Hi, Quentin. It’s been a while.
The last time we spoke, you weren’t particularly happy with me. The Hateful Eight was just starting to screen for the press and I attended a 70mm screening that didn’t go great. When I wrote about the challenges of mounting a major 70mm release of anything in an age where we have made “projectionist” a largely obsolete job, you let me know in no uncertain terms that I was messing with your joy and I should stop.
And, look, I was pretty upset about the Uma Thurman story. The Kill Bill movies are special to me, in no small part because of the idea of the collaboration behind them. They were always her films as much as yours, and knowing how much of her went into creating the character helped explain why Beatrix doesn’t feel like any of your other lead characters. Reading about the car crash and the circumstances around it, I was furious at you, and even reading your further explanations in the follow-up you did with Michael Fleming didn’t really assuage that anger. I admit… actors safety is one of my triggers. I have loved movies on an atomic level as long as I’ve been self-aware, but I don’t think a single person should be killed in pursuit of making these things. I know accidents happen, but part of the job is doing everything possible to make sure they don’t, and that really did infuriate me, even 12 years after the fact. In the end, Uma’s the one whose lead I’ll follow here, and if she has room for forgiveness, then who am I to say different?
Let’s clear the air. I know you’re still working to get the Manson-era movie going, and the casting has certainly made major news every time you’ve done anything. No surprise. At this point, actors seem to be falling over themselves to work with you on each new film, especially since you keep saying you’re only making a few more. You’ve said you’re looking for an actual Polish actor to play Roman Polanski, which makes sense. I know people are upset you’d include him in the film or tell his story, but again… I have a hard time with how black-and-white things are. I don’t want to watch a film that makes Polanski a hero, and I certainly think he’s got a lot to answer for. But the era you’re writing about is before all that, and one of the things that makes Polanski such a truly riveting figure is that he has been touched by such immeasurable tragedy more than once. He survived the Holocaust as a child. That’s enough for any one lifetime, and the fact that he managed to build this life as an artist and put all that behind him was amazing. He found a beautiful wife he adored, they were going to have a child… and then the Manson family landed on them on that one awful night and he had to put those survivor’s skills to the test again. That’s the era you’re writing about, and that’s a character worth including, no matter what he did later in his life.
The character that I’m most curious about in your film is Manson himself, though. Charlie Manson is the kind of character that will eat most actors. Steve Railsback may have been too well-cast in Helter Skelter when he played him, because Railsback has always carried an air of genuine insanity with him. I’m sure you’ve got ideas already about who might play him, but I wanted to put one name in particular in front of you and make the case for why he’s the right guy for the job. I’ve got no rooting interest here besides thinking he might be the perfect person, and I figure if anyone’s going to tackle that era, they should do so with the very best Manson they can find.
How do you feel about Robert Pattinson?
Have you been paying attention to the word out of Berlin this year? There’s always a ton of casting news breaking out of the marketplace during the festival, and this year’s been no exception. Pattinson joined the cast of the fantasy horror film The Lighthouse, the first film since The Witch for director Robert Eggers, who I think is a very exciting new voice.
For anyone who was a fan of The Witch, that’s big news, and it seems par for the course with Pattinson these days. Any young actor who wants a practical education in the way to manage career heat after a giant box-office hit need only look to the stars of the Twilight franchise. I mean, come on, Quentin… look at how Kristen Stewart’s been handling things. The choices she makes are so personal, and it feels like she’s picking collaborators who are pushing her closer and closer to her own voice. I have no doubt she’ll end up writing and directing a feature one day, and I look forward to it. Pattinson’s different, though. He seems like he’s following a playbook closer to the ones used by Tom Cruise or Leonardo DiCaprio, where it’s all about finding filmmakers who they can hand themselves over to completely, big directors with big visions. Cruise was relentless about that as a young actor, and the more clout he got, the more he leaned into it. Mann. Scorsese. Kubrick. Coppola. He made a lot of popcorn junk, sure, but he also knew how to pounce on the right role when it meant it put him in a room with a master. Think about who Pattinson’s been working with. Cronenberg, several times. David Michôd. Werner Herzog. Anton Corbijn. James Gray. Claire Denis, making her English-language debut, fer chrissakes! And did you see The Childhood of a Leader by Brady Corbet? It’s clear that Pattinson is drawn to auteurs and that he’s without any vanity about himself. I can’t think of many actors who seem so willing to vanish into things, who are in position to be pulling down giant star salaries but who consistently choose the art instead. Whatever it is that drives Pattinson, it’s not being in the biggest movie or on the most screens.
In particular, can I mention Good Time? I’m sure you saw it. I’m guessing you really dug it, too. Think of that last scene. Think of that last long push-in on Pattinson in the back seat. If you don’t remember it, go watch it again. I didn’t catch up with the film until December, and when I watched it, I sat there at the end, looking at Pattinson’s face during that push-in, and that’s when the Manson thing connected for me. He’s got the charisma. He’s got the right kind of cold intelligence. And, man… he’s got the eyes. There is a casually terrifying distance in the way he can look at someone, something he uses repeatedly in Good Time, that leaves you wondering if you’re safe or not.
You’ll cast whoever you cast. You may already know who you’re using. And you may resent being addressed by open letter this way. But watching Pattinson take something like Twilight, a cultural moment that I found questionable for so many reasons, and continue to use that as the force that pushes these smaller interesting films forward, has made me like and respect him so much more than I expected. Same with Stewart. Pattinson seems ready to take on an iconic role like this, and I’m willing to bet that together, the two of you could finally, definitively nail that crazy little shitweasel on film.
Best of luck, as always.
Drew McWeeny | Chief Film Critic