EXCLUSIVE: Since Saturday morning when The New York Times published Uma Thurman’s depiction of assault at the hands of Harvey Weinstein, the writer/director most closely associated with her biggest successes has been the one taking a turn in the barrel. Quentin Tarantino, who directed Thurman in Pulp Fiction and two installments of Kill Bill, has been getting hammered on social media. The article reported — and showed footage — of a disturbing car crash that Thurman endured in the last days of production on Kill Bill, and it also detailed that he personally spit on her in one scene and choked her in another.
I offered Tarantino the opportunity to clarify because at this moment, stories get written and then picked up across the globe, often getting twisted to suit convenient narratives in this #MeToo moment. Here, Tarantino discusses in great detail the article and his long and complex relationship with Thurman, and in so doing, he illuminates how the dynamic between director and his actor works and why it can seem so awkward when given brief description in an article. “I am guilty, for putting her in that car, but not the way that people are saying I am guilty of it,” Tarantino told me. “It’s the biggest regret of my life, getting her to do that stunt. There are certain things I can’t get too far into the weeds on, but I will any questions you have about it.” Buckle up.
DEADLINE: That New York Times article in which Uma Thurman finally told her story was a gut punch for anyone to read. Particularly because the allegations against Harvey Weinstein were overshadowed by footage of the car accident she endured on Kill Bill. Since it was all bundled into her accusations of sexual assault against Weinstein, there seemed to be a connective subtext of male anger toward a woman, and the idea she was pressed to ‘just get in the car and do this.’ Thurman said she didn’t want to drive the car in that scene after someone told her it wasn’t up to snuff, and then we see that crash footage which is very upsetting.
TARANTINO: Which is footage that I gave her.
DEADLINE: What was your initial reaction when you read that piece?
TARANTINO: I knew that the piece was happening. Uma and I had talked about it, for a long period of time, deciding how she was going to do it. She wanted clarity on what happened in that car crash, after all these years. She asked, could I get her the footage? I had to find it, 15 years later. We had to go through storage facilities, pulling out boxes. Shannon McIntosh found it. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t think we were going to be able to find it. It was clear and it showed the crash and the aftermath. I was very happy to get it to Uma.
The thing is, Uma had people she wanted to indict, for that cover-up. Part of my job on the piece was to do an interview with Maureen Dowd, and back up Uma’s claims. And we never hooked up. Me and Dowd never hooked up. I read the article and basically it seemed like all the other guys lawyered up, so they weren’t even allowed to be named. And, through mostly Maureen Dowd’s prose, I ended up taking the hit and taking the heat.
DEADLINE: Fair to say that when you gave Uma that footage, you expected it to be a visual aid in this article?
TARANTINO: I figured that eventually it would be used whenever she had her big piece. Also, there was an element of closure. She had been denied it, from Harvey Weinstein, being able to even see the footage. I wanted to deliver it to her, so she could look at it. So she could see it and help her with her memory of the incident. I never talked to Uma about this, but I don’t exactly know exactly what caused the crash, and Uma doesn’t know exactly what caused the crash. She has her suspicions and I have mine. I thought, if I get this footage to her and she puts it out there in the world, that a crash expert can look at it and determine exactly what happened on that road.
DEADLINE: You watched the footage published within the article. What’s your feeling?
TARANTINO: See, all that is old news. I saw the footage when I found it. Seeing it in the article didn’t do anything. Let me get right to what I want to get across: what happened that day that Uma got into that crash.
I remember this day very well. It was one of the last days of the shoot, and up until this point it was a great day. It was the second day of filming the Michael Parks scene, the Esteban Vihaio scene. He was amazing in the scene and so was Uma. Literally, the last shot of the day was going to be this driving shot. We wrapped up the Esteban Vihaio scene and we were very happy about it. It was in a weird dubious Mexican cantina, and that was kind of exciting. We even had a New Yorker reporter, Larissa MacFarquhar, who almost went with us to the next shot. But since it was the last shot, and none of us thought it would be a big deal, she went home.
