Quentin Tarantino broke through with his debut movie Reservoir Dogs in 1992, but it was 1994’s Pulp Fiction that catapulted him to an untouchable level of fame – and changed the landscape of 90s movies. But the film could have looked different in several significant ways – not least, the casting.
In 2013, Vanity Fair put together an oral history on the making of Pulp Fiction. It reveals many tidbits, including that Sean Penn, William Hurt, and one of the best actors of all time Daniel Day-Lewis, of all people, were almost given the role of Vincent Vega.
Bruce Willis was also almost Vega, before Matt Dillon botched his chance of playing Butch, and Willis was moved over into that slot, which was a much better fit for him anyway. Uma Thurman initially turned down her star-making turn as Mia Wallace, as she was not a fan of the gimp scene.
Samuel L. Jackson won the role of Jules by basically scaring the bejesus out of the producer. Jackson flew out to LA for a last-ditch audition with Tarantino, after hearing that they had someone else lined up for the part. “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.
Jackson continues; “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.”
Producer Richard 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 [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.”
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.’” It’s easy to forget that Pulp Fiction is also one of the best comedy movies, with a truly hilarious script. Jackson would go onto to form an unforgettable comedy double-act with John Travolta – who of course won the role of Vega, beating out the substantial competition.
For more intimidating performances, check out our guide to the best thriller movies.