Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” finally made its highly anticipated world premiere at the 2019 Cannes Film Festival, but it turns out the screening would not have happened had the writer-director gone ahead with his original plan for the story. In a new interview with Esquire, Tarantino revealed that “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” was originally conceived as a novel. The filmmaker spent five years writing the film’s story in novel form before realizing a film script would better suit the material.
“I let it become what it wanted to become,” Tarantino said. “For a long time, I didn’t want to accept it. Then I did.”
Tarantino said he considers the screenplay “probably my most personal.” The director went on to compare the script to one of last year’s biggest Oscar winners: “I think of it like my memory piece. Alfonso [Cuarón] had ‘Roma’ and Mexico City, 1970. I had L. A. and 1969. This is me. This is the year that formed me. I was six years old then. This is my world. And this is my love letter to L. A.”
When Tarantino finished writing the screenplay, he only kept one copy of the entire finished version. Only leading actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt were able to read the full script from start to finish. Everyone else on the project, including Margot Robbie, only got to read the parts of the script pertaining to their character. Both Pitt and DiCaprio had to go to Tarantino’s house to read the screenplay. Because there was only one copy, Tarantino said the pages got stained and stayed that way.
Tarantino recalled, “I remember one of you made a comment: ‘I like this dirty cover page.'”
The director also pulled back the curtain a bit on how the story of “Hollywood” is set up. The movie is split into three acts that each take place on a different day: February 8, February 9, and August 8, the latter of which being the night Charles Manson dispensed some of his cult members to murder Sharon Tate (played by Robbie). Tarantino said he decided to craft the story around Tate and two fictional characters so that the film would “represent the three social strata of [Hollywood.]”
“We follow Sharon, who is truly living the Hollywood life,” Tarantino said. “Then Rick, who is doing better than he thinks he’s doing. He has a house, some money, and he’s still working. Then Cliff represents a guy who has dedicated his entire life to this industry and has nothing to show for it. He is part of Hollywood, but he lives in Panorama City in a trailer. Make no mistake: Hollywood is his life, but he is not a citizen. These three social strata are important to the story.”
Sony Pictures will release “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” in theaters nationwide July 26.