In the year of the pandemic, it novelized its ninth installment, Once upon a time … in Hollywood, the 2019 film starring Leonardo DiCaprio (Rick Dalton), Brad Pitt (Cliff Booth) and Margot Robbie (Sharon Tate). Quentin Tarantino (Knoxville, Tennessee, 58 years old) translates to paper a film fiction that prevented the Charles Manson Family – a sect named after its leader – from murdering actress Sharon Tate, Roman Polanski’s wife. The director has managed to bring his unmistakable film style to prose, mixing it with erudite references to obscure television series and films that appear in the story and in his conversation. “You must recognize that it has merit not to be from Spain and to know the Marchent brothers!”, He says at one point in the interview, alluding to the pioneers of the Spanish western who sneaked into his film.
Tarantino is in a good mood. He is wearing a blue short-sleeved shirt and has just finished his lunch which he took out of a metal lunch box from Bounty Law, the fictional program where the actor who plays DiCaprio becomes famous in Once upon a time … in Hollywood. On the table in a luxury hotel suite in Beverly Hills is an elegant copy of his first book (published in Spanish by Reservoir Books with translation by Javier Calvo). The edit is for promotion only. The copies that have flooded bookstores in the United States are pocket-sized and cost $ 9.99 (8.4 euros). The director’s design mimics the movie-based books he grew up reading in the 1970s. Like almost every first novel, it has autobiographical echoes and memories of a city that he arrived in when he was four years old.
Question. His first novel begins with a scene of his own, with a lot of dialogue. Was it a declaration of intent?
Answer. This story always started with Rick and Marv [su agente Marvin Schwarz, a quien en la película da vida Al Pacino]. First I thought of it as a novel, then as a play, when I thought of it as a movie it was always with this first scene. There is not too much plot, but there is something. It shows Rick faced with the dilemma he’s in, which is a thing of the past for this new generation of leading men in Hollywood. Marv explains it to him and that allows him to go through his entire filmography and career and inform the public.
P. Soon after, he shows his intention to make Cliff a central character. Much more sinister and complex than the one on the screen.
R. I always looked for that for Cliff. In the movie, the Manson family killers meet Cliff instead of Sharon. [Tate]. The idea was not that they would meet a male hero. The idea is that they will meet someone 15 times more dangerous than them. Someone who was a total killer, in the sense that the Manson Family wanted.
P. At the same time, he is a man who only goes to the cinema to see art films. Many would think that Cliff’s taste in film is his own.
R. I agree with a lot of what Cliff thinks, but it’s not me. It’s Cliff talking. We agree on a lot, but for different reasons. Cliff would never refer to himself as a movie buff. Just a nerd he would refer to himself as a movie buff. More than talking about Kurosawa, he would like to talk about engines and carburettors. He does not go to the movies for emotions, for that he gets on a motorcycle.
P. Are you not worried about people comparing the novel to the movie?
R. I assume it. When I was writing I was convinced that at least in the next two years, 97% of the readers will have seen the movie. I am at peace with that. I will use it to my advantage.
P. Do you expect it to become your own?
R. It would be very interesting artistically if it is just an accompanying piece or if it enters into conversation with the film. I didn’t think about it when I was writing. I just thought it could be a good book. There will be a time when people read it without having seen the movie, but it will be in a while.
P. He started with ideas from the story when he was doing Deathproof (2007). When did you know you had a book?
R. It started like a novel. The first chapter I had is not here. It was a movie book about Rick Dalton, his movies, something that someone who has followed his career would write in depth. The next chapter was Aldo Ray’s …
P. A very sad part. An alcoholic actor in real life who is filming in Almería.
R. He is a fascinating Hollywood character. There is something poignant about such a public decadence. Where it was and how low it fell. Hollywood is full of stars who live hard moments 20 years later, but Aldo Ray is the patron saint of all of them. He is also a great character. It’s pathetic, but I also think I’ve portrayed it with dignity. I wanted to put him with Cliff, another WWII hero, in similar conditions in a non-air-conditioned hotel in Spain during filming.
I completely reject the idea that a character is defined only by the number of phrases it has.
P. Is Hollywood still shredding lives like that?
R. I may be wrong, but I don’t think so anymore. The equivalent of Aldo Ray in the fifties, and he still had a steep drop left until ’78, maybe it was some actors from the nineties. Maybe there were people who were stars then and are now on television without being protagonists. But it is not Aldo’s situation. There are no people who have been to the top and ended up making pornography or movies that go straight to video.