I start hearing from the production manager, Bennett Walsh, that Uma is trepidatious about doing the driving shot. None of us ever considered it a stunt. It was just driving. None of us looked at it as a stunt. Maybe we should have, but we didn’t. I’m sure when it was brought up to me that I rolled my eyes and was irritated. But I’m sure I wasn’t in a rage and I wasn’t livid. I didn’t go barging into Uma’s trailer, screaming at her to get into the car. I can imagine maybe rolling my eyes and thinking, we spent all this money taking this stick shift Karmann Ghia and changing the transmission just for this shot. Anyone who knows Uma knows that going into her trailer and screaming at her to do something is not the way to get her to do something. That’s a bad tactic, and I’d been shooting the movie with her for an entire year by this time. I would never react to her this way.
Instead, what happened was I heard her trepidation. And despite that we had set up everything in this shot, I listened to it. What I did was, I drove down this road, this one-lane little strip of road with foliage on either side, in Mexico. I drove down it, hoping against hope that it would be easy and safe enough for Uma to drive. So we’re going down the road and I’m looking at it, watching it, and I thought, this is going to be okay. This is a straight shot. There are no weird dips, there were no gully kinds of things, no hidden S-curves. Nothing like that. It was just a straight shot.
Uma had a license. I knew she was a shaky driver, but she had a license. When I was all finished [driving], I was very happy, thinking, she can totally do this, it won’t be a problem. I go to Uma’s trailer. Her makeup person, Ilona Herman, was there. Far from me being mad, livid and angry, I was all…smiley. I said, Oh, Uma, it’s just fine. You can totally do this. It’s just a straight line, that’s all it is. You get in the car at [point] number one, and drive to number two and you’re all good.
DEADLINE: Didn’t she have to drive fast?
TARANTINO: The idea was for her to drive around 30-45 mph, just to get the hair blowing. With all the foliage on either side, her driving 35 would seem like 60. But there were no obstacles, it was a straight shot.
I came in there all happy telling her she could totally do it, it was a straight line, you will have no problem. Uma’s response was…”Okay.” Because she believed me. Because she trusted me. I told her it would be okay. I told her the road was a straight line. I told her it would be safe. And it wasn’t. I was wrong. I didn’t force her into the car. She got into it because she trusted me. And she believed me.
So, it’s decided she would get in the car. I had not heard about anything about a guy from transpo saying that the car didn’t work. Which would be a strange thing for a guy from transpo to say, because they’re the ones responsible for delivering safe vehicles. If a guy from transpo had something to say about an unsafe car, he should be telling the First AD, the production manager or the producer. Uma goes off to get ready. I go off, after my trip and talking to Uma, to number one, ready for her to show up. I arrive and then a question develops.
Would it be okay if we had the car drive the opposite direction? Because the lighting would be better because it was the end of the day. I’m guessing on this, but let’s say we were going to do the car from east to west? Could we go from west to east? It didn’t affect the shot. I didn’t see how it would affect anything. A straight road is a straight road.
We changed our number one, so the car would be driving in the opposite direction from the way I had gone down. And that was the beginning of where the crash happened.
DEADLINE: You road tested it one way, and she drove the reverse way. It seemed from the footage that there was a twist right before she hit the tree.
TARANTINO: That is exactly what happened. I thought, a straight road is a straight road and I didn’t think I needed to run the road again to make sure there wasn’t any difference, going in the opposite direction. Again, that is one of the biggest regrets of my life. As a director, you learn things and sometimes you learn them through horrendous mistakes. That was one of my most horrendous mistakes, that I didn’t take the time to run the road, one more time, just to see what I would see.
She showed up, in a good mood. We did the shot. And she crashed. At first, no one really knew what happened. After the crash, when Uma went to the hospital, I was feeling in total anguish at what had happened. I walked the road, going the opposite direction. And in walking the road, going in the other direction…I don’t know how a straight road turns into an un-straight road, but it wasn’t as straight. It wasn’t the straight shot that it had been, going the other way. There is a little mini S-curve that almost seemed like it opened up to a mini fork in the road.
That is just not the way it looked going in the opposite direction. Maybe the opposite direction there was kind of an optical illusion. This other way, there’s a little bend and if you look at the footage. That’s where she loses control. She’s flying along, and she thinks it’s a straight road and as far as she can see, it is a straight road out her windshield. And then it takes this little S-curve, and she’s not prepared for it. And it throws the car out of control.
