Last night, after a showing of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood at the DGA Theater, er, in Hollywood, a ton of the film’s talent—actors Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Bruce Dern, Julia Butters, Timothy Olyphant, Dakota Fanning, Emile Hirsch, Mike Moh and Margaret Qualley, as well as casting director Victoria Thomas and actor-stunt coordinator Zoe Bell—chatted about the movie in front of a packed crowd. (The film’s writer-director, Quentin Tarantino, was also in attendance, as costar Bruce Dern pointed out: “He wrote the shit, he’s sitting right there.”) Here are five things we gleaned from the conversation. And for a taste of Once for the uninitiated, check out our five-star review.
1. Julia Butters was unaware of Tarantino (and even DiCaprio—kinda).
“‘I didn’t know those directors,” says Butters, 10, who plays a ridiculously professional and precocious child actor opposite DiCaprio’s fading TV star. “[Tarantino] said, ‘When I was writing it…’ And of course, not knowing who he was, I said, ‘Oh, you wrote it? Well done.’” There seemed to be a bit more life-as-art going on: Pitt recalled that after their first table read, Butters came up to him and said, ‘‘Brad, you did a very good job in the read through.” And was she up to speed on DiCaprio? “No,” she said, prompting laughs. “I wasn’t familiar with his work, but I knew he was a well-known actor.” DiCaprio later chimed in that “she was the most professional, most connected young actor I’ve ever worked with.”
2. Bruce Dern thinks Tarantino is today’s Mozart.
“I once said when Prince died that we lost our Mozart,” said the iconic Dern, who portrays George Spahn, the owner of a movie-ranch-turned-Manson-Family-HQ. “But you know who’s kind of a Mozart? Quentin. Because he creates operas, situations where you can’t fail if you trust him. Everyone on this stage came up with better stuff than I’d ever seen them do before.”
3. Emile Hirsch went full-on method—until he didn’t.
Hirsch, who plays celebrity hair stylist Jay Sebring, recounted: “I saw some pictures of [Sebring], and he was really skinny, so I went on this extreme vegan diet. I’d just boil vegetables and eat this hot-sauce-vinegar-vegetable stew at the end of each night. So I was really hungry. I lost like 25 pounds, and it’s a small part. Quentin was like, ‘You’re really gonna lose all that weight for this?’ And I was like, ‘I want to look just like [him].’ He seemed like kind of a serious guy, so I did that in the table read. And Quentin called me after and was like, ‘What happened, buddy?’ I was like, ‘Oh, I’m just doing Jay.’ ‘Yeah yeah, you have permission to be flamboyant. Jay’s not gay, but he’s flamboyant.’”
4. Breaking shit is fun…
When asked how often improvisation occurred on set, DiCaprio said: “I would say I don’t know if it’s uncommon. [Tarantino] definitely gives you rein to improvise but in a lot of ways his words are Shakespearean. You take his lines very seriously. You want to give him the goods. But when he lets you go off and do your own thing, that’s a lot of fun too.” Such was the case in the scene where DiCaprio’s character melts down after flubbing lines: “That was great. Quentin gave me a lot of bullet points of thoughts that I could do and improvise. It was all in the trailer with [cinematographer] Bob Richardson, and I got to smash the hell out of that trailer. A lot of fun.”
5. …and movies should be too.
“I think the biggest word of all is, [Tarantino] makes it fun,” Dern said. “And movies should be fun. They shouldn’t be some grim death march.”
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is available on digital today. The 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD is available on December 10th.