Oscars: 10 Things to Know About Best Picture Nominee 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood'

1:53 PM 1/30/2020

by Christy Piña

Quentin Tarantino's love letter to 1960s Los Angeles starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie is up for 10 Academy Awards.

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood BTS - Publicity - H 2019
Andrew Cooper

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, also known as Quentin Tarantino's love letter to 1960s Los Angeles, is going into the 2020 Oscars as one of the most nominated films, racking up 10 mentions from the Film Academy.

The film is one of the nine movies up for the the top prize of the night, best picture, and also received nods for best actor (Leonardo DiCaprio), supporting actor (Brad Pitt), director, original screenplay, cinematography, sound mixing, costume design, production design and sound editing.

Once Upon a Time follows actor Rick Dalton (DiCaprio) and his stuntman Cliff Booth (Pitt), nearing the end of their careers, struggling to find meaningful work in a fast-changing 1969 Hollywood. Rick gained fame and fortune by starring in a 1950s TV Western called Bounty Law, which he left behind to try to pursue a film career, only to find he doesn't recognize the industry around him anymore. His struggles become even more prominent when director Roman Polanski (played by Rafal Zawierucha) and his new wife, up-and-coming actress Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), move in next door to him at the end of Cielo Drive.

From an inside look at how Tarantino is on set to the fate of Rick's career after the film and a look at the main character's mental health, here are 10 behind the scenes facts about the pic, including some spoilers.  

  • Before Editing, the Film Was 4 Hours and 30 Minutes

    Three-time Tarantino film editor Fred Raskin faced a big challenge when the first cut of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood was about two hours longer than it needed to be. Together, Tarantino and Raskin chose what scenes to cut and brought the running time down to its final two hours and 40 minutes.

    In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Raskin admitted that scenes with Julia Butters, who plays Trudi, the child actress Rick guest-stars alongside on the Western series Lancer, were the hardest to cut.

    "When she tells him how terrific he was, that really means the world to him," Raskin told THR. "All he wants is the approval of this 8-year-old girl. She has such high standards." Another Trudi-Rick scene Raskin was especially disappointed to cut was their final phone call. Raskin said it was one of the best conversations Tarantino had ever written.

    The editor's trickiest scene to edit was the conversation Rick and his agent, Marvin Schwarz (Al Pacino), have at Musso & Frank Grill. The scene was originally 28 minutes, and Raskin got it down to 10 by cutting away to clips of Rick's previous movies, which allowed him to play around with different types of films.

    "Not only did I get to cut this dialogue sequence between arguably the two best actors of their respective generations, but I got to do a war movie, I got to do a Western," Raskin said. "Getting to play around with these different genres in the space of what is ultimately a 10-minute scene was a tremendous amount of fun."  

  • Production Designer Barbara Ling Recreated a Number of Historical Spots in L.A.

    Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is an ode to 1960s Los Angeles. In order to give the movie an authentic L.A. feel, production designer Barbara Ling had to rebuild iconic 1960s spots that had since been torn down.

    Pandora's Box, a club on the Sunset Strip, was demolished in 1967. So, when Tarantino told Ling he wanted to include the venue in the film, she started looking for the perfect spot to recreate it, deciding on Hollywood restaurant Joseph's Cafe. Though the owner agreed to let the crew use the outside of the building for shots, he didn't want his walls painted, so Ling ended up wrapping the entire building in vinyl wallpaper.

    "I love that Quentin wanted Pandora's Box because it was a strange location, but iconic at the same time, especially because of the [1966] riots that happened when it was [forced to] close," Ling told THR. "It is a great piece of L.A. history that was torn down, unfortunately, at the end of the '60s, because it was too much of a hangout for hippies."

    The mural of James Dean from his 1956 film Giant was an original made for the movie. Ling said it was a tribute to all the murals that used to decorate building walls across Los Angeles in the '60s. "That particular mural was very close to Quentin's heart. It's just how murals were in the '60s," she said. "There used to be so many more murals. This is the problem with overbuilding; it's amazing how few murals are left."

    For the Van Nuys Drive-In that Cliff lives behind in the movie, Ling made a large-scale miniature because the actual letters would have been too massive to recreate, but they really wanted him to live near the drive-in. "I love that whole environment for Cliff, putting him in such a different world from the [glamorous one] in which he serves as a stuntman," she explained.

    "People have said to me, 'I can't believe you did that for one short shot,'" Ling told THR. "And I said, 'You know what? That's how you make a movie. It's just a lot of small things that make up one long movie.'" 

