Quentin Tarantino reveals the real-life inspirations for Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt’s characters in ‘Once Upon A Time’

The film's two fictional leads still have real-life roots

Quentin Tarantino has revealed the real-life inspirations behind two major characters in his upcoming film ‘Once Upon A Time In Hollywood’, Leonardo DiCaprio’s Rick Dalton and Brad Pitt’s Cliff Booth.

Dalton and Booth are fictional characters, but rub shoulders with the likes of Sharon Tate (played by Margot Robbie), Steve McQueen (Damien Lewis), Charles Manson (Damon Herriman) and more.

Nonetheless, Tarantino said in a three-hour chat with the Pure Cinema podcast, the characters have their own roots in real-life 60s Hollywood.


The director revealed that DiCaprio’s Dalton plays an actor trying to transition from TV to movies. “But what he’s dealing with is even more […] is the culture has changed underneath him. Like the entire earth has gone topsy turvy as far as he’s concerned, and for a whole era of leading men, and so there’s an aspect of Rick Dalton that’s made up of a bunch of these guys,” he said.

“So he’s a bit like George Maharis, he’s a bit like Edd Byrnes, he’s a bit like Tab Hunter, he’s a bit like Fabian, he’s a bit like Vince Edwards. These are all guys that were […] a certain kind of leading man that were handsome, and most of them were kinda rugged. They spent their careers running pocket combs through their pompadours.”

Once Upon A Time
Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio in ‘Once Upon A Time… In Hollywood’

He continued: “Now the leading men are these long shaggy haired androgynous types, so it’s like Michael Sarrazin, Peter Fonda the young Michael Douglas, skinny, androgynous, Arlo Guthrie is starring in movies, the hippie sons of famous people, and if Rick’s gonna get a part in a movie with them he’s probably gonna be the cop thats busting them.”

Pitt’s character, meanwhile, was inspired when he asked the director if he fancied meeting up to watch a DVD of the 1971 movie Billy Jack, written, directed and starring Tom Laughlin.

“I go, ‘Brad, I have a 35mm print of Billy Jack threaded up on the projector waiting for you to get here,'” Tarantino said, before drawing comparisons between that film’s writer, director, producer and star Tom Laughlin and Pitt’s character in Once Upon A Time….


“He couldn’t believe that we both were thinking of Billy Jack – and more Tom Laughlin than Billy JackBilly Jack always has a little preamble… a folksy story that he tells before he fucks you up. And [Cliff] kinda has his own little folksy story.”

Meanwhile, Tarantino has also been indicating that the film, released later this month, could be his last. “I think I’ve come to the end of the road” he said in an interview with Australian GQ.

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