Love him or otherwise, there’s no denying that Quentin Tarantino is a natural born filmmaker. Since bursting onto the scene with 1992’s Reservoir Dogs, Tarantino has crafted a slew of films that have consistently amazed, and occasionally offended, audiences around the world. To celebrate his 54th birthday (he was born in Knoxville, Tennessee on March 27, 1963), here are 20 facts about some of your favorite QT films.
1. WHATEVER EXPLANATION YOU’VE HEARD FOR THE TITLE OF RESERVOIR DOGS PROBABLY ISN’T TRUE.
Tarantino told potential investors that “reservoir dog” was a gangster term from French films like Breathless and Bande à Parte, and that it meant “rat.” That wasn’t true; Tarantino just knew that investors would want an explanation for the title, and that they wouldn’t know those films well enough to contradict him. Later, the widely told story was that it came from Tarantino’s days working at a video store, when he recommended Louis Malle’s Au revoir les enfants (1987) and the customer misheard it as “reservoir dogs.” (But Tarantino expert Dale Sherman points out in his book, Quentin Tarantino FAQ: Everything Left to Know About the Original Reservoir Dog, that Au revoir les enfants wasn’t available to rent until after Tarantino’s employment at the video store.) Another version of the story has Tarantino’s girlfriend recommending that movie, and QT himself mishearing it. Yet others have suggested that it was a combination of Au revoir les enfants and Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs (1971). Tarantino has never given a clear, plausible explanation for the title, so quit asking him.
2. YOU CAN WATCH PULP FICTION CHRONOLOGICALLY ... KIND OF.
The narrative structure of the film plays out of sequence, but it’s easy enough to break it down into seven distinct sections (a prologue, an epilogue, two preludes, and three large segments) that can then be re-ordered into a chronological narrative (here’s an infographic).
The Honda Civic that Pam Grier drives in Jackie Brown is the same car that Butch (Bruce Willis) drives—and hits Marcellus Wallace with—in Pulp Fiction. The car also makes a brief appearance in Kill Bill: Volume 2.
4. WARREN BEATTY WAS TARANTINO’S FIRST CHOICE FOR THE TITLE ROLE IN KILL BILL.
When Tarantino let the actor go because of creative differences, he cast David Carradine in the iconic role because Carradine previously appeared in Tarantino’s favorite childhood TV show, Kung Fu.
5. THE CONCEPT FOR DEATH PROOF GREW OUT OF TARANTINO’S DESIRE TO BUY A VOLVO.
In a 2007 interview with Newsweek, Tarantino explained the genesis of the idea for Death Proof, the director’s half of Grindhouse: “About 10 years ago, I was talking to a friend about getting a car. And I wanted to get a Volvo because I wanted a really safe car. I remember thinking that I didn’t want to die in some auto accident like the one in Pulp Fiction … So I was talking to my friend about this, and he said, ‘Well, you could take any car and give it to a stunt team, and for $10,000 or $15,000, they can death-proof it for you.’ Well, that phrase ‘death proof’ kinda stuck in my head."
6. CHRISTOPH WALTZ WASN’T THE FIRST CHOICE TO PLAY COLONEL LANDA IN INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS.
Tarantino originally wanted to cast Leonardo DiCaprio.
7. THE HORSE THAT JAMIE FOXX RIDES IN DJANGO UNCHAINED IS HIS OWN.
He was given the horse, whose name is Cheetah, as a birthday gift four years before the movie’s release.
8. TRUE ROMANCE WAS TARANTINO’S FIRST SCREENPLAY.
In the original script, Clarence Worley (Christian Slater’s character) wrote the screenplay for Natural Born Killers while traveling cross-country with Alabama. But the script ended up being over 500 pages long, so Tarantino decided to split it up into separate movies.
9. FROM DUSK TILL DAWN WAS TARANTINO’S FIRST PAID WRITING GIG.
He wrote the script for the film, which Robert Rodriguez directed, for $1500. Tarantino wrote the From Dusk Till Dawn script as a way to showcase the talents of a special effects company called KNB. In return, KNB agreed to provide the special effects for the “ear scene” in Reservoir Dogs free of charge.
10. MICHAEL KEATON PLAYED HIS JACKIE BROWN CHARACTER IN ANOTHER MOVIE.
Keaton plays FBI agent Ray Nicolette in Jackie Brown. One year later, he reprised the role for Steven Soderbergh’s Out of Sight (both movies were based on Elmore Leonard novels).
11. TARANTINO DIRECTED RESERVOIR DOGS BECAUSE TONY SCOTT DIDN’T.
Because he was still new to the business, Tarantino knew he couldn’t direct both True Romance and Reservoir Dogs. So he gave both scripts to Tony Scott and told him to pick one. Though Scott wanted both of the films, he ended up choosing True Romance, leaving Tarantino to make Reservoir Dogs.
12. BRUCE WILLIS COULD’VE BEEN SUED IF HE RECEIVED A SCREEN CREDIT FOR FOUR ROOMS.
As a favor to his friend/Pulp Fiction director, Bruce Willis appeared in Tarantino’s “The Man from Hollywood” segment in Four Rooms for free. Which is a no-no as far as the Screen Actors Guild is concerned. In order to avoid a possible lawsuit for violating guild rules, Willis received no screen credit for his part.
13. PULP FICTION’S VINCENT VEGA WAS WRITTEN FOR MICHAEL MADSEN.
Tarantino specifically wrote a number of roles in the film for chosen actors (including Samuel L. Jackson, Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, and Amanda Plummer), but nothing compared to his dedication to having Michael Madsen play Vincent. Madsen, who knew of Tarantino’s plans and said he wanted to do the part, dropped out two weeks before the script was finished to star in Wyatt Earp.
14. ELI ROTH DIRECTED INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS’ FILM-WITHIN-A-FILM.
The director best known for horror films such as Hostel and Cabin Fever also appears in Inglourious Basterds as Donny Donowitz. The faux Nazi propaganda film Nation’s Pride, seen in Chapter Five, lasts just over six minutes.
15. “THE MAN FROM HOLLYWOOD” IS BASED ON A ROALD DAHL STORY.
Tarantino’s segment in Four Rooms is based on a Roald Dahl short story, Man from the South, which was previously adapted for a 1960 episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
16. TARANTINO THINKS HE “OVER-TWEAKED” DEATH PROOF.
17. MICHAEL FASSBENDER REPLACED SIMON PEGG IN INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS.
Before Michael Fassbender was cast to lead Operation Kino, Tarantino wanted Simon Pegg to play Archie Hicox. Pegg had to drop out to shoot the motion capture for Steven Spielberg’s Tintin, a decision which Pegg said caused him “agony.”
18. LEONARDO DICAPRIO HAD SOME ISSUES WITH ALL THE RACIAL SLURS IN DJANGO UNCHAINED.
Co-star Jamie Foxx once shared that DiCaprio was rather uncomfortable shooting a scene that required him to repeat a number of racial slurs. Sensing his discomfort, Foxx recalled that Samuel L. Jackson took DiCaprio aside and gave him a sort-of pep talk: “Hey, mother***er, this is just another Tuesday for us. Let’s go.”
19. ROBERT RODRIGUEZ DIRECTED PARTS OF PULP FICTION.
When Tarantino is on screen as Jimmie, someone else had to be behind the camera—and that someone was frequent collaborator Robert Rodriguez.
20. IN TURN, TARANTINO DIRECTED A SCENE IN SIN CITY.