The writer-director’s ninth film, titled Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, has been in the works for years, and on Wednesday, he landed two major stars to play key roles. Leonardo DiCaprio is confirmed to play fictional Western actor Rick Dalton, whose stunt double Cliff Booth will be played by Brad Pitt.
In a statement Wednesday, Tarantino called the film a “story that takes place in Los Angeles in 1969, at the height of hippy Hollywood. The two lead characters are Rick Dalton (DiCaprio), former star of a Western TV series, and his longtime stunt double Cliff Booth (Pitt). Both are struggling to make it in a Hollywood they don’t recognize anymore. But Rick has a very famous next-door neighbor … Sharon Tate.”
He added in a release, “I’ve been working on this script for five years, as well as living in Los Angeles County most of my life, including in 1969, when I was seven years old. I’m very excited to tell this story of an LA and a Hollywood that don’t exist anymore. And I couldn’t be happier about the dynamic teaming of DiCaprio & Pitt as Rick & Cliff.”
This is the second time Pitt and DiCaprio have worked with Tarantino, with the former starring in 2009’s Inglorious Bastards as the Nazi-killing American Lt. Aldo Raine, and the latter starring as the villainous, slave-owning Calvin Candie in 2012’s Django Unchained. Both films gorily reimagined history, as Once Upon a Time in Hollywood will likely do.
No casting announcements have been made for Tate as of yet, but reports that Margot Robbie is being sought for the role have been circulating since last year. It was also previously reported that Tom Cruise was being considered for a role, although it’s unclear if that role has now been filled by Pitt or DiCaprio.
Tate’s casting is sure to draw controversy no matter who takes the part, as the late actress’ sister, Debra Tate, has been vocal about her displeasure with other attempts to represent Sharon onscreen. When Hillary Duff, who is playing Tate in the upcoming The Haunting of Sharon Tate, shared a photo of herself dressed as Tate on Instagram, Debra called it “classless” and “exploitative.”
She added, “It doesn’t matter who it is acting in it – it’s just tasteless. It’s classless how everyone is rushing to release something for the 50th anniversary of this horrific event.”
While the film revolves around Tate’s murder, which took place on Aug. 9, 1969, when the actress was more than eight months pregnant with her child with director Roman Polanski, the story is reportedly not a full chronicle of the Manson family murder spree. (Manson died in prison last year at the age of 83).
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Polanski will likely be a character in the movie, although no casting decision has been released. Tarantino found himself in hot water recently when the website Jezebel resurfaced a 2003 radio interview in which the director defended Polanski, who, eight years after Tate’s death, was charged with drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl.
“It was statutory rape … he had sex with a minor. That’s not rape. To me, when you use the word rape, you’re talking about violent, throwing them down — it’s like one of the most violent crimes in the world,” Tarantino told Howard Stern after the radio host asked why Hollywood figures continue to support Polanski.
Polanski pleaded guilty to the crime in 1977, but after spending some time in jail, he fled the United States the next year after learning he was to be sentenced to years in prison. He has not returned to the U.S. since.
After the interview resurfaced, Tarantino apologized to Polanksi’s victim Samantha Geimer in a statement to IndieWire.
“Fifteen years later, I realize how wrong I was,” he said. “Ms. Geimer WAS raped by Roman Polanski. When Howard brought up Polanski, I incorrectly played devil’s advocate in the debate for the sake of being provocative. I didn’t take Ms. Geimer’s feelings into consideration and for that I am truly sorry.”
Tarantino also garnered controversy last month when Uma Thurman recounted a near-fatal car crash she suffered on the set of the director’s 2003 film Kill Bill. In a New York Times article, Thurman alleged that Tarantino pressured her into doing the stunt, which left her neck “permanently damaged” and her knees “screwed-up.”
The Oscar-winning director later told Deadline that he was “guilty” of getting Thurman into the car that would eventually crash into a tree, calling it “the biggest regret of my life.”
Tarantino also admitted to physically choking Thurman while filming a fight scene in an interview with Deadline.
“Not forever, not for a long time,” he said of his technique. “But it’s not going to look right [without really doing it]. I can act all strangle-ey, but if you want my face to get red and the tears to come to my eye, then you kind of need to choke me.”
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, which likely derives its title from Sergio Leone’s classic spaghetti westerns like Once Upon Time in America and Once Upon a Time in the West, will be Tarantino’s first film not made under the Weinstein Company umbrella. All of his previous eight films were made either with Miramax or The Weinstein Company, and Weinstein himself credited the director so much with his success that he sometimes referred to his company as “The House That Quentin Built.”
While he originally planned to make his latest film with The Weinstein Company, according to Deadline, he was forced to find a new home for the film after Weinstein’s sexual assault and harassment scandal broke last October. Sony Pictures acquired the new movie in November, offering Tarantino a $95 million budget.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is expected to hit theaters Aug. 9, 2019, which marks the 50th anniversary of Tate’s death.