P. How did you do the research for this book?
R. Everything about the Manson family is in four or five books that have oral history and I tell it again in my own words. But this or that actor’s career, Hollywood venues and shows and movies… I’ve spent my whole life filling my head with that kind of thing. When he was writing the script, he was amazed at how many things he had retained since he was nine years old. I was carrying 70 kilos of extra weight on my brain. I no longer needed them because now people type something on the computer and have the answers immediately. I was proud to have it in my head, but now I wonder why.
There will be a time when people read the book without having seen the movie, but it will be in a while.
P. Do you think this makes this novel the only possible literary adaptation of your films?
R. Yes. I knew you wanted to make a movie novel. I had fallen in love with the idea. I had nine to choose from and this took a bit of pressure off. I thought it was this because it was the most recent, people liked it and the characters have caused a sensation. Also because it contains certain historical aspects of the industry and this city.
P. Why did you put yourself as a character?
R. It just happened. When I came up with the idea for the group of actors to go for a drink after filming, I chose a place I knew. My stepfather played the piano there. I visited him a couple of times. Maybe once at night when he was playing. Normally if he was there it is because he had picked me up from school. My mother was a nurse, but he played in the evenings and was available in the mornings. And he would take me from time to time to collect checks. It was a fascinating place. So I put my stepdad there and got with him. I found it kind of sweet.
P. Did you have to find a voice for your narrative style?
R. I don’t think I struggled much. I’ve been writing scripts for a long time. And it is very easy. It’s something that comes out … A novel is something similar. I don’t mean to say it was difficult, but it wasn’t easy either. You write a lot of chapters, you think you have done very well, you read them again and you realize that they are terrible … but at least you have been able to put some ideas on paper. Then you rewrite it and it comes out a little better. In the scripts I get what I want much faster.
P. Did you learn anything?
R. Yes, I am a better writer after I have finished a novel.
P. He kept a secret for a long time that he was writing a book.
R. I just wanted positive feedback (laughs). I counted it when it had four or five chapters and realized that I was going to write the entire book. Three or four people received the texts. And it was exciting because now I was writing for someone. It was no longer something weird that I did just for myself.
P. Did you sit down to write with some of the criticism of the film in your head? It generated a lot of debate that in the film the character of Margot Robbie had almost no dialogue, for example.
R. I tried not to, because that affected me was to let them win the game.
P. In the novel we now read a flesh and blood Sharon Tate, with a story behind.
R. Yes and no. I completely reject the idea that a character is defined only by the number of phrases it has. I don’t know of any actor who thinks that, unless he’s an egomaniac. I know of no playwright who believes it and, frankly, no critic. It is an absurd argument. I could have made up a best friend to talk to non-stop and meet the quota. Or I could have put it with Dr. Saperstein, your dog, making comments. And that would have resolved the controversy but it would not have made her a better character.
This is a $ 9.99 book. Who the fuck cares what’s inside?
P. Did you feel freer writing a novel?
R. The big difference is that the film cost $ 95 million and was invested even more to sell it around the world. And it does not have a lightning rod in the face of controversies. It’s okay to be part of the conversation, but not to a point where it is a demerit for your business partners. But this is a $ 9.99 book. Who the fuck cares what’s inside?
P. He enters a new territory, the literary one, and critics have said that he writes like Elmore Leonard. Are you comfortable with it?
R. I don’t write like him, but I’m a fan of his. I am happy. I was expecting some critics to be bad, but no, they have been generous to me. Many think it is a fun book. The movie is very funny, but more so the book.
P. Are you trying new ground as the sun is setting on your film career?
R. Yes, but I have always been identified as a writer. And this is the first book of several.
P. He wrote a novel with a 15-month-old boy at home. How?
I don’t write like [Elmore] Leonard, but I’m his fan
R. It worked very well. The pandemic arrived and everyone was in quarantine. I had planned to be home that year for the baby and to work on the book, a lonely job. It has been great. He would go to my office while my wife stayed with him, then ate with them, played games, and bathed him. It has been great.
P. Do you enjoy parenting?
R. I love every second. I have a great time.
P. Have you already played your first movie?
R. Yes. It has been Despicable Me 2.
P. Do you identify with Rick, someone trying to say goodbye to Hollywood?
R. No. He comes from a place full of anxiety and I don’t. He is in obsolescence, where I am nowhere near. One of the funny things about my relationship with Rick is that I like the character and it’s very easy for people to feel sorry for him. Leo [DiCaprio] he knew that I did not identify myself in any way with him. I think he’s a crybaby. His career is not bad. It’s a very good career, it’s just too selfish to appreciate it!
P. ¿Not preparing the ground for your withdrawal?
R. No, on the contrary. If there is something I am saying with this novel it is “Hello!”.
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