Quentin Tarantino wrote a brilliant script and Harvey Weinstein knew it. Weinstein worked hard to get Pulp Fiction made the way Tarantino visualized it, even though he didn’t always agree with the filmmaker’s initial choices – like casting John Travolta as the lead. In Vanity Fair’s ‘Pulp Fiction Oral History’ article, Uma Thurman, Travolta, Tarantino and the studio execs, talk about the very beginning.
Uma’s hesitation to play Mia Wallace
I was 23, from Massachusetts. He [Tarantino] wasn’t this revered demigod auteur that he has grown into. And I wasn’t sure I wanted to do it, because I was worried about the Gimp stuff, [referring to the leather-clad character who emerges from a cage, set to have his way with the bound-and-gagged Marsellus Wallace.] 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.
Harvey Weinstein’s hesitation to cast Travolta after Tarantino submitted his term sheet that detailed he would get final cut, it would have a two-and-a-half-hour running time, and he had final choice of actors
One of the actors I had on the list was John Travolta and it came back, the entire list is approved…except for John Travolta. So I got together with Harvey, and he’s like, ‘I can get Daniel Day-Lewis, Sean Penn, William Hurt.’
Hard to imagine otherwise, Travolta did get the part and as the story goes, after screening the film for the first time, Weinstein declared facetiously, “I’m so glad I had the idea to cast John Travolta.”
Travolta talking to Tarantino about The Twist
‘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…There was the Batman, the Hitchhiker, the Swim, as well as the Twist.’
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.’
Casting Samuel L. Jackson
Jackson flew to L.A. to audition for Tarantino one more time after he heard the role of Jules Winnfield might go to Paul Calderon. When he arrived at the studio after stopping for some fast food that he brought along, nobody was there.
I sort of was angry, pissed, tired…When they came back, a line producer or somebody who was with them said, ‘I love your work, Mr. Fishburne,’ It was like a slow burn. He doesn’t know who I am? I was kind of like, Fuck it. At that point I really didn’t care.
Richard Gladstein, the head of Miramax at the time, recalls Jackson’s audition.
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 [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 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.
View Pulp Fiction behind the scenes photos and get your copy of the Tarantino 20th Anniversary Box Set: Tarantino XX which includes 8 films plus 2 bonus discs with over 7 hours of never-before-seen special features.