DEADLINE: What is that moment like, when you see the star of your movie crash?
TARANTINO: Just horrible. Watching her fight for the wheel…remembering me hammering about how it was safe and she could do it. Emphasizing that it was a straight road, a straight road…the fact that she believed me, and I literally watched this little S-curve pop up. And it spins her like a top. It was heartbreaking. Beyond one of the biggest regrets of my career, it is one of the biggest regrets of my life. For a myriad of reasons.
DEADLINE: Can you elaborate?
TARANTINO: It affected me and Uma for the next two to three years. It wasn’t like we didn’t talk. But a trust was broken. A trust broken over a year of shooting, of us doing really gnarly stuff. Doing really big stunt stuff. I wanted her to do as much as possible and we were trying to take care of her and we pulled it off. She didn’t get hurt. And then the last four days, in what we thought would be a simple driving shot, almost kills her.
When you start doing the autopsy on this stuff... When a big stunt goes wrong, you kind of knew what you were getting into in the first place. When a little thing like this goes out of control, and you’re trying to start doing the postmortem on it, you realize there are a lot of little things that present themselves in a bad way. The road had more sand, and less dirt, than we actually anticipated. We changed the direction. That was a bad idea, to do that without checking it out. I think ultimately it is the reason she crashed. Although, by mounting a camera on the back of this little Karmann Ghia, it made the car, in the back, way too heavy once it got in trouble. At a certain point, this Karmann Ghia was almost hydroplaning on the sand. You can even see that in the shot. She doesn’t drive into the tree. The car just goes into a spin, in the sand, and it slides into the tree.
DEADLINE: As you and Uma had conversations recently about how she was going to present herself and describe her experience with Harvey Weinstein, it sounds like you were an accomplice in helping her tell her story to the New York Times, and then it spun out of control, much like that car.
TARANTINO: I was absolutely being her accomplice, talking through it with her, working my own memory, figuring out the timeline even as to when the assault happened. Like, if this was that, that means it was in 1996. Helping all that come out. Something else Uma was misunderstood about [in the article], and I don’t think she realized it until last night while we were talking, was she feels that a whole cover-up happened. After the car incident. She feels it’s very possible the car was destroyed, at Harvey Weinstein’s insistence, and at Bennett Walsh and Lawrence Bender’s execution. I didn’t know about any of that, after the fact. Me and Uma weren’t talking about stuff like that, the aftermath of her being in the hospital, coming out and wrapping up the movie. Frankly, I didn’t think about the car, after the crash, one iota.
Because to me, it was an insurance situation after that. Insurance would come in, do an investigation, and if there was something wrong with the car, they would find out and it would be handled. Writer/directors don’t deal with the insurance company; production managers do. Producers, business affairs people at Miramax deal with the insurance company.
Uma thought I had acquiesced to them not letting her see the footage. I didn’t know any of that was necessarily going on. I knew they weren’t letting her see the footage, but I didn’t know she thought I was part of that. She had just told me they hadn’t let her see the footage.
She got in touch with me this year and said, I really do need to see that footage. We need to make this right. I agreed with her and went out on a herculean task to find the footage. We found the storage facility where we had a bunch of stuff. Again, this was 15 years ago, and we pull out of the boxes. Shannon McIntosh goes through all the boxes. First, we find something I had already seen, which was the edited footage, so you don’t actually see the crash. Then, we found the crash footage. I was so happy when we found the crash footage, because I was going to be able to present it to Uma.
DEADLINE: There was the inference in that article that this was held back from her so she couldn’t sue after damaging her knees and her back. She had to sign…
TARANTINO: Yes. I can only imagine that was Harvey’s mindset on it.
DEADLINE: It seems remarkable that any of that footage survived.
TARANTINO: I can’t tell you…it was literally my happiest day this year when Shannon found that footage and sent it over to me, and I knew I was going to be able to present it to Uma. I didn’t think for a moment she was just going to sit on it. She had her footage and she could show it to the world.
DEADLINE: She also made reference to telling you the things Harvey Weinstein did to make her feel so uncomfortable. You spoke about this when it had to do with your ex-girlfriend, Mira Sorvino. But what about that part of the story? About Harvey Weinstein forcing himself on Uma Thurman?