  • There Were Supposed to Be More Charles Manson Scenes

    In the film, there's only one scene with Charles Manson (Damon Herriman). Charles approaches the Polanski-Tate home, asking for a former resident, music producer Terry Melcher, and his friend, Dennis Wilson from The Beach Boys. Sharon Tate's (Margot Robbie) friend, Jay Sebring (Emile Hirsch), tells Charles that Terry no longer lives there and points him toward the homeowner who lives in the back of the property to see if he knows where Terry moved. But what happens next didn't make the cut for the theatrical release.

    When the movie was released on Blu-ray, it came with deleted scenes, including some more screen time for the infamous cult leader. It shows Charles going behind the Polanski-Tate house and talking to Paul Barabuta, the homeowner, trying to find out where Terry moved. When Paul tells Charles he doesn't know, he leaves, ranting in gibberish, which the real Manson was known to do.

    The deleted scene ends with Charles returning to his Twinkie truck to leave when he looks up and sees Cliff fixing Rick's TV antenna. Charles waves, then rants some more and yells, "Fuck you, Jack!" When he leaves, Cliff says, "What the fuck was that about?"  

  • Quentin Tarantino Is Like a "Big, Enthusiastic Kid"

    During a THR In Studio interview, Herriman talked about what it's like to work with Tarantino. He said the director always gives the perfect amount of feedback on set and makes his actors feel really good. For example, when he's happy with how a scene comes out, he immediately lets the actors know.

    "He's like a big, enthusiastic kid who still loves making movies," Herriman said. "He doesn't give too many notes. He doesn't do too many takes. He seems to know when he's got what he wants, and he moves on."

    On set, Tarantino even goes as far as acting out "a cartoony version" of how he wants a scene to be, which is really helpful for the cast because they get to see what he's looking for.

    "You're watching him do it, and you're like, 'I know exactly what he wants that to be, even though it's not exactly that,'" Herriman added.

    The actor also pointed out that Tarantino's dialogue is just amazing, declaring that it's the best dialogue he's ever said as an actor.  

  • Rick Dalton Probably Didn't Achieve A-List Status

    The central theme in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is Rick and Cliff's dwindling careers. Throughout the film, Rick fantasizes about meeting Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate, in hopes that they would help him break into the film industry. At the end of the film, Sharon invites Rick into her home after he survives the attack by Charles Manson's followers. This ending could have left fans hopeful that Rick would finally get that big break he wanted, but Tarantino's not so sure.

    "What I could really see happened, because it happened to a lot of these guys, is that by the late '70s, early '80s, a lot of these macho ’50s and ’60s television leading men, they showed up on TV shows again but as the older cop who's the boss of the younger cop that sends them out on the missions," Tarantino said.

    However, the writer-director-producer does think Rick may have been more open to roles he would've turned down in previous years.  

  • The Star-Studded Cast Extends Beyond the Lead Roles

    Besides DiCaprio, Pitt, Robbie and Pacino, the film features a star-studded cast, including Bruce Dern, Emile Hirsch, Timothy Olyphant, Kurt Russell, Margaret Qualley, Dakota Fanning, Lena Dunham, Austin Butler, Damian Lewis, Maya Hawke, Sydney Sweeney, Rumer Willis and Michael Madsen.

    Luke Perry's role in Tarantino's ninth film was the actor's last. He took on the role of actor Wayne Maunder, who plays Scott Lancer alongside DiCaprio's Rick on the TV Western LancerPerry died from a stroke in March 2019 at the age of 52. He was best known for playing Dylan McKay on Beverly Hills, 90210, but the actor also had a recurring role as Fred Andrews, Archie's dad, on The CW's Riverdale

    While on set, Butters worked her own script in between scenes, but when a gust of wind blew, the papers went flying. "Luke Perry just ran all over that set, catching the pages and collecting them. He put them in order and he stacked them up nicely," she told THR a few months after his unexpected death.

    Burt Reynolds had intended to appear in the film as George Spahn, owner of Spahn Ranch, where Manson and his followers lived, and the actor even attended the first table read in June 2018. Following Reynolds' death three months later from heart failure at 82, however, Dern took on the role of the ranch owner. 

    Apart from more scenes featuring Manson, the Blu-ray version of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood also revealed James Marsden and Walton Goggins' brief roles. The actors starred in a Red Apple cigarette (Tarantino's fictional brand) commercial and an Old Chattanooga Beer ad, respectively, that were probably going to be inserted throughout the film but didn't make the final cut. 

  • Auditions for Tarantino Were Unconventional

    At the film's premiere in July, a few of the actors who portray Manson family members told THR about their unconventional auditions — from a 12-hour day to writing a monologue from their character's perspective.

    Austin Butler (who plays Tex) was in New York doing a play when Tarantino reached out to him for an audition. Originally, the 28-year-old actor auditioned for two of the characters on Lancer, the TV Western that Rick guest stars on alongside Butters' Trudi. After flying to L.A. on his day off from the play, Butler did a series of scenes for about 12 hours and got the role of Tex that same day. "That was pretty surreal," he said.

