Before she was cast for a significant role in Quentin Tarantino's the long-awaited ninth film, Julia Butters had no idea who Quentin Tarantino was. She also didn't know the names Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, two of the 10-year-old actress's co-stars in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. And though she's a relatively new face in movies (she's been acting in TV roles since she was even younger), Butters might be Hollywood's real star.
She appears about half way through the movie as one of Rick Dalton's (DiCaprio) young co-stars. Butters plays a young actress in a Western who prefers to be called by her character's name at all times on set. She's strong, she's smart, she puts Dalton in his place in some of the film's greatest moments. She also teaches him a valuable lesson about professionalism and resilience. When a rejuvenated Dalton gives it his all in a scene, she leans over to him afterward and says, "That was the best acting I've ever seen in my whole life." An emotional Dalton, with tears in his eyes, sits back and cherishes the compliment.
It's a pivotal moment in the film, one that wouldn't have been possible without Butters herself, who is not only wise beyond her years, but talented beyond her years as well.
In an interview with Esquire—one of her first ever—she talks to me about what it was like working with DiCaprio, Pitt, Tarantino, and Luke Perry.
Esquire: So tell me how Quentin Tarantino found you.
Butters: He was writing the script, and he likes to have the TV on when he's writing, just for noise. And my show, American Housewife, was on. I was reciting this monologue called "Bloody Becky." It was this scary story that I'm telling my other classmates. So he started watching it and thought he would audition me.
ESQ: That's amazing. Obviously you must have done great in the audition.
JB: The audition was amazing. We had so much fun. We laughed so hard that my mom actually had to leave. We were just having so much fun. So he actually called me in to this glass room where he would tell me a little bit about the character before we recited the lines. And he said, "Well, when I was writing it," and I said, "Oh, you wrote it? Well done." Because I didn't know who Quentin Tarantino was.
ESQ: How was it working with Leonardo DiCaprio?
JB: He was very protective. And when all the other guys were swearing, he would say, "Whoa, hey, whoa." And then he turned to my mom and I and he said, "I'm going to keep these guys in line." So he gave them a talking to about not swearing in front of the child.
ESQ: There's a scene where he has to throw you to the ground, was it scary?
JB: It was the best day of my life, honestly. I'd never done anything like it, so it was a really new and awesome experience.
ESQ: You tell Leo's character in the movie that it was the best acting you've seen in your whole life. Was it really?
JB: It was the best day of my life. So I basically wasn't acting when I said that. That's the best acting I've ever seen in my whole life. He was so nice. On every take, he would say, every time, "I'm going to ask you if you're okay, because I'm throwing you on this floor. I don't want, I would never forgive myself if I ever hurt my princess." And I was just like, "Okay."
ESQ: How many times did you have to do that!?
JB: He probably threw me on the floor a matter of 25 times, I guess.
ESQ: Oh no that must have been tough!
JB: Yeah, sore hands. But (stuntwoman and Hollywood co-star) Zoe Bell was there the entire time. We love Zoe.
ESQ: Luke Perry was also in that scene.
JB: Oh my gosh, he was so fatherly. I gave him a pottery piece with a flower on it. And I found it in just this rock area on the floor, by the swamp in Universal Studios. So I gave it to him. We were always talking there, because he played my brother. And so I gave it to him and he said, "Oh, thank you." And then later at the wrap party, he took me aside and he pulled it out of his pocket and he said, "I'll cherish this forever."
ESQ: That is such a sweet story. How was it working with Quentin?
JB: Oh my gosh, it was so cool! When he called me with the news he said, “I’m not going to treat you like a kid. I’m going to treat you like an actor.” And then he also said, "Do you want to know Rick's side of the story or your side of the story?" And I said, "Definitely mine, because I'm not supposed to know a lot about Rick." And he said, "That's definitely an actor's answer."
ESQ: That's amazing. So what did he tell you about your character?
JB: He told me about the Lancer show (the 1960s Western on which her character is based). He actually sent me the disc of the actual TV show that was on. It was a real TV show. It was actually really good. A lot of people I think don't really like it, because it's old. But I don't know, I really liked it.
ESQ: Your character was so cool and strong and smart.
JB: She actually taught me things, not only Rick, but me too. Kind of just being professional. She taught me everything, really. She taught me about how you're supposed to do your job.
ESQ: So you didn't know who Quentin was, so I guess you'd never seen any of his movies.
JB: Of course not. He definitely does not make movies for kids. And I still haven't seen any of his movies, and don't plan to for awhile. But I did do research with dialogue scenes from some of his movies like Kill Bill or Pulp Fiction.
ESQ: Did you know anything about Leo before you did the movie?
JB: No. I hadn't watched Titanic yet, and I watched it a long time after I met him. But I hadn't watched any of his films, neither Quentin or Brad's.
ESQ: Did you like Titanic?
JB: Yes. It's really sad, but Leo is so good.
ESQ: How much of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood have you seen?
JB: I've actually seen most of it, of course, not all of it. It's a Tarantino film. But I've seen most of it. This one was actually surprisingly chill.
ESQ: That's a good way of putting it.
JB: Yeah, more kid friendly than his others, apparently.
ESQ: When did you first meet Brad and Leo and everyone?
JB: It was at the table read. Leo came in, and he was like, "Oh hi, it's nice to meet you." He introduced himself to everyone. And Quentin was very happy to see him, as everyone else was too. He sat through the table read, that's where I met everybody, really. I met Margot, and. I met Luke there, and Burt Reynolds. And he said his 12 year old self wanted to marry me, the 12 year old self in him wanted to marry me. He asked my mom's permission, and she said, "I approve." He was like, "I was not expecting that answer." In fact, Brad's never been called Brad in his life. Everyone always calls him Brad Pitt, because it's such a short name. And I said, "Are you ever called, you're always called Brad Pitt instead of Brad." And he's like, "Yeah, why is that?" Quentin teases me because I don't call him Brad. I call him Brad Pitt. And he's always teasing me about it. He's like, "Bye, Brad Pitt. Oh, hi, Brad Pitt. How you doing Brad Pitt?"
ESQ: So what's your dream job?
JB: I really like Spielberg films. Working with Spielberg would be great. Oh my gosh. He actually wandered on set one day, because we were filming in Universal Studios right by the Jaws area. So he was kind of just roaming. And he's like, "Hey, I thought I'd pay Quentin a visit." Because of course they know each other. So I got to meet him, and that was amazing. I'm not sure what's next. Just the TV show, but Once Upon a Time is the beginning, isn't it?
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