We don’t know much about the film just yet—even the trailer is purposely conspicuous—but here’s everything we’ve been able to piece together thanks to casting announcements, quotes from Tarantino, and officially released material.
It’s set in 1969 Los Angeles
Word that Tarantino would be tackling the Manson murders has been running through the rumor mill for years. He finally addressed the rumor in November 2017, clarifying at an awards ceremony that, “It’s not Charles Manson, it’s 1969.” That’s abundantly clear in the first trailer for the film, which shows the bright lights and blinking marquees of late-’60s Los Angeles, the Pussycat Theatre playing titles like Babette and The Turn On!, and the Vogue playing The Night They Raided Minsky’s. (Which is, perhaps not coincidentally, the film Jason Robards made right after 1968’s Once Upon a Time in the West, from which Tarantino’s film stylized this feature’s name.)
Charles Manson and his Family are involved
That doesn’t mean Manson isn’t involved in the movie, however. We even see him in the trailer, played by Justified‘s Damon Herriman. There’s no telling just yet if his role will be major, or merely an exaggerated cameo a la Hitler in Inglourious Basterds. But it’s hard to tell the story of Hollywood in 1969 without Manson’s presence. He is, after all, partly responsible for the dying out of hippie culture; the murders he orchestrated—which killed eight Angelenos in the course of two evenings, including actress Sharon Tate—put a dark end note on the free-loving decade. He’s a necessary part of this story.
The cast is out of this world
It really cannot be stressed enough just how impressive this cast is. I’ll try to keep it succinct, since there is a lot going on—the IMDb page alone is overwhelming—but let’s go through our main players.
Leonardo DiCaprio is playing Rick Dalton, a TV actor from the fictional Western series Bounty Law, who is looking to break into movies. He’s accompanied by his right-hand man and stunt double Cliff Booth, played by Brad Pitt. The pair is based on real-life actor and stuntman team Burt Reynolds and Hal Needham. In the film, they live next door to actress Sharon Tate, played by Margot Robbie.
In real life, Tate was married to director Roman Polanski and was eight months pregnant at the time of her murder by Manson’s cultish Family. Polanski will be played by Polish actor Rafał Zawierucha in the film. Tate was murdered along with three of her close friends, who have also been cast; Samantha Robinson will play Abigail Folger, Costa Ronin will play her lover Wojciech Frykowski (who was also a childhood friend of Polanski), and Emile Hirsch will play Jay Sebring, a famous Hollywood hairstylist and former boyfriend of Tate. In real life, Sebring was good friends with martial artist and actor Bruce Lee, who is played by Mike Moh in the film and got a shining moment in the trailer. In one quick moment, we even see Lee training Sebring.
We also see Lee working with Booth, likely training for or performing a stunt scene. In real life, Lee trained many Hollywood actors in kung fu, including Tate for her film Wrecking Crew, and actor Steve McQueen, who will be played by Damian Lewis in Tarantino’s film. (The two were so close that McQueen served as pallbearer at Lee’s funeral.) Lee was also neighbors with Tate.
Lee and McQueen aren’t the only real-life stars that will appear in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Nicholas Hammond will play director/actor Sam Wanamaker (also spotted in the trailer), Dreama Walker will play signer Connie Stevens, Rachel Redleaf will play singer Mama Cass, Rumer Willis will play Joanna Pettet (an actress friend of Sharon Tate), and Bruce Dern will play George Spahn, owner of film-set-turned-Manson-Family-headquarters Spahn Ranch. (The part was originally given to Burt Reynolds, who passed away before filming his scenes.)
The Manson Family will have a lot of star power in the film. Dakota Fanning is playing Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme, Spahn’s lover and a key member of Manson’s tribe, who in real life was arrested for attempting to assassinate President Gerald Ford. Lena Dunham will play Gypsy, based on real-life member Catherine Share, and Margaret Qualley will play Kitty Kat, likely based on Kathryn Lutesinger. Maya Hawke, daughter of Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke, and Harley Quinn Smith, daughter of Kevin Smith, will also play Manson girls.
As for the Family members who murdered Tate and company, Austin Butler will play Tex Watson, and Victoria Pedretti and Madisen Beaty are likely playing Leslie Van Houten and Patricia Krenwinkel. (They’re listed as Lulu and Katie, which were the Family’s nicknames for Van Houten and Krenwinkel.) No word yet on who, if anyone, is playing arguably the most notorious Family member, Susan Atkins.
A number of other big-namers will play either fictional or undisclosed roles: Timothy Olyphant, Al Pacino, Tim Roth, Kurt Russell, James Marsden, Scoot McNairy, James Remar, Michael Madsen, Zoë Bell, Clu Gulager, Clifton Collins Jr., Martin Kove, Brenda Vaccaro, Eddie Perez, and the late Luke Perry will all be in the film in some capacity.
It might change the course of history
Tarantino is known for having fun with historical accuracy. Inglourious Basterds, for instance, imagined a reality where Hitler was murdered by American Jewish soldiers at the height of WWII. Many have wondered if Once Upon a Time in Hollywood might also play musical chairs with facts. Central to this theory is the approval the script received from Sharon Tate’s sister, Debra Tate, who is notoriously protective of her sister’s legacy and protested the film before she learned what it was about. “This movie is not what people would expect it to be when you combine the Tarantino and Manson names,” she told TMZ.
Does that mean Sharon Tate might survive in this version of events? The film’s tagline is, “Experience a version of 1969 that could only happen once upon a time in Hollywood.” That, coupled with the film’s title, certainly seems to indicate that the film will not adhere to reality.
We can’t wait to find out what Tarantino is cooking when Once Upon a Time in Hollywood lands in theaters on July 26.
Images: Sony Pictures