On November 2, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood writer/director Quentin Tarantino and stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, and Margot Robbie participated in a moderated Q&A session at Tarantino’s New Beverly Theater in Los Angeles. Here are some highlights from the conversation:
One of the most memorable moments in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is Rick Dalton’s (Leonardo DiCaprio) frantic meltdown in his trailer after he forgets his lines while shooting a pilot for the Western series Lancer. As it turns out, that scene was not in the original script, and was added by writer-director Quentin Tarantino at DiCaprio’s behest.
The star told the filmmaker, “I need to fuck up during the Lancer sequence, and when I fuck up during the Lancer sequence, I need to have a real crisis of conscious about it and I have to come back from it in some way,” Tarantino remembered at the post-screening Q&A on Sunday in Los Angeles. “My response was, ‘You’re going to fuck up my Lancer sequence?! That’s my Western! I get two-for-one in this movie — I snuck a Western in here while no one was fucking looking!'”
To appease both parties, Tarantino shot the scene both with the forgotten lines and without, deciding that “with the fuck-up, it was just so amazing that of course we were going to use it,” and then went about crafting the trailer tantrum, deciding to mostly leave it up to Leonardo to improvise. The director wanted to do three continuous takes with Leo in crisis, and planned to cut together the best bits — he threw out topics to his star but Leo was left to do the rest. For example, Tarantino would say, “Get pissed off about Jim Stacy,” and DiCaprio would respond, “Oh, that fucking Jim Stacy, just sitting up there watching me, thinking he’s so fucking hot, he wouldn’t be a wrangler on my show.” Recalled Tarantino, “The cutest part was how nervous [DiCaprio] was to do it — I’ve never seen him so nervous.”
Noting how nothing in the film uses CGI or greenscreens, Leonardo said, “In a lot of ways, it’s kind of like nostalgia within nostalgia because we’re doing a film about Hollywood in 1969, and we’re also doing a film that is done the way they did it in 1969. Everyone around you has this in this excitement about doing it on film. I mean, if you went down Hollywood Boulevard, the amount of effort they put into that set decoration was absolutely astounding.”
For Leonardo DiCaprio, who portrays down-but-maybe-not-entirely-out actor Rick Dalton, his approach to the role was unlocked when Tarantino showed him some actors in the real world who represented the type of actor Rick could have been if he’d actually existed.
“For me, I kind of keyed in on three guys: Ty Harden, Eddie Burns, and Ralph Meeker. And once we honed in on Ralph Meeker’s work, I started obsessively watching his work because there was a vulnerability and a sensitivity to him, and the sort of pathos that he had in his work that I felt Rick had the potential to emulate in his own career. I didn’t quite understand what kind of actor Rick could be, and that led to a lot of our turning points in the discussion of, dramatically, where Rick winds up on that day and set when that young Meryl Streep actress tells him, ‘I’m preparing for my role, what are you [doing?]’ He’s sitting there reading a cowboy novella getting emotional about himself, the fact that he has to do spaghetti westerns and his life is over.
It culminated in that sequence, which we kind of came up with, where he has the ultimate nightmare for an actor, which is forgetting all your lines in front of the entire cast and crew and that sort of mental breakdown. What kind of actor he could become was the biggest question for me, and I think we both mutually decided that, yeah, there is a depth to Rick’s work and applying himself and digging deep, he can give a great performance.”