In this month’s Vanity Fair, Mark Seal gathers the cast and crew of Pulp Fiction for an oral history behind the groundbreaking movie that changed independent cinema forever:
Just seven years earlier, in 1986, Tarantino was a 23-year-old part-time actor and high-school dropout, broke, without an apartment of his own, showering rarely. With no agent, he sent out scripts that never got past low-level readers. “Too vile, too vulgar, too violent” was the usual reaction, he later said. According to Quentin Tarantino, by Wensley Clarkson, his constant use of the f-word in his script True Romance caused one studio rep to write to Cathryn Jaymes, his early manager:
Dear Fucking Cathryn,
How dare you send me this fucking piece of shit. You must be out of your fucking mind. You want to know how I feel about it? Here’s your fucking piece of shit back. Fuck you.
With only an $8 million dollar budget, Pulp Fiction was nominated for six Oscars and became the first independent film to gross over $200 million dollars. Never before had a writer/director jumped from obscurity into certified stardom so quickly. But behind this cinematic genius was the real Tarantino—an absolute movie nerd and “functional illiterate… averaging about 9,000 grammatical errors per page,” recounts Linda Chen, an early friend and writing partner of Tarantinos.
Here’s Harvey Keitel on meeting Tarantino for the first time:
Soon after that, Tarantino arrived at the house Keitel was renting in Los Angeles. “I opened the door, and it was this tall, gawky-looking guy staring at me, and he says, ‘Harvey Kee-tel?’ And I said, ‘It’s Kye-tel,’ ” the actor remembers. “And it began there. I offered him something to eat, and he ate a lot. I said, ‘How’d you come to write this script? Did you live in a tough-guy neighborhood growing up?’ He said no. I said, ‘Was anybody in your family connected with tough guys?’ He said no. I said, ‘Well, how the hell did you come to write this?’ And he said, ‘I watch movies.’ ”
Surprisingly, Tarantino nearly passed on Samuel L. Jackson in favor of Peurto Rican actor Paul Calderon. What won Jackson the job back? Apparently, some fast-food and a misinformed line producer:
“I sort of was angry, pissed, tired,” Jackson recalls. He was also hungry, so he bought a take-out burger on his way to the studio, only to find nobody there to greet him. “When they came back, a line producer or somebody who was with them said, ‘I love your work, Mr. Fishburne,’ ” says Jackson. “It was like a slow burn. He doesn’t know who I am? I was kind of like, Fuck it. At that point I really didn’t care.”
He said, ‘Do you think you’re going to give this part to somebody else? I’m going to blow you motherfuckers away.’
By the time the time Pulp Fiction won the Palme d’Or of Cannes by unanimous vote, Tarantino had a special message saved for his critics:
After Tarantino and the cast rushed onstage, one woman screamed, “Pulp Fiction is shit!” Tarantino shot her the finger and then said why the prize was unexpected: “I don’t make movies that bring people together. I make movies that split people apart.”
Cinema Tarantino: The Making of Pulp Fiction by Mark Seal, Vanity Fair