Leonardo DiCaprio had a bit of hesitation getting fully into the mind of Rick Dalton.
Playing the fictional ’70s actor in Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” DiCaprio apparently was a “little nervous” to have a full-on temper tantrum as Rick during a tense monologue sequence. The scene involved Rick (DiCaprio) storming off set after forgetting his lines and icing his face in his trailer.
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“What happened there was, I knew I wanted to have that scene but I didn’t want to write it out. I didn’t want it to have to be dialogue he remembered,” writer-director Tarantino said during the “2 Bears, 1 Cave” podcast (via ScreenRant). “So I got Leo and I was saying, ‘So look, here’s what I want to do: I want you to come in having fucked up on set not knowing your lines and I want you to come in the trailer and have a whole mad anger at yourself, detest fest, a complete temper tantrum against yourself. Just a gigantic pity party where you just lose your shit, but against yourself, nobody else. And I want it to have the randomness of an improv, it just comes out of you.'”
Tarnatino continued, “Now, what I did do though, is I gave him different subjects he could rant about: ‘Here’s a subject, here’s a subject, here’s something you could say.’ And he goes, ‘Great.’ He was a little nervous. It was actually very cute that he was nervous that day because it’s on him and he knows that.”
The Academy Award winner added, “So we’re shooting this scene and I’m right by the camera and we just do a few different takes and it was great. And then, from time to time, if I thought he ran out of something I could throw something his way.”
In fact, the whole premise of the scene was rewritten at DiCaprio’s request. Tarantino told Deadline in 2019 that the original scene did not include DiCaprio’s Rick forgetting his lines, and the trailer breakdown did not happen. DiCaprio suggested to Tarantino that Rick would screw up on the “Lancer” TV show set.
“Leo said, ‘I think I need to fuck it up and forget the lines,'” Tarantino recalled. “I just wanted to do my ‘Lancer’ scene, a way to do this Western through the back door. [Leo] said, ‘I know I’m kind of fucking up your scene, but I think that would be good for the character.’ I saw it as him ruining my fun, basically, but I say, ‘Fine. I’ll write a version, and we’ll do the ‘Lancer’ scene straight, and with the fuck-up, knowing that in the editing room I was going to do what I wanted to.”
The “Reservoir Dogs” auteur added, “As soon as we did that second version, the take that is in the movie, I was like, ‘OK, OK, we’re obviously doing this now.’ He was right. It was terrific and it gave the whole thing an arc that worked wonderfully.”
The “Travis Bickle sequence,” as Tarantino called it in reference to Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver,” only further proved how DiCaprio is “one of the most if not the most talented actor of his generation, and the most naturally gifted actor I’ve ever worked with.”
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