transporter malfunction, as his main crew is stranded on a planet…
TARANTINO: So that’s why I actually really was so taken with JJ Abrams’ first reboot and how fantastic I thought Chris Pine channeled William Shatner. He didn’t go a serious actor-y way. He said, well no, I’m going to do my own thing. He’s playing the William Shatner version of Kirk and he’s doing a fantastic job at it. I mean perfect, frankly. And [Zachary] Quinto is perfect as Spock. Those two guys, they f*cking got it.
DEADLINE: What would the R rating give you that PG-13 would not?
TARANTINO: I just don’t think it’s that big of a deal but if I’m going to do it, then I’m going to do it my way. If you’ve seen my nine movies, you kind of know my way is an R-rated way and a way that is without certain restrictions. So that goes part and parcel. I think it would be more controversial if I said I’m going to do a PG movie and it’s going to fit exactly in the universe. It’s not me. What the f*ck am I doing? I mean I didn’t even do that when I did that CSI episode.
The thing is, when I talked to JJ about it, it’s not that radical. We’re just not worrying about stuff like that. JJ said, “Quentin, I love this idea because I think with Star Trek we can go any way we want to.” Look, I’ve got a situation. As long as Paramount likes the idea and the script they almost got nothing to lose right now when it comes to Star Trek. Deadpool showed that you can rethink these things, do them in a different way. So really, even before JJ knew what the idea was, his feeling was, if it wants to be an R rating, fine. If it wants to be the Wild Bunch in space, fine.
DEADLINE: So, will you direct it?
TARANTINO: I will say one thing about Star Trek that I’ve been waiting for someone to bring up. I don’t know if I’ll do it or not. I’ve got to figure it out, but Mark wrote a really cool script. I like it a lot. There’s some things I need to work on but I really, really liked it. I get annoyed at Simon Pegg. He doesn’t know anything about what’s going on and he keeps making all these comments as if he knows about stuff. One of the comments he said, he’s like “Well, look, it’s not going to be Pulp Fiction in space.” Yes, it is! [laughs hard]. If I do it, that’s exactly what it’ll be. It’ll be Pulp Fiction in space. That Pulp Fiction-y aspect, when I read the script, I felt, I have never read a science fiction movie that has this sh*t in it, ever. There’s no science fiction movie that has this in it. And they said, I know, that’s why we want to make it. It’s, at the very least, unique in that regard.
DEADLINE: The original Alien is a classic because it wasn’t predictable. You didn’t know what was going to happen. You were like oh, my God, you’re allowed to do that? And that was R.
TARANTINO: But there is a gangster element to what we’re doing with the Star Trek thing that works out pretty good.
DEADLINE: Back to your penchant for dusting off actors and putting them in your movies, from John Travolta to David Carradine in Kill Bill and so many others. Why don’t more filmmakers do this? Is it just that their casting directors put the usual suspects list of actors in front of them?
TARANTINO: The reality is, even if we go back to the ’90s, most directors don’t know these actors the way I know them. They’re dependent on their casting director and most of the casting directors…if five different casting directors gave you five different list, 85% of that list will be the same. Fifteen percent will be the actors that those particular casting directors like and want to push, but 85 percent of the names will be the same names on all the different lists.
Starting from Reservoir Dogs, when we got together with the casting director, I gave her a list of 85 names. These are people I want brought in, and none of them were on her list. She’s a casting director. She knew who they were, and she was excited and they were excited that I knew who they were. They tended to gravitate towards casting directors that had relationships with older actors that knew them. People like Johanna Ray who used to be married to Aldo Ray, and Vikki Thomas. They know the older actors. They dig them. They grew up with them. They bring them in.
DEADLINE: So you’re empowering these casting directors to do what they would like to be doing, but they think there’s really no call for it because an institutional memory largely doesn’t exist.
TARANTINO: Well, the thing about it is…when I cast Robert Forster, the last couple of movies he had done was something like playing the mayor in Bill Lustig’s Uncle Sam where Uncle Sam is a killer. You know, playing the general in a straight-to-video monster movie or the cop in a straight-to-video vigilante movie, Peacemaker or something like that. So that’s what he was doing, Maniac Cop 2, or Original Gangsters. So of course he’s not going to be on the damn list but then I put him in Jackie Brown and all of a sudden he’s on the list. Now he’s on everybody’s list for the older, cool character actor to come in and play the father role or the detective role.
