In the 19 years since "Pulp Fiction" hit theaters, the film that made Quentin Tarantino a superstar has become a bona fide cinematic classic. Hell, it was a classic from the moment it first screened at the Cannes Film Festival. But as a new oral history of the film in Vanity Fair shows, "Pulp Fiction" was almost a very different film.
Forget Samuel L. Jackson, Bruce Willis and John Travolta. How about "Pulp Fiction" starring Paul Calderon, Matt Dillon and Daniel Day-Lewis?
Yes, crazy as it sounds, that was almost the cast of "Pulp Fiction," with the most intriguing prospect being the idea of Day-Lewis (who is likely about to win his record two billionth Oscar for "Lincoln") in Travolta's iconic role as Vincent Vega. Day-Lewis, as it turns out, had read the script and desperately wanted the role, but Tarantino was dead set on Travolta, even though Travolta's career was essentially over.
"John Travolta was at that time as cold as they get," Tarantino's agent, Mike Simpson, said. "He was less than zero. 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."
But Tarantino stuck to his guns, including Travolta on a list of actors he wanted approved by Miramax head Harvey Weinstein. "And it came back: 'The entire list is approved . . . except for John Travolta,'" Tarantion said.
Tarantino, of course, won that battle, but landing Bruce Willis in the role of the boxer was perhaps even more key to the film's box office success. And it almost didn't happen either. The reason? Tarantino had promised the part to Matt Dillon.
"So he gave Matt the script," Simpson said, "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.'"
"Once I got Bruce Willis, Harvey got his big movie star, and we were all good," Tarantino said. "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 apesh*t."
And then there's Samuel L. Jackson, who was catapulted to A-list stardom thanks to his role as Jules the hitman. At the last minute, though, Tarantino wavered, leaning towards character actor Paul Calderon, leading an angry Jackson to return for an epically tense audition.
"In comes Sam with a burger in his hand and a drink in the other hand and stinking like fast food," said producer Richard Gladstein. "Me and Quentin and Lawrence [Bender] 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 sh*tless. 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."
"He was the guy you see in the movie," Bender added. "He said, 'Do you think you’re going to give this part to somebody else? I’m going to blow you motherf*ckers away."
And so they all did.