During the filming of “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood”, Leonardo DiCaprio offered another version of a scene than the one written in the screenplay. Result: a monumental improvisation for one of the most powerful sequences in Quentin Tarantino’s film.
Leonardo DiCaprio, the great performance of a “bad” actor
In Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, Leonardo DiCaprio embodies Rick Dalton, an actor in the process of slipping from the status of star to that of supporting villain role in series. An actor who could have been Steve McQueen, landing the roles the star of Bullit and of The great Escape, but who has never climbed this last step. Convinced that his career is over and he has become a has-beenwhile he’s already had accomplishments and is doing better than he thinks, he drowns his anxiety in booze and finds solace in his friend and stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt).
Appointed to Oscar for Best Actor for this role in 2020, Leonardo DiCaprio delivers a brilliant performance, one of his best. To measure this, you have to bear in mind that the actor was awarded the prestigious statuette in 2016 for the Revenantwon three Golden Globes and a BAFTA, that he is Martin Scorsese’s favorite actor and the holder of an exceptional filmography… In other words, maybe the greatest hollywood actor of his generation.
main character of Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood, Rick Dalton is not a very good comedian. In life, he expresses himself with a stutter, but manages to get rid of it when playing. He learns his dialogues, but does not always retain them. And that’s what we see in a filming sequence where he plays Caleb DeCoteau in the series Throw, unable to pull out the lines he had memorized the night before. He ends up breaking down and isolating himself to panic violently in his trailer.
Leonardo DiCaprio contradicts Quentin Tarantino and improvises
Leonardo DiCaprio therefore plays Rick Dalton who plays the antagonist Caleb DeCoteau opposite the hero Jim Stacy (Timothy Olyphant), a desperado bordering on the grotesque. Problem: he is not convinced by the scene written by Quentin Tarantino, in which he manages to get his dialogue out. Unpleasant for sure an excellent actor to play an average comedian who plays a mediocre character. He then talks to the director about it. The latter recounts, in remarks reported by Deadline :
Leo tells me, “I need to miss myself and forget my lines.” Me, I just wanted to do a normal scene of “Lancer”, give myself the little pleasure of doing a western. He said, “I know I’m screwing up your scene, but I think it would be good for the character.” There, I tell myself that he’s spoiling my pleasure, but I answer: “Ok, I’m going to write that, but we’ll shoot the normal version, then the “failed” version”. Knowing that in editing I will do what I want.
As soon as we’ve finished shooting the “failed” version, the one that’s in the film, I say to myself: “Ok, ok, we’re obviously going to do that!”. Leo was perfect. The sequence was great and it worked wonderfully well with the rest.
Tarantino therefore listened to his actor, and together they then had the idea of improvising the rest of the sequence, in the caravan. For which Tarantino declares to have been inspired by Robert De Niro in Taxi Driver.
I think I described it really like that, I think it was staged exactly like that. It had to be like Travis Bickle alone in his apartment.
Result: two absolutely brilliant sequences (below).
A brilliant improvisation that echoes that of Brad Pitt
This sequence of cable farting improvised by Leonardo DiCaprio, in addition to being great in itself, is thus part of the perfect continuity of the one where Brad Pitt improvised the brilliant “Hey, you’re Rick fucking Dalton. Don’t you forget it.“, when he drops Rick Dalton on the set of Throw. And to complete the whole, there is finally the end of the day of shooting where Rick Dalton holds Trudi Fraser hostage (Julia Butters). He succeeds perfectly in his scene, the first time, and the young actress then comes to whisper in his ear:
That was the best acting I’ve ever seen in my whole life.
In French: “It was the best acting performance I’ve seen in my entire life..”
Moved to tears, Rick Dalton has regained his self-confidence and seems the happiest and most accomplished of actors. These four sequences, the arrival on set, the failed sequence of Throw then the trailer sequence, and finally the scene with Trudi Fraser/Julia Butters could to them…