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John Travolta very nearly didn’t play his most iconic role

John Travolta had his career resurrected in the mid-90s thanks to one especially cool director, but almost lost out on the role to the actor it was written for.

John Travolta

It’s hard to imagine now, but Pulp Fiction was released at a time when John Travolta was decidedly uncool. He’d gone from strutting his stuff in musicals Saturday Night Fever and Grease, to appearing in a third Look Who’s Talking family movie. Pulp Fiction ended up marking Travolta’s comeback, and he’d go on to cool roles in the likes of Get Shorty and Face/Off.

But it could have all been very different. Quentin Tarantino wrote the role of Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction for Michael Madsen, who had played Vic Vega in Reservoir Dogs. Presumably they were initially supposed to be twin brothers, but Madsen was unable to do Pulp Fiction because he’d already committed to one of the best westerns, Wyatt Earp.

“I was already committed to Wyatt Earp,” says Madsen in a 2019 documentary about Tarantino’s first eight films, called QT8: The First Eight. “And now, here’s Quentin, wants me to do Pulp Fiction. And they were both going at the same time…It became John’s comeback. He was doing movies about talking babies! And suddenly he’s Vincent Vega!”

One of the strengths of Pulp Fiction was seeing stars such as Travolta and Bruce Willis is a completely different context to how we’d seen them before. Tarantino also brought back 80s movie stars Eric Stoltz (Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Some Kind of Wonderful, Say Anything) and Rosanna Arquette (Desperately Seeking Susan, After Hours, 8 Million Ways to Die) for their stand-out cameos in the overdose scene.

Tarantino did manage to bring back one member of the Reservoir Dogs crime thriller movie heist crew – Tim Roth – again, for a memorable scene involving sticking up a diner. Tarantino’s tenth, and allegedly final, movie is set to begin filming this year. It’s set in the 1970s and is about a female movie critic.

While we wait for more details on Tarantino’s latest, check out our guide to the best drama movies.