Quentin Tarantino Was a PA on Dolph Lundgren’s Exercise Tape, and Other Robert Rodriguez-Aided Disclosures

Tonight on El Rey, on the new episode of The Director’s Chair, Quentin Tarantino is interviewed at length by his pal and collaborator Robert Rodriguez, and we learn some nuances of the man’s craft. This is only Volume 1 of the interview, covering his beginnings up through Pulp Fiction; Volume 2 airs August 27, and will presumably/hopefully provide some insight on Tarantino’s on-again, off-again new project The Hateful Eight. Wait, but what the hell is an El Rey? Glad you asked!

That Rodriguez is the one doing the interviewing isn’t incidental: El Rey is his fledgling new network, which so far fills its schedule with lucha libre and blood-happy shows directly influenced by Rodriguez’s slapdash style (one of them’s actually a straight TV adaptation of From Dusk Till Dawn, an underappreciated gem if there ever was one. I think we can all agree that Clooney should have just stopped there). And if you’re trying to plug your new TV channel that no one really knows about, you could do worse then calling up your pal Quentin and having him sit down for a while.

We watched the episode ahead of tonight’s airing, and Rodriguez, it turns out, is a pretty good host, letting the ever-voluble Tarantino go while cutting in every once in a while with a small insider-y/BFF-y detail. The QT come-up has been relayed before, but it’s always nice to get the nitty-gritty details, and there are certainly some things you may not have known. Such as?! Such as:

  • Tarantino and Rodriguez used to hang out at the former’s L.A. apartment, off Crescent Heights, watching flicks in 16 mm in a jerry-rigged screening room; White Lightning was a favorite. “Isn’t this the life?” Tarantino was known to exclaim. (It’s funny because now he’s rich and famous, and so obviously that was all bullshit.) At some point in this pre-fame era, he also worked as a PA on the Dolph Lundgren exercise tape Maximum Potential. Never seen it, but it looks pretty incredible.

  • He started writing in acting class, when he’d riff off scenes he was supposed to be rehearsing. One time, trying to remember a scene from Network, he ended up adding a monologue about a fountain. A dude named Ronnie Coleman, who had the actual shooting script for Network, pointed out to Quentin that he was elaborating, and quite nicely: Coleman told Quentin he was as good as Paddy Chayefsky, which got his motor running. Good work, Ronnie Coleman!
  • After selling his True Romance script for Cinetel for $30,000, Tarantino decided it was time he made a movie himself, ready to do it on a microbudget if need be. His producer pal Lawrence Bender told him to hang tight while Bender scouted out if actual funding was possible, then came back a month later with said funding. And within half a year of writing the script, Tarantino was shooting Reservoir Dogs.
  • The entire music budget for Reservoir Dogs was $13,000. Tarantino spent it all on “Stuck in the Middle With You,” totally cool with it being his only purchase. Later, they put together a deal for a soundtrack album, and so were able to put together an actual music budget again.
  • Shout-out to Tarantino’s late, great editor Sally Menke: Late in a production, when Tarantino’s energy began to flag, she was the one picking up the slack. Getting back, say, a subpar print from the lab, Tarantino recalls, would lead to Menke on the phone, screaming: “This work is unacceptable!”
  • The original idea for Pulp Fiction was an anthology movie, not unlike the 1963 Boris Karloff–intro’d Black Sabbath, and Tony Scott, who did True Romance, was onboard to direct or co-write. But once Tarantino got into it, he realized he was gonna want to shepherd this one by himself. Roger Avary, his co-writer, who’d go on to have himself a bit of a run in, uh, prison, came up with the Butch story line, and had the gold watch. But Tarantino wrote the speech.
  • At one point, Rodriguez recalls, Pulp Fiction was set to go at TriStar, with everything in play, including a cast that featured Matt Dillon, Laurence Fishburne, and Joan Cusack — as, according to the Internet at least, Mia Wallace. Joan Cusack? Joan Cusack?! With days to go, TriStar balked.
  • Rodriguez also recalls an early screening of Pulp Fiction for Tarantino’s director pals, which kind of mirrored George Lucas’s infamous screening of Star Wars, in which only Spielberg believed this thing was headed for anything but total embarrassing failure. Tarantino’s Spielberg? A young Kathryn Bigelow, who told everyone, including her now ex James Cameron, that this was a future big deal.

Anyway: Come to The Director’s Chair for such tidbits, stay for the part at the end when Tarantino does a horrendous impersonation of Samuel L. Jackson.

Filed Under: Movies, TV, Quentin Tarantino, robert rodriguez, El Rey, Pulp Fiction, Reservoir Dogs, True Romance

Amos Barshad has written for New York Magazine, Spin, GQ, XXL, and the Arkansas Times. He is a staff writer for Grantland.

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