    For Maya Hawke's flower-child character, a group of actors received joint callbacks. Tarantino had them all work the scene in different ways with a combination of different people until he found the group that did the scene the way he liked it.

    Some of the actors were even offered the opportunity to do "extra credit" for the roles they were auditioning for, Sydney Sweeney (who plays Snake) told THR, but they didn't know what the extra credit would be at first. The actress wrote a letter in character, while other people wrote monologues for their character and made artwork for Tarantino.  

  • The Film Generated Controversy for Its Portrayals of Sharon Tate and Bruce Lee

    Though Once Upon a Time in Hollywood received plenty of glowing reviews, there were a couple of controversies about how certain real-life stars were portrayed in the film.

    Robbie's Sharon Tate didn't have many lines, though it was the late actress' history that was entirely rewritten as a part of the director's love letter to Tinseltown. When a reporter at Cannes asked Tarantino why Robbie's character had so few lines, he responded, "I reject your hypothesis." 

    In a recent interview with THR, one of the film's producers, Shannon McIntosh, defended the Oscar-nominated actress' lack of lines.

    "The movie is about Rick and Cliff; Sharon is the next-door neighbor to Rick, and Margot was that perfect light and goal for Rick and for what he wanted. She lights up the screen in whatever she does — and I think she lights up the screen [in this film] in a way that we haven't seen before," McIntosh told THR.

    When Sharon's sister Debra Tate heard about the film, she wasn't too happy about it, the producer explained. So, the crew reached out to her, and she ended up becoming their partner during production. "We wanted her to know that [the film's goal was to portray] her life, not her gruesome death," McIntosh continued. "Margot's performance, her lightness and sweetness, is exactly how we want to remember Sharon Tate. And Debra could not be more thankful for how we can now think of Sharon." 

    The film also generated controversy over how Tarantino wrote his portrayal of the late Bruce Lee (played by Mike Moh). Lee's friends and family said he didn't act the way that the writer-director portrayed him. While doing press for the film in Russia, Tarantino responded to the criticism, saying Lee was actually "kind of an arrogant guy." 

    "The way he was talking, I didn't just make a lot of that up," the filmmaker said. "I heard him say things like that, to that effect. If people are saying, 'Well, he never said he could beat up Muhammad Ali,' well, yeah, he did. Not only did he say that, but his wife, Linda Lee, said that in her first biography I ever read. … She absolutely said it."

    In regard to the "friendly" fight that Bruce and Cliff have in the film, Tarantino explained that Pitt could definitely not beat Bruce Lee in a fight, but Cliff is a fictional character. "If I say Cliff can beat Bruce Lee up, he's a fictional character, so he could beat Bruce Lee up," he pointed out.

  • Mark Ulano and Wylie Stateman Have Worked With Tarantino on Numerous Projects

    Mark Ulano has worked on every Tarantino film since 1997's Jackie Brown. He won an Oscar for best sound mixing on Titanic and was nominated for the same award for Inglorious Basterds. This year, Ulano received his second nomination for his work on a Tarantino film and was one of the 2020 Oscars double nominees.

    "There is this innate joy of being at the maximum level of potential in the thing you love to do your whole life, together with a group of people who are in the same place," Ulano said during an episode of THR's Behind the Screen podcast about working with Tarantino's team.

    Similarly, supervising sound editor Wylie Stateman and Tarantino have worked together since Kill Bill: Volume 1 in 2003. Stateman is a nine-time Oscar nominee, with three of his mentions coming for his work on Tarantino films (Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood). 

  • Rick Dalton Has Undiagnosed Bipolar Disorder

    When Tarantino and DiCaprio were working together to find the roots of Rick's character, Tarantino would tell DiCaprio about Rick's past struggles, based on real-life actors of the 1960s. But DiCaprio needed a more concrete example of someone that he could channel to find who Rick really was. That's when Tarantino told him about Pete Duel (Alias Smith and Jones), who died by suicide in 1971.

    "Leo got that," Tarantino said. "Now, we already had Rick a drinker, but the whole thing about undiagnosed bipolar and not knowing how that works, and the weird pendulum swings of emotion you would have … that became a really interesting thing that we thought Rick could deal through. And that gave Leo a good, solid ground in which to work and build a character and have a subtext going on inside of scenes that doesn't have to revolve around the story of the scene."

    Rick's breakdowns throughout the film and his intense drinking were inspired by the real-life Duel, who had similar habits before he died. Never overtly establishing Rick's bipolar disorder was intentional — they wanted to show it through his actions.