BUZZ: Tarantino's Rediscovery Network
By Michael Fleming
NEW YORK (Variety)
- While Quentin Tarantino's first career is making
movies, he's quickly developed a second career
giving second chances to actors long forgotten by everyone but him.
The most dramatic example of the Tarantino career rescue program is, of
course, John Travolta, the $20 million-a-picture star
brought back from oblivion a couple years ago by Tarantino's "Pulp Fiction."
But lately other actors are benefiting.
Michael Parks, for example, has been set in a lead role in "Hangman's
Daughter," the P.J. Pesce-directed prequel (written by
Robert and Alvaro Rodriguez) to the Tarantino-scripted From "Dusk Till
Dawn." The casting is noteworthy, and not just
because Parks played a Texas ranger blown away by Tarantino's psycho
character in "Dusk's" opening scene. Parks' career
peaked in 1969 with the one-season NBC drama "Then Came Bronson." Little has
gone right since then -- until he met
As a director, Tarantino is doing it again with "Jackie Brown," giving the
two leads to former blaxploitation queen Pam Grier
(Foxy Brown) and Robert Forster, who had little luck after a strong start in
the early '70s with short-lived series "Nakia" on
ABC and "Banyon" on NBC. Sure, Tarantino got Samuel L. Jackson, Bridget
Fonda, Robert De Niro and Michael Keaton for
supporting roles. But would any other director have gambled on those two for
the leads of his follow-up to "Pulp Fiction?"
Forster, after reading for hundreds of roles he didn't get, was down to
giving free motivational speeches while trying not to give
up on himself.
"The last five years, I hadn't gotten a job for more than scale, and
terrible, junky stuff that you take when you've got a kid in
college and an ex-wife. Then Quentin comes along and says, 'You've waited
long enough. Now you're going to work again.' I
can't describe the feeling."
Tarantino says he's happy to help down- and-out actors, but his motivation
is to make movies his way, and that's with casting
gambles that are as adventurous as his writing and directing. If he has to
watch old TV shows to find the right actor, so be it.
"I think there is far less artistry in the casting of most mainstream movies
than there should be," he says. "There are certain
movies that should have big stars, but there are also movies where it
doesn't make a dime bit of difference at the box office who
plays a character."
With few exceptions, Tarantino feels casters don't go beyond the usual hot
"The biggest problem is that most of the mainstream movies are working from
this list, so in a given year, you see the same
character actor who happens to be hot at the moment. You see them for a
period of five years, and it changes a little bit around
the sixth year."
Luckily for Parks, Forster and Grier, Tarantino's hooked on the '70s. So
while most of the "Dusk" dialogue was scripted to be
delivered in rapid-fire bursts, Parks' ranger character was the exception.
"I wrote that Texas ranger role just for Michael Parks, for his lazy Texas
drawl. He's always been one of my favorite actors in
the world. On 'Then Came Bronson,' Michael gave these Brando-like
performances, the most naturalistic acting I've ever seen
on a TV show."
"Dusk" star George Clooney says it was clear Parks still had the goods.
"Michael just blew the roof off in that scene, and he was so good, it seemed
the movie would just be about him, until he got
killed," Clooney says. "Quentin's in that great position in that he can get
films made with those people. It's the great advantage of
being Quentin, and he's taking full advantage, which is not just admirable
but smart on his part."
With a thesp who takes acting jobs to eat, Tarantino says, the trick is
figuring if that diet of bad films has sapped his craft.
"A lot of these actors, after they lose their heat, move to television or
exploitation films," Tarantino says. "Sometimes that takes it
out of an actor. But sometimes it doesn't, and they're hungry for new
material. When they get it, you see that light in their eyes."
He points to Martin Landau.
"Before (Francis Ford) Coppola's 'Tucker,' you could buy Martin Landau for
$1.95 and he was doing the cheapest exploitation
movies. In 'Tucker,' you saw the excitement of his craft again."
Tarantino wouldn't name other forgotten actors ripe for resurgence, not
wanting to raise hopes until he can employ them. But he
brought up one actor he was unable to help.
"I'm a fan of blaxploitation movies, and I was thinking about Ralph Meeker,
who was in 'Kiss Me Deadly' and (Stanley)
Kubrick's 'House of Glory.' He fell on hard times, doing bad roles in really
bad movies. I mean, he was not even the big boss
guy, but rather his stupid deputy in 'High Riders,' this movie about drag
racers. This was Ralph Meeker! Where were these
filmmakers of the '70s? If I had been doing movies back then, I'd have cast
him in a great role. He's dead now, and that
opportunity is gone forever."