Back when he was only 20 years old, Quentin Tarantino interviewed Milius, he's now made that interview available.
We keep getting more great content from QT, proving that when he promised us he'd be a man of letters and write about film as he grew older, he was telling the truth.
"I was taken duck hunting by John Milius, Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis. John and I sat in a duck blind all day, sipping whiskey out of a flask, talking about movies" - Quentin Tarantino
On his New Beverly blog, Tarantino has published this interview he did with John Milius and it's a great insight into how the filmmaker was influenced, and where his mind goes as a creative. Here is how he introduces the interview:
"This interview with writer-director John Milius was conducted when I was twenty years old (and boy does it show). The last film he had done at the time was Conan the Barbarian. I just called up his assistant and told her I was writing a book, and she set me up with an interview with him. I met with him twice for the interview."
He adds another fun piece of information about their bond, "At the beginning of ‘95, before the Academy Awards, I was taken duck hunting by John Milius, Steven Spielberg and Robert Zemeckis. John and I sat in a duck blind all day, sipping whiskey out of a flask, talking about movies and shooting the tail feathers off of ducks."
We always knew QT was a big fan of movies, and he was steeped in the knowledge of all forms of them big and small, A-List and B. What is so telling and fascinating in this interview?
There is one topic, and way of approaching it that reveals how QT gets his inspiration. You can almost see the creative juices flowing faster, the ideas coming to life in his mind.
You can see where he would become the filmmaker he became.
What Really Makes Tarantino Great
Well, it's not just one thing. But if there is one thing the community doesn't talk about enough, it's his ability with actors.
No, not just to direct them (though he does a great job with that). It goes deeper.
Tarantino THINKS in actors.
He thinks in movie stars, or even in personas.
He likes seeing a star's persona evolve, and he likes coming up with characters and stories that can help facilitate that.
We saw it happen with John Travolta in Pulp Fiction. But that was just the beginning. It was more than taking a cinema icon and refurbishing him. It was finding the exact right icon for the story... or maybe even building the story AROUND said icon.
He has led many actors to an academy award nominations, but that isn't the proof we need. The real evidence of his genius with actors is how he helps them evolve and shows us new sides of them, creating new chapters in their legacies and their own narrative.
How does this work?
It works because he understands that the actor's career narrative and how that informs the audience going into the film. There are expectations.
Let's talk about how this is so clear back in 1982 when he was speaking with John Milius.
Tarantino starts off by mentioning that he loves Milius' script for The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean. Then Milius reveals that the end result of the film was more or less spoiled by the casting of its star, Paul Newman. Newman is great, Milius adds, but not right for this vision.
This seems to impact Tarantino, and he seems to immediately get it. They talk about the tone intended by the script, where the movie deviates in general from that. But the key thing is casting. This is where the conversation goes.
Tarantino in all his 20-year-old boldness, challenges Milius casting in Dillinger, "Warren Oates really represented as Dillinger a real man of the thirties brought to his circumstances through the climate of the times. However I wonder if a more man of action type would have better suited your purposes. An actor like William Smith. You can believe Michelle Phillips would kill anybody to save William Smith. Not Warren Oates."
Who is William Smith you ask?
From here Tarantino and Milius go on about him quite a bit. He was a veteran of hundreds of movies and tv shows, often playing villains. He was a bodybuilder, and he was the type of on-screen presence both Milius and Tarantino loved.
He also delivered this incredible scene in Conan The Barbarian.
Tarantino adds "...let me just say your casting of William Smith as Conan’s father is brilliant... William Smith is my favorite actor. He usually plays bad guys. But I’d like to see him play more heroic parts. I think he’s like Charles Bronson was in the sixties. Like Bronson, I think he could make the transition from villain to hero."
Tarantino was interviewing Milius, but in a way, it became an interview WITH Tarantino, where he reveals his own inspirations and thought process. He loved Williams, but he wanted to see Williams taken in a new direction. He wanted to evolve the actor that many people only saw one way, or never saw at all.
These are the things Tarantino would do in his own films. He was already thinking of better casting for other films that would have done the kind of actor evolution he wanted to do himself.
QT became the change he wanted to see in the movie industry. Inspiring stuff.
Milius adds, "I love his scene in the movie. I love when he gives his big speech at the beginning. The riddle of steel. It’s not much, but I love it. And the fact he fought valiantly for the village against the horde. And was done in by a pack of Rottweilers! (laughing) They had to be Rottweilers to bring down William Smith!"
As long as we're on a John Milius kick, it's worth firing up Conan the Barbarian and syncing up the commentary track Milius did with Arnold Schwarzenegger. Greatest commentary of all time? Yeah probably.
Ok if you don't have time for the whole thing... here is a teaser of what you'll get:
As Tarantino continues to teach and inform readers with his cinematic insights, we encourage you to visit his New Beverly website, but also check out our story on his takes regarding Dunkirk.
What actor's career do you wish you could craft a new chapter for? It doesn't need to be someone who is very famous. Thinking this way could help you figure out the role you want to write. It could help you woo someone who might help get the project made. It could just help you get working on your next piece.