Quentin Tarantino's known for several things as a filmmaker: his florid, almost musical dialogue; his penchant for excessive blood and gore; and his ability to take actors to the next level in their careers - or resurrect the careers of faded stars. Whether with long-running collaborations over several films (Samuel L. Jackson, Michael Madsen) or one-time roles that left an indelible mark (John Travolta, Pam Grier), Tarantino has made an impression on the lives (and bank accounts) of his actors.
Here's what some of his collaborators have said about working with Tarantino.
- Photo: Jackie Brown / Miramax Films
Pam Grier starred in Foxy Brown and several other blaxploitation pictures in the 1970s, earning numerous fans along the way - among them Tarantino, who returned the favor by casting Grier as the lead in his 1997 adaptation of the Elmore Leonard novel Rum Punch. Titled Jackie Brown, the film follows a down-on-her-luck flight attendant who gets the better of cops and culprits alike while winning the heart of a bail bondsman.
Grier had originally spoken to Tarantino about playing the role of Jody, the wife of drug dealer Lance (Eric Stoltz) in Pulp Fiction. But Tarantino decided that Grier had too strong a persona: nobody would believe Eric Stoltz yelling at her. Casting Rosanna Arquette in that part, Tarantino promised Grier he would find something else for her.
Did he ever. Reflecting back on their interaction, Grier told Variety that Tarantino "is a man of his honor and his word."
- Photo: Django Unchained / The Weinstein Company / Sony Pictures Releasing
Speaking to Howard Stern, Django Unchained star Jamie Foxx said Tarantino was a "tyrant" and characterized the director's attitude as: "Do not f*ck my film up." But Foxx elaborated that, in his view, this was a good thing:
But that's what you want. You want a director who, even if you're going off the cliff, you know that you're going off the f*cking cliff.
When Stern asked if Foxx would work with Tarantino again, despite the difficulty, Foxx didn't hesitate to say, "A thousand times."
- Photo: The Hateful Eight / The Weinstein Company
Kurt Russell has appeared in three Tarantino films: Death Proof, in which he played the homicidal Stuntman Mike; The Hateful Eight, in which he portrayed the bounty hunter John "The Hangman" Ruth; and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, as stunt coordinator Randy Lloyd.
Russell enjoyed working with Tarantino, telling Parade:
There’s something sort of adventurous and illegal-feeling when it comes to working with Quentin. He loves the process of making movies from A to Z. It’s infectious, and you want to be a part of it.
Russell, by the way, managed to destroy a priceless vintage guitar that had been rented out to the Hateful Eight set. In his defense, he thought at the time that it was a prop replica.
- Photo: Pulp Fiction / Miramax Films
John Travolta, who earned an Oscar nomination as Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction, is the most famous example of an actor whose flagging career was resuscitated by working with Tarantino. Years later he expressed his appreciation for Tarantino's casting him despite opposition from producers:
Look how much Quentin fought for me to be in Pulp Fiction. This guy put his reputation, his career on the line because he had that much confidence.
When Tarantino and Travolta first met at Tarantino's house, Tarantino had a very peculiar request: he wanted Travolta to play board games with him. Not just any board games, but games that were based on earlier Travolta films and shows.
"For instance, we played the Grease board game; we played the Saturday Night Fever board game; we played the Welcome Back, Kotter board game," Travolta recalled.
That wasn't the only request, according to Travolta:
He said, "If you could possibly become one of those characters out of nowhere, just say a line from Grease, Saturday Night Fever, or Kotter, that would make him happy," so I would do that.
- Photo: Inglourious Basterds / Universal Pictures
Christoph Waltz made an indelible impression as the ruthless yet charming Hans Landa in Tarantino's 2009 WWII fantasia Inglourious Basterds. Delivering Landa's dialogue, Waltz seemed to savor each line of Tarantino's carefully crafted prose like a mouthful of fine wine. The role earned him a best supporting actor Oscar, as did his follow-up in Django Unchained as the dentist-turned-bounty hunter King Schultz, who mentors the protagonist in matters of both culture and carnage.
At the New Yorker Festival, Waltz talked about why Tarantino's dialogue seemed so perfectly suited for him:
I love playing Quentin's text. And I say "text" on purpose; it's not just a dialogue, it's a text. Because you do not have to... make something of it. You follow the word; it's all on the page. It's like music. You can just jump in and let it carry you... It just happens that I feel Quentin sort of writes for me.
- Photo: Reservoir Dogs / Miramax Films
Michael Madsen has worked on several Tarantino films, none more memorably than Reservoir Dogs, where he played the cool-yet-sadistic crook Mr. Blonde. His signature moment - dancing to "Stuck in the Middle With You" while preparing to cut off a policeman's ear - has become one of the most unforgettably chilling moments in cinema.
Madsen, who hasn't always starred in films of such quality, said Tarantino "changed [his] life," and compared their collaboration to other famous ones, like Sam Peckinpah and Steve McQueen, or Humphrey Bogart and John Huston:
That doesn't happen in an actor's life - you meet this one guy who gets you, and then when you work with him, you know it's gonna turn out probably pretty good. You don't have that anxiety about wondering what the finished product is gonna be... When you're with him, you go to work, you get up and you wake up and you go to the set, you know, "Man, this is probably gonna be pretty good." And it's very comforting.