TARANTINO: Well, I dealt with it. The thing about it is, the good things I did are in the Maureen Dowd article. However, they are de-emphasized to not make any impression. Mira had told me what Harvey had done to her. I couldn’t believe it. We were now boyfriend and girlfriend and he was staying away. And I chalked it up to the idea that Harvey had a big crush on her, that there was this big Svengali moment going on, where she was at the Toronto Film Festival, the toast of the town because of Mighty Aphrodite, everyone is buzzing. And he’s the Flo Ziegfeld, presenting this new star. And that he had an overinflated sense of his own sexuality. She told me those stories. I was horrified for her and frankly embarrassed for him, that he had to make desperate moves like that. Me and Mira became boyfriend and girlfriend and he backed off, all the way. I figured he was having a big crush on Mira.
Then, while we were getting ready to do Kill Bill, Uma tells me that he had done the same thing to her. That was when I realized there was a pattern, in Harvey’s luring and pushing attacks. So I made Harvey apologize to Uma. In the Maureen Dowd article it says, that is when Quentin confronted Harvey? Well, my confrontation was saying, you have to go to Uma. This happened. You have to apologize to her and she has to accept your apology if we’re going to do Kill Bill together.
DEADLINE: You made that apology a condition of making that movie and continuing your relationship with his studio? Did you discuss it in calm tones, or were you in his face?
TARANTINO: They were insistent tones. They became more insistent because, naturally, Harvey tried to de-emphasize things and say things weren’t exactly they way they were…”well, she was doing this, and she’s saying that..” But that didn’t work, because I knew she wasn’t lying. There wasn’t another side to this story. There was this story. Harvey was really good at saying, well, the reality is there was this, that or the other thing…and frankly, if you don’t know the people who are being talked about, you could give somebody the benefit of the doubt. I this case, I wasn’t giving Harvey the benefit of the doubt.
I knew he was lying, that everything Uma was saying was the truth. When he tried to wriggle out of it, and how things actually happened, I never bought his story. I said, I don’t believe you. I believe her. And if you want to do Kill Bill, you need to make this right.
DEADLINE: Were you there when he apologized?
TARANTINO: No, I wasn’t. But I knew from Uma that it happened. It definitely happened.
DEADLINE: People are looking back and feeling like Harvey Weinstein was able to do this so often for so many years because it was kept quiet. When you look back with the benefit of hindsight, what’s your feeling?
TARANTINO: About how Harvey was able to do all the things he did? Oh, my God…I’ve already dealt with my…complacency…in chalking it up to this harmless form of…for some reason, that now feels wrong...back in 1999, it was easier to chalk up what he was doing to this mid-‘60s, Mad Men, Bewitched era of an executive chasing the secretary around the desk. Now, it’s like…as if that was ever okay! One of the things that has happened in this whole thing is there is a lot of staring in the mirror. And thinking about, how did you think about things during that time? What did you do in that time? What was your feeling about things, at that time? I remember when Mira told me about the time Harvey tried to get up in her apartment. I remember being shocked and appalled and that that was going on in today’s Hollywood. The big question I keep asking myself is, when did that shock go away?
DEADLINE: In this article, Uma complains about being choked by you in a scene…
TARANTINO: Let me address that. According to Uma…You notice there are not quotes around that. Uma didn’t share that with Maureen Dowd. Maureen Dowd interviewed other people on the set who mentioned it to her. If you notice, all that choking and spitting stuff is not in quotes from Uma. It’s part of Maureen Dowd’s prose. For some reason there is a lot of hay being made out of this. Which I don’t understand, at all. You’ve seen movies where somebody spits in somebody’s face?
TARANTINO: Well, that’s what this was. A scene where somebody spits in somebody’s face. I can explain why I did exactly what I did, but my question is, what’s the fucking problem?
DEADLINE: Well, the context…
TARANTINO: What do you think the problem is?
DEADLINE: The wording in the article: Uma says that in Kill Bill, Tarantino had done the honors with some of the sadistic flourishes himself, spitting in her face…there seems to be a subtext of some anger, or not treating a woman the way she deserved to be treated.
