Those worried that Quentin Tarantino is treading uncouth territory with regards to the Manson murders in his next film may be encouraged by new plot details that have emerged. Once Upon a Time in Hollywood takes place in 1969 in, as the title suggests, Los Angeles. The story’s focus is on the changing landscape at the time, when Hollywood’s Golden Age gave way to the rise of television and and increasingly bold creative expression, but one particular aspect of movie has garnered plenty of interest: Margot Robbie’s role as Sharon Tate.
Tate, a famous actress, was brutally murdered in August 1969 by members of Charlie Manson’s cult, and the timeframe of Tarantino’s film and inclusion of both Tate and Manson as characters (Damon Herriman plays the cult leader) has led some to worry that Tarantino is mining a real life tragedy for a juicy story twist. According to the film’s producers, that’s not the case.
Speaking with EW, producers David Heyman and Shannon McIntosh clarify that this new film is not a Manson murders movie:
“[Sharon Tate] has been mythologized in some way through the murders but we get to see her as a person and we get to see her delight and enthusiasm and her sweetness,” Heyman explains. “She represents an innocence and innocence lost in some way, and that innocence is very much — that sweetness, that goodness, that delight with the movies, with her, with her life — is something that we experience.”
Both Tarantino and Robbie received the blessing of Tate’s sister Debra Tate, with McIntosh noting that it was important to the Oscar-winning Django Unchained filmmaker that Debra Tate approved:
Tarantino “absolutely embraced Debra Tate, and that was very important to him and to us that she’d be comfortable with what we’re doing because obviously anyone thinking that we’re making it a Manson movie, which we’re not, but he was very sensitive to that and remains sensitive to that.”
Given how significantly Tarantino altered the course of history with Inglourious Basterds, one would be forgiven for thinking he may be changing aspects of Tate’s murder here. We have no confirmation one way or another, but it’s clear that Tarantino and the film’s producers want to clear up misconceptions that this movie revolves around the tragic event.
Indeed, the film’s leads are the star of a Western TV show named Rick, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, and Rick’s easy-going stunt double Cliff, played by Brad Pitt. Heyman says at heart, this is a story about the loss of innocence through the lens of three very different kinds of people:
“It’s the three classes of Hollywood,” says Heyman. “There’s the high Hollywood of Sharon, the declining star of Rick, and there’s Cliff, who lives farther out and with more humble means.”
Heyman, who produced all the Harry Potter films, also went so far as to say that Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is Tarantino’s most personal film:
“[Rick and Cliff are] going to have to reinvent themselves, and the extent to which they are able to will determine their futures. What I love about this, it’s just so singularly told because it’s Quentin Tarantino turning his eye on his hometown. Nobody else could have made this film… This is Quentin’s most personal film. This is his memories of growing up in Los Angeles and being a fan of Hollywood.”
Whether the film premieres at Cannes or not remains a mystery—the editing process is not yet complete—but this remains one of the most anticipated movies of the summer. For a number of reasons.
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood hits theaters on July 26th.