How much would Pulp Fiction’s “cool” factor suffer if Samuel L. Jackson weren’t the one reciting Ezekiel 25:17? Apparently, we came dangerously close to finding out …
Vanity Fair‘s oral history of Quentin Tarantino’s hit film reveals a few things you might not know about the movie, from casting news to Bruce Willis’ influence. Here’s what we learned:
Uma Thurman didn’t want to do it: According to Thurman, her 23-year-old self was hesitant to be a part of the film mainly because of the male rape scene. “I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it, because I was worried about the Gimp stuff. We had very memorable, long discussions about male rape versus female rape. No one could believe I even hesitated in any way. Neither can I, in hindsight,” Thurman said.
Every major studio passed on it: Believe it or not, Tarantino wasn’t always the big name that he is today, and getting Pulp Fiction picked up was not an easy task.
John Travolta won a Twist contest when he was 8 and calls himself “Little Johnny Travolta”: Not surprisingly, it was Travolta who introduced Tarantino (and Thurman) to dance moves we have never heard of. “Quentin recommended the Twist. And I said, ‘Well, Little Johnny Travolta won the Twist contest when I was eight years old, so I know every version. But you may add other novelty dances that were very special in the day.’ He said, ‘What do you mean?’ I said, ‘There was the Batman, the Hitchhiker, the Swim, as well as the Twist.’ And I showed them to him, and he loved them. I said, ‘I’ll teach Uma the steps, and when you want to see a different step, call it out,’” Travolta said.
Daniel Day-Lewis was almost Vincent Vega: “Daniel Day-Lewis and Bruce Willis, who was the biggest star in Hollywood, had both gotten their hands on the script and wanted to play Vincent Vega,” Tarantino’s agent Mike Simpson said. It was Tarantino and Simpson who pushed for Travolta (and won). The dance scene says thank you.
Matt Dillon missed his chance at being Butch Coolidge: After Willis didn’t get the role of Vincent Vega, they thought he would make a good Butch. However, Tarantino had promised the role to Matt Dillon. But after Dillon read the script and asked to sleep on it, Tarantino gave the role to Willis. “So he gave Matt the script, and he read it and said, ‘I love it. Let me sleep on it.’ Quentin then called me and said, ‘He’s out. If he can’t tell me face-to-face that he wants to be in the movie—after he read the script—he’s out,’” Simpson said.
Bruce Willis made the film “legit”: At the time, Willis was the big movie star that the studio was looking for. He was the piece of the puzzle that Tarantino claims made the film “legit.” “Once I got Bruce Willis, Harvey got his big movie star, and we were all good. Bruce Willis made us legit. Reservoir Dogs did fantastic internationally, so everyone was waiting for my new movie. And then when it was my new movie with Bruce Willis, they went apes–t,” Tarantino said.
Paul Calderon, Sean Penn and William Hurt almost landed major roles: Calderon was seriously considered for the role of Jules Winnfield, and Penn and Hurt were both looked at for Vincent Vega. Again, the dance scene says thank you.
Samuel L. Jackson scared producers into casting him: When Jackson heard that Calderon was being considered for the role of Jules, he flew out to L.A. for a last-minute audition. After one of the producers confused him for Laurence Fishburne, Jackson was pissed. “In comes Sam with a burger in his hand and a drink in the other hand and stinking like fast food. Me and Quentin and Lawrence were sitting on the couch, and he walked in and just started sipping that shake and biting that burger and looking at all of us. I was scared shitless. I thought that this guy was going to shoot a gun right through my head. His eyes were popping out of his head. And he just stole the part,” producer Richard Gladstein said. And the Ezekiel 25:17 we know and love was born …
Uma Thurman’s least favorite scene is our favorite scene: The Gimp stuff wasn’t the only thing that intimidated Thurman about the film. Dancing with Travolta proved to be just as terrifying for the actress, who describes herself as “so awkward and embarrassed and shy.” Good thing Little Johnny Travolta is none of those things.
Harvey Weinstein saved the film: Basically, if you’re a Pulp Fiction fan, you should send a thank you Weinstein’s way for getting Miramax to pick up the film.