Meet Julia Butters, the 10-Year-Old Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Breakout Star
The 10-year-old TV star steals the show playing a child actor in Quentin Tarantino's star-studded movie
It’s rare to see a child in Quentin Tarantino’s infamously bloody movies — but that doesn’t stop Julia Butters, 10, from stealing the show in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. In the tale of a washed-up actor and his stunt double in 1969 Hollywood, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie, Butters plays child star Trudi Fraser, a scene partner to DiCaprio’s character Rick Dalton.
On set, Butters’ Fraser tells Dalton, “That was the best acting I’ve ever seen in my whole life,” which inspires the actor to believe in his talent more. She claims she wasn’t even acting herself: “He’s such a great actor, so I wasn’t really reciting a line,” Butters told Variety. “It was mostly coming from me.”
Here’s everything to know about the film’s preteen breakout.
She’s the daughter of Disney animator Darrin Butters.
Her father worked on the Oscar-winning film Frozen and most recently animated Ralph Breaks the Internet. He and his wife Lorelei kickstarted their daughter’s career by taking her to commercial auditions since she was two.
“I don’t want her to be famous, I want her to be successful,” Darrin Butters told the Kearney Hub in 2014. “If she loves what she’s doing and can make a living doing what she does, like I do, then she’ll never have to work a day in her life. It will always be play. If that’s possible for her, then that’s success.”
Her first speaking role was on an episode of Criminal Minds.
Butters played a missing child named Gabby in a season 9 episode titled after her character. The episode came out in February 2014, when she was just 4 years old.
She had a recurring role on Transparent for eight episodes.
At age 6, Butters entered Amazon’s family dramedy as Ella, the daughter of gender-transitioning parent Maura’s oldest child Sarah. She played the role for seasons 2 and 3, after Ant-Man child star Abby Ryder Fortson played Ella in season 1. For seasons 4 and 5, child star Ashley Silverman took over the role.
She currently stars in ABC sitcom American Housewife — which led Tarantino to discover her.
In her first main cast role, Butters plays Anna-Kat Otto, youngest of the new-to-town Otto family who don’t fit in when they move to high-class Westport, Connecticut. She stars alongside TV actress Katy Mixon, comedian Diedrich Bader and Always Be My Maybe star-writer Ali Wong.
Tarantino found her through that role, Butters told Variety. “He was writing the script, and he likes to have the TV on while he’s writing, just noise. And my show American Housewife came on, and it was a monologue that I was reciting called ‘Bloody Becky,'” she said. “I have no idea why he liked that one, but he said, ‘I should have her audition.’ So he auditioned me.”
She wasn’t aware of the film’s star power before getting the role.
When Butters’ mom took her to the table read for the movie, “She told me that everyone here is famous,” Butters said to Vanity Fair.
She also told Vanity Fair she hadn’t seen DiCaprio in Titanic until after filming had wrapped. As for Pitt, she told Variety she knew him only as a “handsome guy.”
During her audition, she let slip that she wasn’t familiar with Tarantino (“He definitely does not make movies for kids”). “He said, ‘Well, when I was writing it,’ and I said, ‘Oh, you wrote it? Well done,'” she recounted to Esquire.
DiCaprio thinks she’s the next Meryl Streep.
When he made the comparison in an interview, some thought he meant Butters was playing a young Streep in the movie — who, as Butters noted to Vanity Fair, was actually 20 in 1969.
Butters knows it’s both a high compliment and a heavy weight to be compared to the Oscar-winning film icon. “I’m so happy that he did [that]—and so mad that he did at the same time,” she said of DiCaprio’s comment.
She’s a big Steven Spielberg fan.
And he visited set one day, which worried her. “I was like, What if he’s not even a nice person?!” she told Vanity Fair.
But she had nothing to fear. “I got to meet him, and that was amazing,” she said to Esquire, adding that she wants to work with the director one day.
She was almost in more of Once Upon a Time.
Tarantino and his crew had to cut scenes to fit the film into its three-hour runtime, including one key moment with Butters.
RELATED VIDEO: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Gets Rave First Reactions at Cannes: ‘Brilliant’ and ‘Shocking’
“If she was in, she’d get an Oscar nomination for that performance. But it didn’t serve the film,” producer David Heyman told IndieWire. “It’s all about the film rhythm, to get where it needs to be. He cut out fantastic scenes, and reshaped things that made sense of the film as a whole.”
Her mom relented and let her watch (part of) the movie.
She attended the Los Angeles premiere with the rest of the cast and her mother, who took her out during the film’s notoriously violent peak. Butters told Vanity Fair she didn’t mind: “I was kinda like, Cool—I’m in a movie!”