DEADLINE: That’s cool that you do that. I was surprised at the end of the movie in the credits to see mention of Tim Roth, followed by the word (cut). It might be up there with the credit for Jonah Hill in Django Unchained. In that one, he had a cameo as an inept KKK member and was credited as Bag Head #2. Tim Roth has been part of most of your films. Why did he get cut, and what’s that conversation like between you?
TARANTINO: No, no, he’s fine with it. I mean, if he wasn’t fine with it I wouldn’t have put his name in the credits. The gang was all there, but they all didn’t make it. It’s not because Tim was bad that I cut him from the scene. One of the things I discovered in my research on Jay Sebring was, he had a very proper butler. One of those full-on gentleman’s gentleman with the butler outfit and the proper whole thing. I thought that was kind of an interesting Arthur relationship that he had with his butler, so I cast Tim as the butler.
DEADLINE: I watched The Hateful Eight, cut into four elongated chapters on Netflix. You’ve talked about retiring after your 10th film, but aren’t you excited by the creative possibilities in streaming, limited series and other platforms? It seems like a great time to be a writer-director if you are changeable. With Hateful Eight, you got to use footage no one would have seen and format in a way to reach a wider audience. You mentioned your CSI episode, the two-parter “Grave Danger,” where you had George Eads buried alive and William Petersen and crew watching on video and racing the clock to find him. Does anyone remember another specific episode of that show? How can you retire when there are so many formats to work in now?
TARANTINO: I had a great time doing that and am glad that everything worked out the way it did. If this kind of stuff existed now when I first started writing Inglourious Basterds, I would have finished it because then it could have been a six-hour or a seven-hour thing. That wasn’t possible back then.
DEADLINE: Do you have a ton of extra footage that you shot and didn’t use?
TARANTINO: No, I don’t mean that. I mean when I first started writing Inglourious Basterds, I put it away because it just was too huge. It was like a miniseries. Eventually, I was going to even try to do it as a miniseries and then I just decided to try to tame it as a movie. But now, I don’t know if I’d be so inclined to try to tame it.
DEADLINE: So you would have gone with your longer original vision?
TARANTINO: I write these novels anyway, so the idea that you could write something novelistic and then just do it, that could be very interesting to me. Normally when I finish my scripts we pretty much go right into pre-production, because I’m ready to make the movie. If I finish the script on Thursday, by next Thursday we could be opening up offices especially if we have a deadline we have to meet. This time, when I finished writing Once Upon a Time In Hollywood, I wasn’t in a hurry to get started, so we actually really didn’t start pre-production for about six or seven months after I was officially done writing the script. The reason…it was actually kind of a good thing especially as far as something like Leo and Brad was concerned because I didn’t need them immediately. I was not in a super hurry so everyone had time to think about it and we had time to work out a deal and get it all together. But the reason I didn’t want to start immediately is, I was still in writing mode and I wasn’t done. I didn’t want to stop that and then have to put it on hold for two years. I thought, let me finish my other writing projects and then I’ll do this movie.
DEADLINE: What other projects?
TARANTINO: Two things I had in mind that I wanted to work on, and I did, during that period of time. I wrote a play and I wrote five episodes of a TV series. It’s Bounty Law.
DEADLINE: Wait, the fictional ’50s TV series we glimpse, that starred Rick Dalton, DiCaprio’s character?
TARANTINO: From watching the different old Western shows and everything, I did it to get in the head of Bounty Law. I ended up starting to really like the idea of Jake Cahill, as a character. I really started loving those half hour ’50s Western scripts. The idea that you could write something like 24 minutes, where there was so much story crammed in those half hour shows, with a real beginning and a middle and an end. Also it was kind of fun because you can’t just keep doubling down and exploring. At some point, you’ve got to wrap it up. I really liked that idea. I’ve written five different episodes for a possible Bounty Law black-and-white half hour Western show.
DEADLINE: What will you do with that?
TARANTINO: I can’t imagine Leonardo is going to want to do it. Cast somebody else? If he wants to do it that would be great. I’m not planning on that but I have an outline for about three other episodes. So I’ll probably write about three other episodes and then just do it. Direct every episode. They’re a half hour long. I wouldn’t mind doing it for Netflix but I’d want to shoot it on film. Showtime, HBO, Netflix, FX. But I also like the fact that I built up this mythology for Bounty Law and Jake Cahill.
