At the Cannes Festival press conference for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Quentin Tarantino may have been flanked by some of Hollywood’s biggest stars—Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio and Margot Robbie—but the questions were mostly directed at the Western-loving director. He became annoyed twice, when asked if he had contacted Roman Polanski about including the lead up to Sharon Tate’s death in the movie (his answer was a resounding no, though he admitted to loving Rosemary’s Baby) and also when a reporter asked about the lack of dialogue given to Tate (played by Robbie) in the film. Her character was meant to be sunny, the epitome of light, which is apparently how Tate was, says Tarantino. Still the film is very much a bromance between Leo (as Rick Dalton, a fading star of TV westerns) and Brad (as Cliff Booth, his stunt double and loyal friend). Strangely I was the only one to ask about that.
The following is an abridged version of the press conference.
Why have the Manson murders remained so strong in public memory?
QUENTIN TARANTINO. I was fascinated by how he was able to get these young girls and boys to cement to him. I’ve done a lot of research on it, read books and watched TV specials and frankly the more you know about it the more impossible it is to truly understand.
Can you take stock on your life now and your life from the past?
TARANTINO: I can honestly say my taking stock is very different from almost any time in the past. It’s different because I just got married six months ago and my wife (Daniella Pick, an Israeli pop star and model who is 20 years younger) is sitting in front of me. I’ve never done that before and now I know why–I was waiting for the perfect girl. So to tell you the truth my taking stock is happening right now. So there is no bottom line with a sum up because I’m adding to the equations at this moment. Is that right dear?
LEONARDO DICAPRIO: In relation to taking stock of my own life I immediately identified with this character in a lot of ways because I grew up in the industry and this guy is on the outskirts of the industry and is left behind. I have an immense appreciation for the position I’m in and can appreciate the fact that this guy is struggling with his own pathos and ability to gain confidence and to persevere for the next job. I have a lot of friends in the industry who have had fewer opportunities than I have had.
BRAD PITT: I see Rick and Cliff as one individual. It really comes down to the acceptance of your life, your place, your surroundings, your challenges and troubles. In Rick we see someone who’s put upon in life. Life’s against him and they are some of the best breakdown scenes I’ve ever seen from my friend Leo here. In Cliff we see a character who accepts his lot in life and takes it as it comes.
In desperation Rick moves to Italy to work with Sergio Corbucci on his B-grade spaghetti westerns.
TARANTINO: Sergio Corbucci is one of my favorite directors. Django Unchained is based on my version of Corbucci. So when I was going to have Rick go to Rome and make a western, for me he’s working with one of the greatest masters of all time, but he thinks it’s Italian junk. For me if 40 year later if I ran into Rick Dalton I’d be really honoured. “So you worked with Sergio Corbucci?”
What is your relationship to Roman Polanski? What is his influence on your work and do you know him personally?
TARANTINO: I’ve met him a few times. Rick talks about him as “the hottest filmmaker alive”. It’s almost unfathomable to think how much money Rosemary’s Baby made in its day. Back then if a movie made $8 million it was huge and it made like $35 million. So I’m a big fan of Roman Polanski’s work but in particular Rosemary’s Baby was a film I liked a lot.
Did you discuss with Polanski about dealing with tragedy in your film?
TARANTINO: No I didn’t.
PITT: What the film so beautifully addresses is a loss of innocence. In 1969 when the Manson murders occurred there was this free love movement, a lot of hope and new ideas floating out there. Cinema was being recalibrated when that tragic loss of Sharon and the others happened. What scared people lasts so much today. It was a sobering look at the dark side of human nature.
(To Tarantino) Would you prefer the late 60s to the time we’re living in now?
TARANTINO: I preferred any time before cell phones.
How was it for Brad and Leo to work for the first time together?
DICAPRIO: There was an incredible ease and comfort getting to work alongside Brad. We kind of grew up in the same generation; we started around the same time and Quentin gave us this incredible backstory for our characters: their work together, their friendship, what they had been through in the industry and now as outsiders in this new era in Hollywood. All that fed into this immediate comfort and ease he and I had with one another. And Brad is not only a terrific actor, he is a professional. So when Quentin puts you in these improvised scenarios when we both have a foothold on our history and our character, I have to say it was incredibly easy working with Brad. I hope we forged a great cinematic bond in the film about our industry today.
PITT: I would agree. It was with great, great ease and it was great fun. I had a great laugh with him. It was that thing of knowing you have the best of the best on the other side of the table holding up the scene with you. There’s a great relief in that. As Leo said we have the same reference points, we kind of came on at the same time and have similar experiences to laugh about. I hope we do it again.
Is Rick a great actor?