Back in November, Quentin Tarantino laid out a possible career trajectory for Rick Dalton, his fictional cowboy star played by Leonardo DiCaprio in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, after the events of that story came to an end. But after spending more time thinking about his film and his characters while on the awards circuit, it appears the writer/director has an updated version in his head about what happened to Rick Dalton after the film’s explosive climax.
At the end of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Rick Dalton and his stuntman, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), end up killing several members of the Manson “family” in gruesome fashion, and Rick ends up finally meeting his next door neighbor, Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie). It’s an ending that’s open to interpretation: does meeting a rising star like Sharon put Rick’s stalled career back on track, or does he continue to fade out until he’s eventually forgotten?
In a recent interview with The Wrap, Tarantino said Rick has been on his mind quite a bit since the film came out. “Recently I’ve been imagining the career he had after the movie. And I’ve gotten really, really, super into it,” he explained. Here’s what he thinks happened to Rick after that fateful night:
“The whole incident with the flamethrower and the hippies got a lot of play. No one quite knows what a big deal that was, but it was still a big deal. And it’s a big deal that he killed ’em with the flamethrower, with the prop from one of his most popular movies. So he starts becoming in demand again. I mean, not in demand like Michael Sarrazin at that time was in demand, but he’s got some publicity and now all of a sudden “The 14 Fists of McCluskey” is playing more on Channel 5 during Combat Week and stuff. And so he gets offered a couple of features — low-budget ones, but studio ones.
But the thing is, on the episodic-TV circuit, he’s a bigger name now. He’s not quite Darren McGavin, all right? Darren McGavin would get paid the highest you could get paid as a guest star back in that time. But Rick’s about where John Saxon was, maybe just a little bit higher. So he’s getting good money and doing the best shows. And the episodes are all built around him.”
That’s slightly more optimistic than what Tarantino said late last year. “What could have easily have happened,” Tarantino hypothesized in November, “is that by the late 1970s, early 1980s, a lot of these macho ’50s and ’60s television leading men, they showed up on TV shows again, but as the older cop who’s the boss of the younger cop that sends them out on the missions.”
Unless Tarantino makes some sort of official follow-up, this is all just talk. Audiences are free to imagine whatever fate they want for the film’s characters. But there is something that rings true about Tarantino’s most recent musings about Rick’s future, because even decades before the internet came around, it’s easy to see how the flamethrower incident could bolster interest in a fading star and settle a talented guy like Rick into a whole new late-stage career groove.
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