Leonardo DiCaprio’s character Rick Dalton has no shortage of memorable moments in Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” (it’s impossible to forget the flamethrower that kills one of the Manson family cult members), but his best occurs when he has a breakdown on the set of the Western television series “Lancer.” An extended scene-within-a-scene depicts a “Lancer” sequence that is ruined because Rick can’t remember his lines. Feeling embarrassed, Rick goes to his trailer and freaks out by yelling at himself. It turns out that was not how Tarantino originally wrote Rick’s big breakdown.
In a new interview with Deadline, Tarantino reveals the original “Lancer” scene did not include Rick messing up the dialogue and therefore the trailer breakdown moment did not even occur. It was DiCaprio himself who approached Tarantino and pitched the idea for Rick to screw up on the “Lancer” set.
“Leo said, ‘I think I need to fuck it up and forget the lines,’” Tarantino said. “I just wanted to do my ‘Lancer’ scene, a way to do this Western through the back door. [Leo] said, ‘I know I’m kind of fucking up your scene, but I think that would be good for the character.’ I saw it as him ruining my fun, basically, but I say, ‘Fine. I’ll write a version, and we’ll do the ‘Lancer’ scene straight, and with the fuck-up, knowing that in the editing room I was going to do what I wanted to.”
Tarantino filmed the “Lancer” scene with Rick messing up, and DiCaprio’s acting in the moment was so good that it forced the director to make a realization. “As soon as we did that second version, the take that is in the movie, I was like, ‘OK, OK, we’re obviously doing this now,’” Tarantino said. “He was right. It was terrific and it gave the whole thing an arc that worked wonderfully.”
With the Rick screw up now officially in “Hollywood,” Tarantino and DiCaprio then worked to come up with the trailer breakdown moment. Tarantino calls that scene Rick’s “Travis Bickle sequence.” The freak out was improvised by DiCaprio, but the moment was only made possible because DiCaprio urged Tarantino to rewrite the scene directly before it.
“[Leo] is one of the most if not the most talented actor of his generation,” Tarantino adds, “and the most naturally gifted actor I’ve ever worked with.”
DiCaprio has earned Best Actor nominations from the Golden Globes and the SAG Awards and he’s widely considered a lock to be nominated for the Oscar. “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is now available on digital.