On Tuesday evening, Margot Robbie, Austin Butler and other Once Upon a Time in Hollywood castmembers held an intimate dinner in Hollywood to celebrate a donation by Levi’s (many pieces from the brand were used in the film’s costuming) to Robbie’s favorite charity Youngcare. The partnership was facilitated by the Quentin Tarantino film’s costume designer Arianne Phillips’ Red Carpet Advocacy agency.
Before the dinner, Robbie, Butler and Phillips sat down with The Hollywood Reporter to talk about denim’s role in the film, their favorite Levi’s moments, all the bare feet and more.
What’s your most memorable Levi’s moment?
“I’m digging my Levi’s jacket right now. I have to say, I’ve got my name on the back and I’m feeling pretty cool. That’s my moment: Right now!” said Robbie, nodding to the personalized Levi’s denim jacket she was wearing with “Robbie” spelled out in Hollywood sign-inspired letters on the back.
Butler jumped in: “That’s your moment? Awww, that’s really good. Every year on Christmas, my mother would give me a Christmas ornament and she would write the date on each one. When I was probably 3 or 4 [years old], because I think this was ’94, as soon as I could start talking, I would basically say what I wanted to wear. I called Levi’s ‘pocket pants,’ so I said, ‘I want to wear my pocket pants.’ So my mother took a pair of actual Levi’s and sewed a little tiny pair of jeans and then took the little red Levi’s tag off and sewed that on as well, and so I still have that on my Christmas tree.”
“That is amazing, wow!” said Robbie.
Can you talk about the role of denim in the film?
“Well, that’s the cool thing about Levi’s,” said Phillips. “We all grew up with it. It’s a part of our culture. You think about 1969, and Levi’s and denim had gone from workwear to fashion. It was actually a moniker and a signature of the youth culture. There are so many dress codes in the ‘60s. You couldn’t go to Disneyland with long hair. And you couldn’t wear Levi’s to Musso & Frank’s in 1969; you’d have to wear a jacket and a tie. So when you see the Manson family or Sharon [Tate], any youth culture, you see them wearing denim. It was like you knew what tribe you belonged to — kind of like punk rock in its own way.”
“Declaring what you were about!” added Robbie.
“Yes, it was like the counter-culture,” continued Phillips. “Protesting the war, freedom of expression. Levi’s is really in the fabric [of society]. And also it’s a California company from San Francisco. As a costume designer, I’m often asked to put brands in movies, and I’m not about product placement; I’m always about telling a story. But Levi’s is one of the only classics that’s still around, and I’m really proud that I was able to have vintage Levi’s in this movie. It makes sense because it tells our story and that’s what costumes are about.”
How did your character’s style influence your performance?
“Clothing has such an effect on psyche,” said Butler. “Even the way boots feel on my feet, as opposed to sneakers, make me feel a certain way. I actually wore these [Luchesse western] boots in the film. And just the feeling when you’re walking and you walk on wood floors and you hear your boots, it really [resonates].” [The 27-year-old Anaheim native plays the character Charles “Tex” Watson in the movie.]
“Laurence Olivier said he always started with the character from the shoes up!” said Phillips.
“Yes! Uta Hagen said it’s all the way down to the underwear!” said Butler, referring to the late actress and famed acting teacher. “And Luchesse is a Texas brand, actually!”
“How appropriate for a local Texan like yourself!” shouted Robbie, laughing. “Well, I said it before, but I definitely gravitated towards the yellows. Yellow’s my happy color and I just wanted to be happy as Sharon. So there were a lot of costumes in that palette.”
There’s been a lot of buzz about the bare feet in the film. How does that speak to the freedom of the time and to Tate?
“Sharon apparently hated wearing shoes and she would sometimes put rubber bands around her ankles to make it look like she was wearing sandals so she could get into restaurants,” said Robbie. “I feel the same! I’m a Gold Coast girl. You can get away going to most places barefoot.”
“Lots of foot shots in a Quentin Tarantino film,” said Phillips. “Shoes and bare feet are important! I’ve learned that.”