TARANTINO: So that’s where it is coming from. We’ve all seen movies where people get spit in the face. I’m assuming if it was a two-shot and Michael Madsen spat in her face, there probably wouldn’t be an issue. But that wasn’t the shot. The shot was, Michael Madsen had snuff juice. And you see him spit out a stream of snuff juice. Cut to Uma’s face, on the ground and you see it hit her.
Naturally, I did it. Who else should do it? A grip? One, I didn’t trust Michael Madsen because I don’t know where the spit’s going to go, even had a thing there, we were going to try and do it with a plunger and some water. But if you add snuff juice to water, it didn’t look right. It didn’t look like spit, when it hit her when we tried that. It needed to be that mix of saliva and the brown juice. So I asked Uma. I said, I think I need to do it. I’ll only do it twice, at the most, three times. But I can’t have you laying here, getting spit on, again and again and again, because somebody else is messing it up by missing. It is hard to spit on people, as it turns out.
Now, I love Michael, he’s a terrific actor, but I didn’t trust him with this kind of intricate work, of nailing this. So the idea is, I’m doing it, I’m taking responsibility. Also, I’m the director, so I can kind of art direct this spit. I know where I want it to land. I’m right next to the camera. So, boom! I do it. Now, if I screw up and I keep missing, once we get to that third one, if she doesn’t want to do it anymore, well then, that’s on me.
Frankly if I asked an actor, a grip or a stunt guy, "Hey Charlie, can you spit on Uma’s face for this shot?" Charlie’s going to be so intimidated that first take that he’s going to fu*k it up. And he’ll probably be intimidated on his second take and maybe by the fourth or fifth time, he’ll get his sh*t together. In that instance, we did our three takes, and Uma said, if you really need a fourth one, go ahead, do a fourth one.
DEADLINE: What about the description of you choking Uma with the chain…
TARANTINO: In the case of the choking, when Gogo [Chiaki Kuryama] throws her chain ball at the bride, and the chain wraps around her neck, and then she’s getting choked by it... Frankly, I wasn’t sure how we were going to shoot that scene. Wrap a chain around the neck, you’ve got to see choking. I was assuming that when we did it, we would have maybe a pole behind Uma that the chain would be wrapped around so it wouldn’t be seen by the camera, at least for the wide shot. But then it was Uma’s suggestion. To just wrap the thing around her neck, and choke her. Not forever, not for a long time. But it’s not going to look right. 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.
I was the one on the other end of the chain and we kind of only did it for the close-ups. And we pulled it off. Now, that was her idea. Consequently, I realize…that is a real thing. When I did Inglourious Basterds, and I went to Diane [Kruger], and I said, look, I’ve got to strangle you. If it’s just a guy with his hands on your neck, not putting any kind of pressure and you’re just doing this wiggling death rattle, it looks like a normal movie strangulation. It looks movie-ish. But you’re not going to get the blood vessels bulging, or the eyes filling it with tears, and you’re not going to get the sense of panic that happens when your air is cut off. What I would like to do, with your permission, is just…commit to choking you, with my hands, in a closeup. We do it for 30 seconds or so, and then I stop. If we need to do it a second time, we will. After that, that’s it. Are you down to committing to it so we can get a really good look. It’ll be twice, and only for this amount of time, and the stunt guy was monitoring the whole thing.
Diane said, yeah sure. She even said on film in an interview, it was a strange request but by that point I trusted Quentin so much that, sure. We did our two times, and then like Uma with the spitting thing, Diane said, okay, if you need to do it once more, you can. That was an issue of me asking the actress, can we do this to get a realistic effect. And she agreed with it, she knew it would look good and she trusted me to do it. I would ask a guy the same thing. In fact, I would probably be more insistent with a guy.
DEADLINE: You spoke with Uma after this article appeared. Where do you come out at the end of this. Do you feel that the two of you are okay, now?
TARANTINO: We’ve been okay. Uma was in turmoil about the uprising against me this whole weekend. She blames me for not talking to Maureen Dowd, saying it’s your own damn fault. She never meant this to roll over onto me. We’ve been talking about it ad nauseum and I feel bad because she has been doing a Broadway play at the same time. The whole weekend, we’ve been talking. The uproar that happened against me, she was not prepared for. We have a long, complicated history. We have been dealing with it for 22 years. We’re both one of the closest people in each other’s lives. So it was rather shocking to read this article, where the headline is about Uma’s anger, and lumping me into her anger about Harvey. As much detail as they went into, no one seemed to care about the Harvey stuff.
