Everything We Know

Everything We Know About Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time in... Hollywood

We now know it's premiering at Cannes, but... Who's in it? How much of it is centered on Charles Manson? And do we even know what exactly it's about?

by and | May 2, 2019 | Comments

Quentin Tarantino’s ninth feature film brings him back to Los Angeles for the first time since Jackie Brown, but it’s a groovy L.A. of hippies and psychedelia, set in the summer of ’69, with the Manson murders around the corner and the Hollywood counterculture at its apex.

Tarantino has said Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood will focus more on the year 1969, not the Manson murders. And that’s exactly what we get from the movie’s trailer: a pastiche of late-’60s L.A. local color and trippy antics, but virtually no Manson presence, save for one blink-and-you’ll-miss-it shot of a crookedly smiling Charles Manson stepping out of a car.

Tarantino said some time ago that he was going to call it quits after making 10 films. Is this really his penultimate film, his almost-swan song? Stay tuned…


It Will Premiere at Cannes; Tarantino “Has not left the editing room in four months”

After a game of will-they-or-won’t-they, it’s been confirmed that the Tarantino movie will play in competition at the Cannes Film Festival. The film is a late addition to the festival, and its inclusion is auspicious: It’s been 25 years since Tarantino first came to Cannes with Pulp Fiction, for which he won the Palm d’or. 

Cannes Film Festival General Delegate Thierry Frémaux said in a statement, “We were afraid the film would not be ready, as it wouldn’t be released until late July, but Quentin Tarantino, who has not left the editing room in four months, is a real, loyal and punctual child of Cannes. Like for Inglourious Basterds, he’ll definitely be there – 25 years after the Palme d’or for Pulp Fiction – with a finished film screened in 35mm and his cast in tow (Leonardo DiCaprio, Margot Robbie, Brad Pitt). His film is a love letter to the Hollywood of his childhood, a rock music tour of 1969, and an ode to cinema as a whole. In addition to thanking Quentin and his crew for spending days and nights in the editing room, the festival wants to give special thanks to the teams at Sony Pictures, who made all of this possible.”


What It’s About

Columbia Pictures

(Photo by Columbia Pictures)

Here’s how Tarantino described the film to the Hollywood Reporter last February: “It’s a story that takes place in Los Angeles in 1969, at the height of hippie Hollywood. The two lead characters are Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), former star of a Western TV series, and his longtime stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). Both are struggling to make it in a Hollywood they don’t recognize anymore. But Rick has a very famous next-door neighbor… Sharon Tate.”

Tate, an actress who was married to the director Roman Polanski (and eight months pregnant with their first child at the time), was murdered, along with three of her friends, by the Manson Family on August 8, 1969. Just how the shocking crime will impact the two protagonists’ story – if at all – has been a closely guarded secret. But Tarantino has maintained that the film is about 1969, not the infamous Manson slayings.

Structurally, Once Upon A Time is said to be separated into thematic chapters along the lines of Pulp Fiction. If that’s the case, it’s entirely possible that Cliff and Rick’s characters will not intersect directly with the Manson murders.

Tarantino also told THR: “I’ve been working on this script for five years, as well as living in Los Angeles County most of my life, including in 1969, when I was 7 years old.  I’m very excited to tell this story of an L.A and a Hollywood that don’t exist anymore.” In an interesting meta-twist, Tarantino himself is confronting a Hollywood that, thanks to streamers like Netflix, may soon be unrecognizable to many.

Speaking at Cinemacon last April, Sony Pictures motion picture group chairman Tom Rothman raved about Once Upon A Time’s script: “It’s the best screenplay that I have had the privilege to read.”

High praise, considering QT is a two-time Oscar screenplay winner for Django Unchained and Pulp Fiction.


The Cast: Fictional Characters vs. Factual

Andrew Cooper/Weinstein Company

(Photo by Andrew Cooper/Weinstein Company)

Once Upon A Time marks the first time DiCaprio and Pitt appear on-screen together. Both have worked with QT before: DiCaprio on Django Unchained, and Pitt in Inglorious Basterds. DiCaprio was supposedly so enamored of the script that he agreed to a 50% pay cut to work on the film (but don’t feel bad – he still earned a reputed $10 million).

