Ascending the red carpet to the world premiere of Quentin Tarantino’s elegiac 1969 portrait of Los Angeles, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio looked like movie stars. That’s a commodity in short supply these days: stars who can open movies because fans want to see them.
At the film’s after-party on the roof of the Marriott Hotel, Brad Pitt admitted that he was seeing Quentin Tarantino’s movie for the first time. “The reaction was amazing,” he said. And Leonardo DiCaprio told me the film was Tarantino’s “homage to cinema, to the unrecognized people on the sidelines.”
There’s going to plenty of material for the eventual DVD extras, it seems, as Pitt and DiCaprio watched a movie that was missing some of their scenes, several of which Tarantino alluded to in the press conference on Wednesday, including a recreation of “The Great Escape” starring Dalton. (“Rick would have been good!”)
The two stars, who came up in the industry together but had never teamed before on a movie, leaned on each other, they told the press, as they had to be able to improvise for their director on cue.
Tarantino gave Pitt and DiCaprio deep back stories for their characters Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth, the western star on the decline and his loyal driver and stuntman who “carries the load,” as they tell one interviewer.
“It’s a love letter to the outsiders of this industry,” said DiCaprio, who said he identified with “this guy on the outskirts as times were changing.” He cited such unsung heroes of Tarantino’s as Ralph Meeker, Ty Hardin, and Eddie Burns as examples of actors whose work he appreciates. “To me, the film is about coming home. … This is his love story of his industry.”
For Pitt, while Dalton is struggling to get ahead, his character has accepted his place and “will take whatever comes,” he said, adding that the 1969 Manson murders marked “a pivotal moment and a real loss of innocence.”
While the movie boasts a sprawling cast, it’s really a classic two-hander — a bromance even — between DiCaprio and Pitt. They both described their collaboration as comfortable and easy. “It was great fun,” said Pitt, “knowing the best of the best was on the opposite side holding up the scene with you. There was a great relief in that. We had similar experiences to laugh about. I hope to do it again.”
While Margot Robbie is superb as Roman Polanski’s wife Sharon Tate, who she plays as a “ray of light,” she said, to honor the actress tragically slain by Charles Manson’s cult, she has nowhere near the screen time (or the dialogue, as one interlocutor pointed out at the presser) as the two leads.
Nor does anyone else — Damon Harriman as Manson, Timothy Olyphant, Scoot McNairy, Michael Madsen, and Luke Perry as western actors, Emile Hirsch as Jay Sebring, Al Pacino as a manager (again, one of his scenes hit the cutting room floor), Damian Lewis as Steve McQueen, Rafal Zawierucha as Roman Polanski, Lorenza Izzo as Dalton’s Italian wife, Mike Moh as Bruce Lee, Kurt Russell as a stunt coordinator, and the many characters who appear fleetingly at the Manson family quarters at the Spahn Ranch, including Bruce Dern, Dakota Fanning, Lena Dunham, Austin Butler and Margaret Qualley.
Many listed cast don’t appear in the movie at all, including Danny Strong, James Marsden (as Burt Reynolds), James Remar, and Tim Roth. The film, after all, already has two mega-stars to drive it.
“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” premiered in Competition at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival. Sony Pictures releases it theatrically on July 26, 2019.