[Editor’s note: The following post contains spoilers for “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”]
Few moments in Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” are as memorable as when Leonardo DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton gets a flamethrower and incinerates Manson cult member Susan Atkins (Mikey Madison) to death. Rick has a flamethrower in his possession due to his role in the WWII movie “The 14 Fists of McCluskey,” a scene from which is shown early on in “Hollywood” that memorably features Rick’s character burning a group of Nazis. While Rick effortlessly wields the flamethrower, DiCaprio was not as gung-ho about it as his onscreen character.
In an interview with HuffPo, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” stunt coordinator Robert Alonzo says DiCaprio was a little freaked out about using the flamethrower himself and burning up actors on set. Alonzo said he “has a lot of experience with fire-burning” after working as a stunt coordinator for 23 years, so he tried to ease DiCaprio’s fears by setting himself ablaze first. Alonzo wanted to show DiCaprio that no one would be harmed by the flamethrower.
“Leo was not very gung-ho with all the flamethrower stuff,” Alonzo said. “Literally, he doesn’t want to hurt anyone. And I completely understood it. Normally you use a stunt person in that spot to be able to manage firing a flamethrower at somebody. When I did ‘Tropic Thunder,’ Nick Nolte [accidentally] fired a flamethrower at me…This time, [Leo] is actually lighting them up and holding a flame to them for about seven to eight seconds as the flamethrower is traversing back and forth around eight guys that he’s never met. That is psychologically difficult to do, so kudos to him on being able to stay in character and do that scene.”
Alanzo said it “took some coaxing” to make DiCaprio comfortable enough where he could use the flamethrower in the scenes. After Alonzo’s demonstration, DiCaprio had everyone give the stunt coordinator a round of applause. Thanks to lighting himself on fire first, Alonzo convinced DiCaprio the stunt would be safe and helped facilitate two of the most unforgettable scenes in “Hollywood.”
Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is now playing in theaters nationwide.