Quentin Tarantino Came To Blows With An Actor On The Set Of Reservoir Dogs

There's something ironic about the fact that Quentin Tarantino — a director famous for his on-screen violence — got into a physical altercation on the set of his first feature-length film, "Reservoir Dogs." The "Kill Bill" director has had a successful career that was almost jeopardized during the production of his first film. 

In the NFL, there are occasions called "welcome to the NFL" moments. While not an official phrase, my understanding is that these are usually the first time something big and negative happens to a player (typically a rookie). Maybe they get tackled hard by a veteran player, maybe they lose the game by dropping a pass, but this concept isn't exclusive to the sports industry. Think about it, we've all had our first major error or dilemma at a new job and Tarantino is no different. His "welcome to directing" moment was the altercation between him and an actor as it happened very early on in the production of "Reservoir Dogs."

What was Reservoir Dogs?

"Reservoir Dogs" was Tarantino's feature-length directorial debut and is one of the benchmarks of indie filmmaking. The film follows the aftermath of a heist gone wrong and the levels of paranoia rise. Interestingly enough, Tarantino leaves the viewer in the dark as we never see the actual heist — only the preparation and aftermath. The film had a stellar ensemble with a number of actors who would collaborate with Tarantino again in the future including Tim Roth, Steve Buscemi, Michael Madsen and Harvey Keitel.

"Reservoir Dogs" was also significant for its nonlinear storytelling — a technique that he would double down on in his next film, "Pulp Fiction" — and for the fact that it largely takes place in a single location.

Tarantino's sparring partner

The actor that went head-to-head with Tarantino on the set of "Reservoir Dogs" was Lawrence Tierney. In the film, Tierney played Joe Cabot — the one who organized the crew. Speaking to The Guardian, Tarantino described Tierney as a "complete lunatic by that time" and that "he just needed to be sedated." Tarantino continued, "We had decided to shoot his scenes first, so my first week of directing was talking with this f***ing lunatic." When describing the atmosphere on set with Tierney, Tarantino said, 

"He was personally challenging to every aspect of film-making. By the end of the week everybody on set hated Tierney — it wasn't just me. And in the last 20 minutes of the first week we had a blow out and got into a fist fight."

Tarantino would then fire Tierney, which, according to him, was met with applause from the whole crew. But despite the support of the crew, Tarantino thought that the end of his run as a director could be over as quickly as it had started. "And I thought: OK, now I'm going to get fired. That's it; that's my shot at being a director, gone, after one week," said Tarantino in reference to the fallout of this altercation. Luckily, Keitel stepped in to take care of any potential tension between Tarantino and the studio and the rest is history.

Tarantino's career was just fine after the altercation

While Tarantino is now a well-respected director, having that altercation while still being an unproven commodity was surely a gamble. Luckily, the gamble paid off, and since "Reservoir Dogs," Tarantino has enjoyed a successful career and has consistently evolved as a filmmaker — dipping his toes into every genre.

He's directed nine feature-length films with his most recent film, "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood," getting 10 Academy Award nominations including a Best Supporting Actor win for Brad Pitt