Tarantino’s longtime cinematographer Robert Richardson, who’s been with QT since the Kill Bill movies, was thrilled to be able to frame both DiCaprio and Pitt in the same shots, as he told IndieWire in October. “It’s beautiful. To work with Leo together with Brad… It’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, sort of the contemporary versions. These are two massive stars, and they’re so talented. Margot [Robbie] is also phenomenal and wonderful to be around. There are a number of people that you will see within the film that haven’t had as much exposure that are remarkable. We’ve got Dakota Fanning in the movie and she — phew, is she a powerhouse. It’s a great cast.”

The Rick/Cliff relationship is reportedly inspired by the real-life actor and stuntman duo Burt Reynolds and Hal Needham. They are fictional characters, as is Rick’s agent Marvin Schwarz (Al Pacino). But it’s the colorful assortment of real-life figures from the period that make Once Upon A Time a Who’s Who of late-’60s Tinseltown.

Australian Oscar nominee Margot Robbie stars as Sharon Tate, and another Aussie actor, Justified star Damon Herriman, plays Charles Manson.

Weinstein Company

(Photo by Weinstein Company)

Bruce Dern plays George Spahn, the California rancher who was persuaded to allow the Manson Family to live on his property. (Remember the Spahn Movie Ranch?) The role was originally, in fact, supposed to be played by Burt Reynolds, who died in September of 2018. In an interview with Rotten Tomatoes promoting his Certified Fresh film, The Mustang, Dern had this to say about Tarantino’s film:

“All I can say is — this is me telling you — he’s a magician, because in this movie, he did something mad. It’s probably the most unique endeavor I’ve seen a director undertake and do. Without ruining the movie for you — I can’t tell you what that is, but the minute you get to see it, you will say, ‘Bruce Dern is absolutely right.'”

Dern continued: “You’ll know, because he did the single most unpredictable thing I’ve ever seen a director do, in this movie. And I don’t mean a moment; I mean the entire movie. Because, you know what, you… probably remember something about the Manson Murders, and ‘How horrendous!’ and so forth and so on. Well, everybody says, ‘Oh my God! I can’t wait ’til Quentin does the Manson Murders. There’s a movie about that, I can’t wait,’ and so forth and so on. Well, I won’t say a word, but remember I told you what I told you.”

Moving on, Dakota Fanning plays Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, a Manson disciple best known for trying to assassinate President Gerald Ford. Billions star Damian Lewis plays A-list actor and heartthrob Steve McQueen, then considered the coolest Hollywood star on the planet.

Columbia Pictures

(Photo by Columbia Pictures)

Emile Hirsch plays celebrity hairstylist Jay Sebring, also killed in the Tate murders. Polish actor Rafal Zawierucha plays the young Roman Polanski, who was filming in London on the night his wife was killed by the Manson Family. Austin Butler plays Charles “Tex” Watson, the most vicious of the Manson Family killers, who was convicted of seven first-degree murders.

Girls star/creator Lena Dunham plays Catherine “Gypsy” Share, a Manson follower who did not participate in the murders, while The Haunting of Hill House star Victoria Pedretti plays Manson Family member and convicted murderer Leslie (“Lulu”) Van Houten — who was just 19 at the time of the slayings.

Fittingly, Mike Moh plays martial arts icon Bruce Lee, who actually suspected Polanski briefly in Tate’s murder. Moh, who starred in Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist, has paid tribute to Lee in several YouTube videos.

And, sadly, Once Upon A Time marks the final on-screen role for Luke Perry, the Beverly Hills 90210 and Riverdale star who died suddenly on March 4 at the age of 52. Perry plays Scott Lancer, one of the main characters on the Western TV series Lancer, which ran on CBS from 1968 to 1970.

