As we all know too well, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is one of stylish auteur Quentin Tarantino‘s best movies: it’s a gorgeous love letter to Tinseltown of a bygone era, albeit one punctuated with enough blood and viscera to paint the studio set of a war flick.
Relatedly, the movie’s protagonist, washed-up actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), is one of the more likable leading men Tarantino has committed to the page. And it seems as though the veteran filmmaker liked him too, given he’s written (almost) his entire professional life into a stand-alone novel, as revealed to the Empire Podcast.
“I probably need to punch it up a little bit,” the director says, “but the body of it completely exists.” As Empire notes, we’ve known for a long time that Tarantino has plotted out full timelines for his Once Upon a Time… ensemble, imagining their stories after the film commences. For Dalton, Tarantino has taken inspiration from movie guides of the ’70s, penning an entire tome on the fictional performer’s career before-during-and-after the likes of Bounty Law:
“You know in the ‘70s, you could get those books like The Films Of Charles Bronson, The Films Of Anthony Quinn? Well, this is that … It gives you a little quickie biography of his life. And then it starts going through the career: ‘…and then there’s this episodic television show, and then this other television show, and then this movie, and that movie’, and starts with the small parts he has in this one, and it builds, with little reviews of each thing, little synopses of each of them. And it goes through the entire career until he retires in 1988.”
But this is just where the story begins—fasten your seatbelts. Y’see, according to Tarantino, The Films of Rick Dalton was also written in-universe by the genre auteur, a version of himself who also exists in his alternative Hollywood history. In his words:
“Because in this pretext, Rick retires and moves to Hawaii. And so I go, in 1998, to the Hawaii International Film Festival. I’m there, and Roger Ebert’s there, and I’m seeing films. And then one of the festival people goes, ‘Hey, so is there anybody in Hawaii that you’d like to meet?’ You go, ‘Well, who’s worth meeting here in Hawaii?’ ‘Well, Don Ho’s here, and this one is here, and that one’s here. Rick Dalton’s here…’ ‘Woah, woah, Rick Dalton? I wondered what the fuck happened to that guy!’ ‘Well, he retired in 1988, and him and his wife Francesca [Lorenza Izzo’s character, who Rick marries in the film], they moved to Hawaii…’”
According to Tarantino, the fictional pair arrange a lunch. “He comes down to the hotel that I’m staying at, and there’s Rick! He’s about 40 pounds heavier, but there he is. So we have a ball, and he’s a really nice fellow, and my movie shows and he comes to the screening,” the director explains. Apparently, in this fantastical scenario, the two have such a ball that Tarantino goes on to set up a Rick Dalton retrospective. “It’s all written. It exists!” the director says.
Well, we think you’ll agree, there’s only one appropriate phrase to end on: what a picture!