once upon a time in hollywood first look

Last week, we got our first look at Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate in Quentin Tarantino’s upcoming film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The project has been steeped in controversy since its announcement, as it will pair the notoriously provocative director with a subject matter undeserving of glorification or gratuity: the Manson Murders.

At least, that was the initial concern. As we’ve learned in the meantime, and in Tarantino’s own words, the film is “not Charles Manson, it’s 1969.” Indeed, as more information comes out, we can see that the film is the story of a Hollywood – and an America – in a great metamorphosis. Not a Manson story, but a story where those famous murders are one facet of a grander tale, about the abrupt end of a free-loving, free-wheeling decade where every renaissance was tainted by inconceivable retractions.

To drive home the intended perception of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, let’s take a look back at all of the confirmed production and casting announcements, and use those confirmations to speculate what kind of movie Tarantino might have in store.


The Cast

In addition to Robbie as Tate, we know Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt will play the leads, Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth. DiCaprio’s Dalton is a washed up actor whose transition from TV acting to film has been unsuccessful. Pitt’s Booth is Dalton’s best friend and stunt double, and the film’s plot finds them contemplating a trip to Italy to get into the spaghetti Western film scene. Dalton lives next door to Sharon Tate.

Although the first released photo of Dalton and Booth drew comparisons to Paul Newman and Robert Redford in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, their described relationship more closely recalls that of actor Burt Reynolds and his stunt double Hal Needham. That pair collaborated on films like Smokey and the Bandit, Hooper, and Cannonball Run, and were close friends; Needham even lived in Reynolds’ guest house for 12 years. Like Dalton, star of the fictional Western TV show Bounty Law, Reynolds starred in his own hit Western series in the 1960s: Gunsmoke.


In one of Tarantino’s trademark meta castings, the real Reynolds will also appear in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood as George Spahn, a real-life rancher who owned Spahn Movie Ranch, where several Western films and TV shows – like Bonanza, The Long Ranger, and Zorro – were filmed. Spahn Ranch is also where Charles Manson and his “Family” lived at the time of the murders.

Other actors playing real-life people are Dakota Fanning as Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme (a member of the Manson Family), Damian Lewis as actor Steve McQueen, Emile Hirsch as hairstylist Jay Sebring (Tate’s best friend who was murdered alongside her), Nicholas Hammond as actor/director Sam Wanamaker, and Mike Moh as Bruce Lee.

Luke Perry will play Scott Lancer, who may be named after a character actor Wayne Maunder played in the 1968 TV series Lancer. Additionally, Clifton Collins, Jr. will play the fictional Ernesto “The Mexican” Vaquero, Al Pacino will play Dalton’s fictional agent Marvin Shwarz, and Scoot McNairy will play someone called Business Bob Gilbert.

There are also a number of actors who have been cast whose roles aren’t yet known: Timothy Olyphant, Kurt Russell, James Marsden, Tim Roth, James Remar, Michael Madsen, and Zoë Bell, to name a few. If we had to make an educated guess, none of the above are playing either Manson or anyone in his family, as they’re all too old. (The family was comprised of mostly teenagers and 20-somethings, and Manson was 35 when the murders occurred.) According to IMDb, a number of young women were cast in roles called “hippy girl,” so they’re the best bet for Family members. Also, a young actor named William Pierce has been cast; he looks close enough in age and disposition to play a male Family member like Tex Watson or Clem Grogan.

We heard early rumors that Tarantino was looking for someone to portray Tate’s husband, Roman Polanski, but no actor has been formally cast in the part just yet.

The Set

Filming is underway and set photos are starting to make their way online. As we reported back in June, Tarantino gave downtown Los Angeles a late-‘60s makeover, adding Krakatoa, East of Java movie posters to the Cinema theater, and decking the streets in vintage cars.

Birth.Movies.Death also acquired set photos from a reader who was on-site, which show a display of magazine covers, more old cars, and even an old-school Oscar Mayer wienermobile.

I tried to decode the date of those magazines on Twitter to see when, exactly, these scenes might take place, but they must be more of an aesthetic choice than a wholly accurate one, as the covers are all from different months and years.

Robbie has also been spotted on set dressed as Tate. In photos published by The Daily Mail, we can see her taking direction from Tarantino while driving a black Porsche. The car is an excellent touch; Jay Sebring owned the same one, which he drove to Tate’s house the night of the murders. Crime photos show it parked at her home the next morning.

We’ve also seen a number of set photos involving DiCaprio and Pitt driving in cars around Los Angeles. Al Pacino pops up in a few, as do other unknown actors. It’s hard to ascertain much from any of them, but they do confirm Tarantino’s protestations that the film is more about Hollywood in 1969 than Charles Manson or the murders.

One other thing worth pointing out: In all of the photos we’ve seen of Robbie as Tate, she has a flat stomach. In reality, Tate was almost 9-months pregnant at the time of her murder. Does this mean the film spans more than just the summer of ’69, or is Tarantino getting revisionist on us?

Continue Reading Once Upon a Time in Hollywood: What We Know >>

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