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America’s home of glitz and glamour may be splashed across Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’s title; however Quentin Tarantino has ventured far beyond Los Angeles for two of the film’s most crucial characters. While Sharon Tate and Charles Manson aren’t the protagonists of the writer/director’s ninth feature, they’re crucial to this 1969-set exploration of Tinseltown’s fading heyday, as experienced through TV star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). Given Tate and Manson’s real-life tale, including the murder of the young actress at the hands of the Manson Family, their casting is pivotal. Within a movie that spins a fictional narrative around Hollywood history, that’s especially true. In filling both parts, Tarantino plays with a cliché, although it’s not one that most would expect: reversing the idea of bright-eyed young Australians heading to Hollywood with dreams of making it big, he gives two of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’s most interesting roles to well-known Aussies.
Margot Robbie’s casting as Tate and Damon Herriman’s as Manson have attracted ample attention, naturally. The I, Tonya Oscar nominee nabbed her role after writing him a fan letter, although looking the part can’t have hurt her chances. Meanwhile, the Justified breakout has been able to become comfortable in Manson’s skin — days after news broke of his involvement in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, it was revealed that Herriman would also play the killer and cult leader in the second season of Mindhunter. Based on their resumes and talents, it’s easy to see why Tarantino wanted each actor for their part, but their casting also ties into one of his well-known interests. From waxing ecstatic about Ozploitation, to paying tribute to the Australian film history in his own work, to sporting the world’s worst Aussie accent, the acclaimed filmmaker is clearly more than a little fond of the land Down Under.
He also loves one of its beers; when Robbie and Tarantino met to discuss Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Aussie brew Victoria Bitter was flowing freely, as the actor recalled in a Vogue interview. QT has a history with VB, as the beer is known locally: when he was last in the country to promote The Hateful Eight back in 2016, he professed his preference for the brand and was given a personalized six-pack bearing his initials.
Of course, before Tarantino was knocking back Australian beers with Robbie, or even just in general, he was frothing over Ozploitation in 2008 documentary Not Quite Hollywood. He’s the first person seen in Mark Hartley’s film, and while he’s just one of the movie’s high-profile interviewees alongside actors Jamie Lee Curtis and Dennis Hopper, plus filmmakers George Miller, James Wan and Leigh Whannell, he’s certainly the most enthusiastic participant. From Long Weekend to Next of Kin to Dead End Drive-In, his passion spans the entirety of Australia’s genre output in the 1970s and 1980s, complete with an encyclopedic knowledge of Ozploitation’s best and worst fare. When he’s not oozing adoration for specific movies, he’s highlighting specific styles; “nobody shoots a car like Aussies do,” Tarantino notes.
His eagerness and affection are hardly surprising, and not just because Tarantino always proves an animated interviewee. At that point in his career, he had already worked nods to some of his favorite Australian releases into his own filmography, one of which he explores in Not Quite Hollywood’s lengthy discussions. Directed by Richard Franklin, and following a comatose murderer with psychokinetic abilities who terrorizes a hospital and its staff, 1978’s Patrick was an overt influence on Beatrix Kiddo’s experiences under medical care in Kill Bill: Vol 1. While The Bride doesn’t boast the same supernatural powers as her predecessor — and she both endures and inflicts considerable horrors before and after her unconscious state — the parallels are evident, especially in every lingering shot of Uma Thurman laying prone on a bed.
Where Kill Bill: Vol 1 worked Tarantino’s love of Ozploitation into one portion of the film, Death Proof went a step further. Half of 2007’s Grindhouse double feature alongside Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror, the road rage-fuelled tale pays homage to exploitation movies in a broad sense, as well as to the car stunts — and car-driving stunt men — within them. Specifically, however, there’s no doubting the influence of Ozploitation’s vehicular mayhem in the likes of The Cars That Ate Paris, Mad Max, Roadgames and Midnight Spares. Named by QT as one of his favorite Australian films, Roadgames looms especially large over Death Proof, with both features focusing on havoc wreaked upon women by murderous men motoring along quiet roads. Tarantino twists the concept in his version, letting his central gang of gals unleash their own fury upon the nefarious Stuntman Mike (Kurt Russell). Indeed, QT is no slouch when it comes to working his love of other films into his own movies, but Death Proof is one of his undeniable masterpieces in that regard.
While several of Tarantino’s features have worn their Aussie fondness on their celluloid sleeves, he hasn’t always populated his work in the same way. That said, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’s use of Robbie and Herriman follows on from Inglourious Basterds’ casting of Rod Taylor. In a small but noteworthy part, the Australian star of The Time Machine, The Birds and TV series Hong Kong made his last screen appearance in QT’s Nazi-fighting film, playing none other than Winston Churchill. It doesn’t escape attention that Taylor isn’t just a predecessor for Robbie and Herriman, but his specific role is as well. When he’s dabbling with real-life figures, Tarantino likes an Aussie.
The antipodean thread continued in Django Unchained, although QT might’ve found his limits with his vengeance-fuelled western. Casting Wolf Creek’s John Jarratt as an Australian employee of the LeQuint Dickey Mining Company was understandable — as well as being a vocal proponent of Greg McLean’s horror film, Tarantino has long been a fan of the actor, including in his Ozploitation-era roles. Alas, QT’s casting of himself as one of Django Unchained’s fellow Aussies makes zero sense. Its sole achievement: one of the worst accents in movie history, and one that still makes Australians shudder six years later. If Tarantino has an excuse, we’ll chalk it up to his endless fascination with the country; love makes people do crazy things, after all.