'Once Upon A Time In Hollywood' Q&A: How That Rick Dalton Freak-Out Scene Came To Be And More

On Saturday afternoon, 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. The event was ostensibly to help promote next month's home video release of the movie, but it also doubled as a potential stop on the way to the Oscars for each member of the panel. Here are some highlights from the conversation.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Rick Dalton freak out

I'll kick this off with what may have been the most purely entertaining moment of the session: an explanation of how the "Rick Dalton freaks out over forgetting his lines" scene came to be. As Tarantino explained:

"It wasn't in the script...that whole section kind of evolved as we were shooting the movie. Leo had a whole thing at some point where it was like, 'I need to f*** up during the Lancer sequence. And when I f*** up during the Lancer sequence, I need to have a real crisis of conscience about it and I have to come back from that in some way.' My response is, 'Wait, you're going to f*** up my Lancer sequence?' (Everyone laughs) 'That's my western, all right? I get two for one in this movie! I get to sneak a western in here when nobody's f***ing looking, all right? And you're going to f*** it up?'

So we did the Lancer scene without the f*** up and then we did it with the f*** up. And then once we did it with the f*** up it was so amazing that of course we're going to use it. Then it was like, well, now we need a little bit more than that. You're having your Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, but it's with yourself as you walk back to the Lancer set. I was like – I think I described it exactly this way – I was like, 'Well, it's got to be like Travis Bickle when he's in his apartment by himself.' And Leo goes, 'What does that mean?' 'Well, that means I'm going to do it all in jump cuts. We're not going to have any other any other angles, this is going to be one angle and basically I just want you to improvise. Just go through a whole series of things, and we'll do three takes, we'll run the camera out on all three takes, and I'll just jump cut to the best stuff.' And he's like, 'Well, what should I say?' And I go, 'Well, you should improvise, I want you to improvise it, but I'll come up with things for you to be flipped out of that. So I came up with about four or five or six things that he could obsess on and go nuts over, but then it was going to be him doing it.

[Tarantino recreates his direction on set] 'Okay, get pissed off about James Stacey.' [Tarantino imitates Rick Dalton, furiously yelling] 'Oh, that f***ing Jim Stacy! Just sitting up there, watching me, thinking he's so f***ing hot. He couldn't be a f***ing wrangler on my f***ing TV show!' (Everyone laughs)

'Talk about the little girl.' 'And that f***ing little girl! She's sitting there...'

But to me, as great as the scene is, the cutest part of the scene was how nervous he was to do it. I've never seen him so nervous as the day, knowing that in three hours, we're going to do it."

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Brad Pitt

Later, the conversation turned to the immersive set design, which made a memorable impression on DiCaprio:

"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."

Talking about the experience of walking around on the set with no cell phones sparked a memory for Pitt, who asked permission before recounting a story from the set of Inglourious Basterds:

Pitt: "Can I tell the story of how a cell phone went off on Inglourious Basterds? Epic! You have to check your phones in. There are no phones, this is sacred ground. One went off in between takes, and you would have thought someone walked into the Sistine Chapel and took a shit. (Everyone laughs) Production came to a grinding halt, and no one would cop to it – though we knew the general area. Quentin sent us home for the rest of the day. We had the afternoon off to think about what we'd done."

Tarantino: "I think my speech was, 'I ask you for one thing. And if you have no more respect for me than that, then go home.'"

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood References

And since DiCaprio, Pitt, and Robbie are all seen as major Oscar contenders, it wasn't a surprise that each of them spoke a bit about the work that went into crafting their performances. For 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."

once upon a time in hollywood theory

Robbie was asked what kind of alterations she had to make to her voice and body language in order to convey the seemingly boundless lightness of Sharon Tate in the film:

"I find it a lot easier to go dark, a lot easier to yell and scream and cry and do all that on screen. I feel like I can get there a lot quicker, but to be truly light all the time was actually hard – weirdly hard – but a joy as well, kind of like being like on this beautiful vacation all the time. I worked with a movement coach a lot, and did a lot of weird stuff where you (laughs) run around and pretend to be a cloud and all that kind of stuff. I did a lot of weird movement stuff, which I really enjoyed, actually, I really looked like a lunatic. That stuff I actually find really helpful, working with a movement coach.

And then I made a list, silly as it might sound, I made a list of all the things that make me really happy and then I would try and do all those things on the day that I was going to work or the day before. And all the things that gave me any of that downward pull in life, any of the stress and angst, I would kind of cut that out. Like, I can't read e-mails within 24 hours of going on set. Stuff like that."

once upon a time in hollywood images

When Pitt, who plays Rick Dalton's stuntman Cliff Booth, was asked how he tapped into the almost effortless cool of the character, the actor explained that his key was a mantra that he came up with:

"We're all searching to find that peace in our lives and Quentin had written this guy who seemed to, having gone through everything that he's gone through, had just full acceptance and knew that he's capable of handling whatever the day brought and it's going to be all right. I kind of looked at it as like [Cliff] was looking for the best in people but expected the worst and was surprised by neither."

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was recently re-released in theaters with about ten minutes of additional scenes, but its home video release will have almost double that; you can get the full description of the bonus features and the special collector's edition right here. The film arrives on Digital on November 26, 2019 and on 4K, Blu-ray, and DVD on December 10, 2019.