Quentin Tarantino's 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood' Novel Will Explore Cliff Backstory

The novelization of the 2019 film arrives on June 29


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Quentin Tarantino is spilling the tea, or rather the frozen margaritas, on his first book, a novelization of his film, “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood.”

On Tuesday, June 1 the filmmaker joined hosts Elric Kane and Brian Saur for an episode of the “Pure Cinema Podcast” to discuss famed directors’ final films and drop new details about the book.

Tarantino describes “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood: A Novel,” which will be available in paperback and audio book formats on June 29, as a reimagining of his Academy-Award winning film.

“I’m really happy with it, I’m really proud of it,” he said, “I think if you’re a fan of the movie, I think you will get a kick out of reading the book, and exploring the characters further and deeper, and learning secrets that you didn’t know, and were not in the movie.”

Unlike many novelizations that are released after their cinematic counterparts, the writer-director is promising a whole new way to experience the adventures of washed-up actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his affable buddy/stuntman Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), not a retread.

“It’s not just me taking the screenplay and then breaking it down in a novelistic form. I retold the story as a novel,” he explained, “So it’s not like, ‘Oh, OK, well he obviously had a few scenes left over, so he just took the screenplay and novelized it and threw in a few extra scenes.’ It was a complete rethinking of the entire story and not just a rethinking as far as throwing some scenes that were left out of the editing room. But I did so much research.”

At the time of the movie’s release and ensuing awards campaign, stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt and Margot Robbie all alluded to several major scenes that did not make the final cut. In January 2020, Tarantino confirmed to Collider that a four-hour cut version existed and could be hitting streaming services in “maybe a year’s time.” However, these comments were made before the coronavirus pandemic hit.

Littered cutting room floor aside, Tarantino continued to speak on the other additions he created just for the novel.

“I was writing it for five years, so there was so much stuff that I wrote and I explored that I never even typed up, because there was no way it was going to make the movie, but it was edification, it made me understand the characters, it made me learn things about them… I’m trying to tell a novelistic version of these characters. If the book existed first, then the movie would be me making a movie out of that material. You know how you take an unwieldy novel and try to turn it into a movie? Well, to me, the movie is that. This is the unwieldy version of the movie.”

Tarantino concluded the discussion with a hint at the book’s content: a peek into Cliff’s life before he was taking his shirt off on roofs and beating up hippies.

“In the movie, Cliff is a real enigma, you’re kind of like, what’s this guy’s deal?” he said, “And one of the things in the book is, there’s these isolated chapters that tell you, like, this whole chapter will be about Cliff’s past. It goes back in time to tell you about Cliff at this point in time. And then you go further on with the normal run of the story and there’s another chapter that goes back in time and tells you about Cliff’s past. And every isolated chapter that’s just about Cliff’s past is like a weird little pulp novel unto itself starring Cliff.”

Following “Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood’s” July 2019 release, Cliff quickly became a Tarantino fan favorite. Brad Pitt even won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for the role. The novel is currently available for preorder.


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