DEADLINE: If someone was reading into that article and came away feeling that Uma Thurman deserved more respect than she was accorded in the shooting of Kill Bill, what would you say to that?
TARANTINO: I couldn’t have respected Uma more during the making of the movie. We worked for over a year. We had three months of training together. Look, what happened with the producers and production manager handling the post-accident seems dubious. I don’t know the answers to what happened, but she convinced me it is dubious. At the very least, it’s Harvey acting paranoid and creating a situation because he didn’t want her to have the footage. That’s the very least of it. “I can’t trust that women with that footage.” That for sure happened, but probably would be the very least of it.
We held hands on this movie all the way through the entire march of it. We made it side by side and one of the things that me and Uma are lamenting is, this tarnishes Kill Bill’s legacy somewhat. It tarnishes the legacy of what the two of us did together.
DEADLINE: Your careers are so intertwined, between the two Kill Bill films and Pulp Fiction.
TARANTINO: Me and Uma had our issues about the crash. She blamed me for the crash and she had a right to blame me for the crash. I didn’t mean to do it. I talked her into getting in the car, I assured her the road was safe. And it wasn’t. The car might even have been dubious too even if I didn’t know that then. We had our issues about it.
We weren’t estranged. But we were over each other for a couple of years. Oddly enough, when The New York Times did a series on famous director and their collaborator series, one was me and Uma. I remember being backstage, me with my people and Uma with hers. We were pleasant but not like the close friends we had been. We weren’t chummy like we’d been after this cooling-off, this estrangement. Guess who should be the monitor of this New York Times piece: Larissa MacFarquhar, the New Yorker reporter who’d been on the Kill Bill set that fateful day. This was half a year after Kill Bill 2 had come out. We go up on stage, we’re going to do the show, and at some point doing that piece, me and Uma started talking in that back and forth verbiage, in a way we hadn’t in a long time. She started making fun of me, teasing me, and next thing I knew we were talking like Quentin and Uma again. The audience enjoyed our banter, and we kind of found each other again. We found each other on the stage and we had a big dinner with our friends and it was really cool.
Some time, shortly after that, we had a big dinner in the Soho House in New York and there we dealt with all the car stuff, and all the resentments she had toward me. The things she felt I could have done better in protecting her in that movie. And we hashed it all out, put it behind her and we’ve been fantastic friends ever since.
DEADLINE: Was that why she came to you to help tell the story we read on Sunday?
DEADLINE: How are you dealing with the reaction?
TARANTINO: I’ve tried not to dive into the reaction too desperately. It seemed the reactions were kind of hysterical. I didn’t think the New York Times piece was absolutely horrible, it was all the other articles, extrapolating from what they thought the New York Times piece was saying. And there became this narrative out there. Are these asshole male auteurs out of control? Can no one tell them no? At what price, art? Owen Gleiberman writes a piece saying Quentin needs to say what he was thinking, and what was on his mind when he forced Uma to get into that car!
DEADLINE: And now you have.
TARANTINO: I kind of agree with that narrative, except I didn’t feel I was guilty of it.
DEADLINE: Well even after you’ve gone through this in such detail, it is hard to predict what the narrative will be. It seems that right now, people wake up in the morning eager to see who they’re going to feel offended by…
TARANTINO: I get all that. You can never judge the first response, which will be yays and nays and then maybe it calms down. But I feel like I’ve been honest here and told the truth, and it feels really good after two days of misrepresentation, to be able to say it out loud. Whatever comes of it, I’ve said my piece. I’ve got big shoulders and I can handle it.
DEADLINE: One final question. You alluded to the fact that when you and Uma choreographed what her piece would be, there were people who would be incriminated and the piece avoided them.
TARANTINO: Uma in her Instagram today called out the people she felt were the culprits. Harvey, Lawrence [Bender] and Bennett Walsh. Harvey and Lawrence and Ben lawyered up and they seemed to keep themselves from being named in the piece. Their names were actually redacted from the piece. Whenever Uma said Lawrence, The New York Times redacted it out.
DEADLINE: So where did that leave you?
TARANTINO: Well I’m kind of left representing everybody.