DEADLINE: This reminds me of an interview Deadline did with Cameron Crowe on making Jerry Maguire. James L. Brooks, who was his producer, urged him to stay up all night, eat some bad pizza and actually write the long mission statement that gets Tom Cruise’s sports agent character fired. On Say Anything, Brooks urged Crowe to write it as a novella first, and those are two great movies right there that benefited from the extra work put in by the director. For you, how important is mythologies of things like Bounty Law, even if they don’t see the light of day?
TARANTINO: It’s very important. I can go through Rick Dalton’s filmography, film by film, every director he worked with, and the anecdotes on the set and how he got the role and what happened. Did it do well? Did it not do well? Is it a good movie? Is it not a good movie? In order.
DEADLINE: All fictitious?
TARANTINO: It’s not important at all for the audience. Usually, at the end of the day, the average audience member doesn’t need to know that but I think they need to know I know that. They need to know that I take this mythology this history seriously, and that there are answers to these questions. I don’t have to vomit it out but if you ask I could tell you. The writer needs to know that mythology backwards and forwards. You need to be able to throw it off with the expertise of an expert.
DEADLINE: When you have a cast this strong, like DiCaprio, Pitt and Robbie, how often do they challenge you to where a thorough mythology helps their performances?
TARANTINO: In the case of Leo…this is not exactly a conversation we had, but it was an exchange of ideas to the effect of…well yes, Quentin, you can say chapter and verse about who this guy was as far his career went, and his experiences, but I have to have something act-able to play. I can’t play what you’re telling me. That’s good backstory and that tells me who the guy is but who am I now and how am I doing? I have to have something act-able. What’s going on with this guy now? We discovered some very interesting things together. One was, we never based it on one guy in particular but I would talk about a George Maharis, or an Edd Byrnes, or a Pete Duel. And from talking about it I would see something that Leo would respond to. Oh, that’s an interesting character thing. I like that. That’s interesting. So then we would make a decision, to add that character trait to his character. It’s like putting on Christmas bulbs on a Christmas tree. So we’re not just…again, it’s talking about these guys but then from time to time that’s an act-able thing. That’s something as an actor I can commit to and that gives me a character. It brings nuance and depth.
DEADLINE: Beyond a Bounty Law series, might you use extra footage for an expanded version of Once Upon a Time In Hollywood as you did for The Hateful Eight?
TARANTINO: I got a lot of footage I can do that with. I could do a definitely bigger version of this. We’ll see what happens. But I couldn’t be happier with this cut. This is the cut, as far as I’m concerned, and I want to ride this horse until the legs fall off and then after that we’ll see how I feel about it.
DEADLINE: It is a challenge asking you about specific scenes in a movie that has so many spoilers. But here’s one. If there was a Pulp Fiction pawn shop moment in this movie, in terms of a sense of danger, it came when Pitt’s character drops off a Manson Family hitchhiker on Spahn Ranch, where Manson and his group lived that summer. It takes us from a carefree movie about rising and falling actors into a sense of evil. How did you see it?
TARANTINO: Yeah. You know, it’s interesting because it’s like I’m in a situation where I actually just think that’s one of the best scenes I’ve ever done. As you can imagine, re-creating Hollywood Boulevard and re-creating the Playboy mansion and all stuff was very thrilling and very exciting. The idea of re-creating Spahn Ranch as good as we did it, as good as [production designer] Barbara Ling did it, and as good as we cast it with the kids that are there…it is one of the thrilling aspects of the movie both to imagine and then to realize, and then to watch [audiences respond] to the movie. You feel everyone in the theater change.
DEADLINE: Tense up. So your goal there was to create an ominous feeling for your audience, even though they can’t quite pinpoint why they feel that way?
TARANTINO: Yeah. That’s why I’m a little elusive about trying to talk about it. Because it isn’t one thing. I don’t want to try to tell you how you’re supposed to feel, but I do think it gets creepier, it gets scarier, more ominous to the point you feel that anything could happen. I think there is an anything-could-happen quality to it. My hope was Spahn Ranch, as if directed by on one hand Peckinpah to some degree, but there’s even a Polanski element to the direction of it. It’s unnerving. It’s disturbing.
DEADLINE: And you can’t quite say why.
TARANTINO: You can’t quite say why. What I’m really gratified about is, here I had been setting up [Brad Pitt’s character] Cliff as this indestructible guy. And yet you’re afraid for him.
DEADLINE: Though having such a tough guy be the prism for viewing that creepy place is somewhat reassuring. You wouldn’t have felt that way with a weaker character around those people.
TARANTINO: Yeah. Absolutely.