One of the biggest mysteries about Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is how exactly Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) and Charles Manson (Damon Herriman) factor into the story of a television actor named Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stuntman Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) trying to make a name for themselves as movie stars. Sony’s plot synopsis has revealed DiCaprio and Pitt’s characters live next door to Tate, who was murdered by members of the Manson family on August 9, 1969, but how Tate does or doesn’t get mixed up with Tarantino’s protagonists remains to be seen.
In a new interview with Entertainment Weekly, “Hollywood” producer David Heyman stressed that Tarantino’s latest is not fundamentally about Tate’s murder and Manson’s cult. “That’s one of the big misconceptions to clarify,” Heyman said. Tarantino said as much to IndieWire last year when he revealed the movie was not about Manson but about 1969 in general. Heyman and co-producer Shannon McIntosh agree.
“It’s about the loss of innocence that came about in 1969 with the Manson family,” McIntosh said.
Heyman added, “It’s the three classes of Hollywood. There’s the high Hollywood of Sharon, the declining star of Rick, and there’s Cliff, who lives farther out and with more humble means…They’re going to have to reinvent themselves, and the extent to which they are able to will determine their futures. What I love about this, it’s just so singularly told because it’s Quentin Tarantino turning his eye on his hometown. Nobody else could have made this film.”
The producers added that the film’s central concern is the bond between DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton and Pitt’s Cliff Booth. “These are two people who have a history together and the loyalty that they have for one another is really potent,” Heyman said. “It’s really a film about that friendship and about the power of that friendship as they go on their journeys together and separately.”
Tarantino teased the contrasting personalities of his main characters in an interview earlier this month. Rick is “a man full of inner turmoil and self-pity for not being in a better position, career-wise. But as is Rick’s way, he blames everybody but himself.” Cliff, meanwhile, is “indestructible,” “one of the “deadliest guys alive,” and, “a rather Zen dude who is troubled by very little.”
Fans will learn more about Sharon Tate’s role in the movie when Sony releases “Hollywood” in July. McIntosh said it was Robbie’s goal to “honor Sharon’s memory and she really drilled down to make sure that she got the best performance and was really embracing all that Sharon was.”
“She represents an innocence and innocence lost in some way,” Heyman said of Tate in the film, “and that innocence is very much — that sweetness, that goodness, that delight with the movies, with her, with her life — is something that we experience.”
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” opens in theaters nationwide July 26.