Other stars playing both true-life and fictional characters include long-time Tarantino mainstays Michael Madsen and Tim Roth, as well as Kurt Russell, Timothy Olyphant, Lorenza Izzo, Maya Hawke, Rumer Willis, and Scoot McNairy.


Keep in Mind…

Weinstein Company

Ryan Fujitani

Tarantino has been known to play hard and loose with history. Remember how Inglorious Basterds imagined an alternate reality in which American Jewish soldiers took their revenge on Hitler and murdered him at the height of WWII? Is it possible Once Upon A Time will put its own stamp on the most infamous, shocking crime of the 1960s, a crime that signaled a dark, bloody end to hippie culture? Dern’s words seem to suggest it might.

Sharon Tate’s sister Debra, who’s been very protective of her sister’s legacy and, according to an article on Nerdist.com, was already protesting the film even before she knew what it was about, told TMZ: “This movie is not what people would expect it to be when you combine the Tarantino and Manson names.”

Sounds like she approves. Get ready for the unexpected.


Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood  opens everywhere on July 26.

#1
Adjusted Score: 120970%
Critics Consensus: Thrillingly unrestrained yet solidly crafted, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood tempers Tarantino's provocative impulses with the clarity of a mature filmmaker's vision.
Synopsis: Actor Rick Dalton gained fame and fortune by starring in a 1950s television Western, but is now struggling to find... [More]
Directed By: Quentin Tarantino

Like this? Subscribe to our newsletter and get more features, news, and guides in your inbox every week.

