- Quentin Tarantino’s "Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood" puts Leonardo DiCaprio’s character into one of the greatest movies of all time, "The Great Escape."
- Business Insider spoke to the movie’s cinematographer Robert Richardson and Sony chief Tom Rothman about the scene and how it was pulled off.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Warning: Major spoiler below if you have not seen "Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood."
It comes around the halfway point of Quentin Tarantino’s "Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood," and it comes without warning.
Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) is waiting to do his latest guest spot role as a "heavy" (or villain) on a TV show. This time it’s the pilot episode of a Western titled, "Lancer." The show’s lead, James Stacy (Timothy Olyphant), walks up to introduce himself. They exchange pleasantries and Stacy says that he almost starred in one of Dalton’s movies. Then Stacy asks him a question that you can tell Dalton doesn’t like to get: Did Rick almost get the Steve McQueen role in "The Great Escape"?
What follows is one of the most memorable moments in "Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood" as there’s a cut to Dalton in a scene from "The Great Escape."
That’s right, DiCaprio replaces McQueen in the scene and, thanks to VFX wizardry, is standing there saying famous lines in one of the greatest movies ever made.
Dalton downplays the rumor, saying at most he may have been on the shortlist of director John Sturges for the character of Hilts, the wise-cracking American World War II POW that would make McQueen a star.
But through Dalton and Stacy’s conversation there are numerous cuts to the scene of Dalton in "The Great Escape," trading barbs with a German officer on his way to isolation as Elmer Bernstein’s famous score from the movie plays. It implies that Dalton really might be downplaying how close he was to getting the Hilts role. And that’s probably why he doesn’t like to talk about it.
In "Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood," Dalton has walked away as the lead of the hugely famous TV show "Bounty Law" for a movie career, and things have not worked out. That’s why he’s doing guest spots on TV shows. Getting the Hilts role could have made Dalton as big a name as McQueen would become.
United Artists"The Great Escape" scene is the most elaborate example used by Tarantino to chronicle the up-and-down life of a 1960s actor, and it was a team effort to pull off.
First, there was the shooting of the scene, which out of the whole process was the least challenging part.
"Doing ‘The Great Escape’ was relatively simple for us," cinematographer Robert Richardson told Business Insider.
Basically, Richardson shot DiCaprio on green screen, dressed in a wardrobe identical to what McQueen wore in the 1963 movie. The actor then read the identical lines McQueen said in the scene, which features the famous line Hilts says to a German colonel: "I haven’t seen Berlin yet, from the ground or from the air, and I plan on doing both before the war is over." If there was one challenge for Richardson, it was making sure he was shooting at the right height and using the right lenses.
"The Great Escape" was made by United Artists. That meant Sony, which made "Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood," had to get the rights to the footage. But that was another challenge that was very manageable.
"It wasn’t costly," Tom Rothman, the chairman of Sony Pictures Entertainment’s Motion Picture Group, told Business Insider. "The truth is licensing old films is not that expensive."
The biggest challenge was for the movie’s visual effects supervisor, John Dykstra, who had to basically cut out McQueen from "The Great Escape" footage and replace him with DiCaprio.
The process of getting everything precisely correct took months. It was such an undertaking that when the movie had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in May, it featured the Dalton/Stacy interaction without "The Great Escape" footage, as it wasn’t completed yet.
But the finished product was well worth the wait.
"If you’re of an era and you watch that scene with ‘The Great Escape’ and instead of seeing Steve McQueen you see Leo, it just blows your mind," Rothman said. "It blows my mind how seamless it was done."
"Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood" is currently playing in theaters.
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