It’s hard to believe it’s been 20 years since Quentin Tarantino unleashed Pulp Fiction on audiences around the globe, cementing his reputation as one of the most important filmmakers working in the industry today.
It’s all but impossible to imagine the film with different actors or a tweaked script or, well, anything changed from what we’ve come to know and love over the past two decades, but as Vanity Fair’s recent oral history of the film demonstrates, Pulp Fiction could have been a very different film.
Take, for instance, the film’s casting. Today, it’s impossible to imagine anyone other than Sam Jackson and John Travolta as the two hit men who serve as the film’s focal point – however, back when the film was in preproduction, things were very different.
Tarantino was hell-bent on Travolta playing Vincent Vega, but producer Harvey Weinstein was totally against it. Weinstein had bigger names in mind (Travolta’s career was pretty much D.O.A. at this point), including Bruce Willis, Daniel Day-Lewis, Sean Penn and William Hurt. Tarantino held his ground (with the help of his agent…) and threatened to kill the film if he didn’t get Travolta. Weinstein relented, and the rest is history.
Meanwhile, Samuel L. Jackson almost didn’t get the gig as Jules, either. According to the story, Jackson was called in for a last-minute audition and wasn’t happy about it. Paul Calderon was also in the running for the part (we can’t see that at all…), and Jackson’s anger only grew when one of the producers mistook him for Laurence Fishburne. Yikes.
Turns out that Jackson’s anger worked to his benefit.
“I sort of was angry, pissed, tired,” Jackson recalls. He was also hungry, so he bought a takeout burger on his way to the studio, only to find nobody there to greet him. “When they came back, a line producer or somebody who was with them said, ‘I love your work, Mr. Fishburne,’” says Jackson. “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.” Gladstein remembers 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 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.” Lawrence Bender adds, “He was the guy you see in the movie. He said, ‘Do you think you’re going to give this part to somebody else? I’m going to blow you motherfuckers away.’”
Check out more behind-the-scenes stories from the set of Pulp Fiction by heading over to Vanity Fair.