Tag Cloud

disaster DC streaming service VICE social media The CW TV screen actors guild romantic comedy children's TV saw scary movies technology Summer ESPN Musicals Nat Geo AMC Plus Mudbound medical drama diversity cars Reality aliens Paramount Plus cancelled Premiere Dates mockumentary Turner Classic Movies ABC jurassic park Trivia MSNBC golden globe awards E3 Reality Competition Sci-Fi Watching Series Cosplay deadpool natural history BBC One new zealand Sundance TV Tomatazos science fiction mob FOX San Diego Comic-Con Hear Us Out streaming FX thriller streaming movies Amazon based on movie composers Grammys politics Neflix TNT Spike discovery serial killer travel feel good olympics documentary christmas movies emmy awards blaxploitation 45 pirates of the caribbean rom-coms PlayStation cancelled TV shows Funimation Anna Paquin Comic-Con@Home 2021 FX on Hulu romance Logo Shondaland Sundance Now Apple TV Plus sitcom hidden camera Apple TV+ franchise Turner ABC Signature Teen BET Awards indiana jones The Walt Disney Company Superheroe sports Photos Pixar justice league james bond anime ghosts Disney+ Disney Plus 4/20 Emmys movie Binge Guide batman know your critic series adenture spinoff Disney Plus Year in Review TruTV The Purge Universal Pictures marvel cinematic universe dc Writers Guild of America live event period drama dark versus Creative Arts Emmys Image Comics Video Games blockbuster heist movie Christmas indie black comedy Film Festival superhero casting venice rt labs critics edition 2021 Spring TV true crime popular Star Wars animated Valentine's Day TIFF kaiju GIFs satire vampires independent DGA canceled TV shows Stephen King 93rd Oscars El Rey docudrama Tumblr The Academy E! Disney 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards kids TLC obituary miniseries worst 24 frames Tarantino Food Network BBC America crime black what to watch Elton John scary Columbia Pictures rt archives football Hallmark Christmas movies hollywood HBO Go legend spy thriller ViacomCBS remakes NYCC talk show Oscars universal monsters foreign toy story Arrowverse Pacific Islander TCA Awards sag awards NBC A&E new york MTV dexter Interview Kids & Family DirecTV YouTube Amazon Prime Video dragons Epix Crackle OWN Netflix Christmas movies Musical biopic Character Guide CNN Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Drama Toys TCA reviews toronto Lucasfilm OneApp TV Land witnail joker japan Shudder sequel slashers elevated horror slasher robots Warner Bros. telelvision films Martial Arts teaser TCA 2017 Winners New York Comic Con mission: impossible sequels Family comedies BBC classics wonder woman Superheroes Countdown Music IFC Tokyo Olympics breaking bad VOD TV One french Black History Month free movies GLAAD nature Netflix Rocky aapi rotten movies we love Marvel The Witch zero dark thirty criterion TCM Cartoon Network archives Comedy The Arrangement supernatural best Pirates Pop Extras National Geographic Holidays directors SundanceTV USA psycho twilight Walt Disney Pictures Emmy Nominations Fox News rotten Pet Sematary docuseries festival mcc nfl Western Paramount dramedy razzies Apple latino WarnerMedia canceled police drama posters ratings HBO Max dreamworks Awards Tour transformers prank Ghostbusters Biopics Mary poppins 2018 historical drama Super Bowl spain stand-up comedy high school cartoon Red Carpet Action Comics on TV RT21 game of thrones scene in color singing competition halloween tv Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt Ellie Kemper Vudu Esquire Fox Searchlight TV renewals sopranos asian-american scorecard CBS Horror CBS All Access comiccon crime drama Ovation richard e. Grant concert kong book adaptation Universal Amazon Prime award winner theme song 21st Century Fox Endgame critic resources First Look TCA Winter 2020 Fall TV Showtime Winter TV jamie lee curtis television game show a nightmare on elm street young adult Wes Anderson See It Skip It nbcuniversal 2019 documentaries revenge basketball BET biography chucky target Sneak Peek facebook LGBT unscripted festivals japanese Trailer History harry potter GoT SDCC TBS Baby Yoda boxing women Marathons zombies fast and furious Mystery name the review crossover parents cancelled TV series comic books hist Country comic book movies Fantasy finale Podcast Animation hispanic heritage month video stoner strong female leads Instagram Live Syfy adaptation Bravo Disney streaming service dogs Mary Tyler Moore WGN italian Rocketman Nickelodeon Discovery Channel Rom-Com fresh Peacock ITV Schedule Freeform reboot Masterpiece BAFTA X-Men YouTube Red new star wars movies Quiz ID Set visit royal family 2015 Holiday PBS Avengers Pride Month news Trophy Talk Mary Poppins Returns australia Hallmark cops critics Disney Channel YouTube Premium Polls and Games quibi 1990s Starz 90s SXSW cults psychological thriller Election Legendary Amazon Studios Film President spider-verse Best and Worst 72 Emmy Awards cooking king arthur IFC Films worst movies Calendar superman godzilla Opinion Marvel Studios tv talk vs. war TV movies stop motion Exclusive Video binge die hard Comic Book lord of the rings Marvel Television Travel Channel adventure Comedy Central international LGBTQ Britbox IMDb TV NBA trailers 2017 marvel comics rt labs spanish language spanish hispanic Mindy Kaling space First Reviews Black Mirror Infographic green book cats suspense AMC RT History Rock Star Trek Tubi Broadway Alien comics APB Captain marvel A24 laika DC Universe debate Television Academy 20th Century Fox Crunchyroll PaleyFest video on demand 99% Spectrum Originals spider-man Nominations Sony Pictures DC Comics king kong Academy Awards Song of Ice and Fire American Society of Cinematographers boxoffice live action doctor who action-comedy monster movies Lifetime Christmas movies book USA Network CW Seed renewed TV shows Hulu south america gangster 2016 71st Emmy Awards Women's History Month Lifetime movies MCU HBO blockbusters 73rd Emmy Awards Box Office crime thriller comic book movie Cannes cinemax CMT Acorn TV political drama 007 Thanksgiving 2020 FXX Chernobyl Sundance Brie Larson Certified Fresh golden globes YA halloween screenings Classic Film Adult Swim art house werewolf VH1 dceu Television Critics Association The Walking Dead genre Heroines mutant Dark Horse Comics zombie Awards all-time ABC Family Lionsgate cancelled television child's play Pop TV comic anthology Paramount Network