Al Pacino, Dakota Fanning, Emile Hirsch and Damian Lewis are the latest to join an already super stuffed cast.
Quentin Tarantino never makes dull casting choices. Whether he is reviving the career of veteran actors like John Travolta in Pulp Fiction and Pam Grier in Jackie Brown, or launching an unknown like Christoph Waltz in Inglorious Basterds, his innovative picks often make for fun and refreshing performances. The band of actors he is assembling for his latest movie, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, is proving to be just as intriguing. Variety has reported that Al Pacino has signed on for the project. Dakota Fanning, Emile Hirsch, and Damian Lewis are also among the latest to join the film, an action/adventure set in late sixties Hollywood that will incorporate the Manson murders into an otherwise fictional story. These newest recruits are joining a cast that is already jam-packed with A-list stars, seventies icons, and veteran Tarantino collaborators.
In a cast that includes Leonardo DiCaprio as a washed-up TV western star, Brad Pitt as his trusty stunt double, Burt Reynolds as a blind, lecherous ranch owner, and Margot Robbie as the late Sharon Tate, it’s no surprise that the latest crop of casting announcements includes some colorful (and controversial) roles. Al Pacino will play a Hollywood agent. Hirsch will play Jay Sebring, a friend of Tate’s and a victim of the Manson murders, Lewis will portray sixties icon Steve McQueen, and Fanning will take on the role of Manson acolyte Squeaky Fromme.
Tarantino’s 9th film is the latest example of 90s film brats rallying star-studded casts to tell the story of a wacky and change driven period in Los Angeles’ history. The Coen Brothers’ Hail, Caesar! and Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice both employed A-list ensembles to air some of LA’s dirty laundry, the foibles of the Hollywood studio system in Hail, Caesar!, and housing discrimination and police corruption (among other things) in Inherent Vice.
But where the Coens and Anderson used fictional characters and premises to hint at the real-life skeletons in LA’s closet, Tarantino has written his wacky buddy film right overtop one of Hollywood’s most infamous tragedies, the murders of actress Sharon Tate and four others that occurred under the direction of sixties cult leader Charles Manson.
Tarantino has won audiences over with prior ahistorical adventures, including Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained. But this time around, audiences might not be able to feel the same sense of distance from the Manson murders that they could toward events set in World War II or the Antebellum South, especially after Tarantino faced recent criticism for his treatment of actresses on set and comments he made defending Roman Polanski.
Tarantino (and Sony, who won a bidding war in November to replace the Weinstein Co. as distributor) does not seem interested in taking a sensitive approach to the film’s subject matter, but rather appears to be steering directly into the skid. The film’s release date of August 9th, 2019 is also the fiftieth anniversary of the Manson murders, and the as yet unknown plot will reportedly feature Charles Manson and Roman Polanski (Tate’s then-husband) in key roles. There’s no doubt those characters, in particular, will spark a heated debate about Tarantino’s fast and loose retelling of a horrific crime story. It’s notable that neither of these roles has yet been cast, especially when big stars are hopping aboard the project left and right. We can only hope that Tarantino’s take on these characters isn’t as tasteless as the film’s release date and that the varsity cast he has already assembled won’t go to waste.